European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI)



Concluding remarks by Mr Lamberto Dini, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Italy, Chair of the Conference

In concluding this opening session, I will not attempt to sum up all that has been said, I should like, however, to deliver a few thoughts on the issues that bring us together from the perspective of my country, its parliament and its government.

Racism, as we know, is an ancient evil. It takes many forms, depending on culture, context and historical circumstances. We must not forget that many of the sufferings due to slavery and the slave trade also originated and spread through colonialism, which forms part of the history of so many European countries.

It was here in Europe that the first antisemitic persecutions began, and above all the most horrendous crimes against humanity in the 20th century, fuelled by racial hatred.

The solemn commitment that Europe has taken upon itself to keep alive the memory of those events and not allow them to be forgotten requires us to pre-empt the possibility that this evil might ever take root again.

The desire for freedom that emerged from the tragedy of the Second World War, and the horror of genocide based on racist ideologies and the claim to superiority by one particular race, has generated a new and more pervasive concept, that is also accepted outside Europe: that is the concept of the need to safeguard the fundamental rights of the individual. One highly significant indication of the new sensitivity that has emerged is the fact that so many national constitutions solemnly enshrine the principles of non-discrimination, impartiality and equality regardless of race, sex, language and creed.

The post-war experience of Europe's democracies set in motion a long process through international Institutions: in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; in 1950, the European Convention on Human Rights; in 1965, the International Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination adopted by the United Nations General Assembly; and in 1973, the Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid.

I would like to recall two important stages in this process: in 1993, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, and in 1998 the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia.

It is to be hoped that these international instruments will soon be joined by the Charter of Fundamental Rights that the European Union is to adopt in Nice this December.

Year after year, international organisations publish their alarming reports on the developments of racism in Europe and worldwide.

Their testimony, and that of non-governmental organisations and the representatives of civil society, must be received with close attention and with the same degree of concern, when they show that racism is again rearing its ugly head and is spreading, whenever it finds fertile ground based on ignorance, fear, diffidence and suspicion.

But we must not believe that these primary forms of radical racism are only to be found in the less prosperous areas of the world in which we live. It would be a tragic error to play down the significance of desecrated cemeteries and monuments, neo-Nazi marches with aggression and beatings, the torching of immigrants' homes and Roma/Gypsy camps, which occur time and time again in countries that are considered to be rich and stable.

We cannot remain insensitive to these aberrations. It is our specific duty to deal with them without hesitation, taking up the challenge they throw down in terms of coexistence, integration, solidarity and social well-being.

Pierre André Taguieff has written that, and I quote, "racism emerged back in the 19th century above all in the form of nationalism: firstly, as xenophobic nationalism against a neighbouring country, and then as ethnic nationalism that rejects minority groups and migrants, perceived as being a dangerous threat to the identity and the homogeneity of the "dominant group", or to law and order, or even to the safeguarding of the right to exercise state sovereignty", unquote.

I wholeheartedly endorse this analysis of the causes of racism. It helps us to understand its underlying reasons and causes. But this would be of little value if it did not urge us to act, consistently, as a result of it, both individually and collectively, in these societies in which we live.

The collapse of the former walls, combined with the effects of globalisation, has removed national borders and new problems are being posed. For exclusion is something that now affects our next-door neighbour, in our own towns and villages; and the immigrants, the refugees, and the foreigners are becoming a paradigm of a new form of diversity and of that precarious existence that could well threaten each and every one of us.

The type of racism that still exists in Europe reflects a primitive defensive idea of the identity of our continent.

Immigrants, including those who come from outside Europe, do not pose a threat to Europe's identity; if anything, they enhance and enrich it. We must take a principled stand against racist and stereotyped campaigns that attempt to portray every foreign worker, men and women, as enemies or - worse still - as criminals. As the Italian philosopher Norberto Bobbio has put it so trenchantly, "We must know in order to respect, and understand in order to avoid cultivating prejudice". This is also the message which comes to us from United Nations General Assembly which, acting on a proposal of the Secretary-General, has proclaimed the year 2001 as the year of dialogue between civilizations.

Antiracism, in Europe, must therefore become a feature that plays a key role in the process of enlarging both the Council of Europe and the European Union. We must continue very carefully and thoroughly to monitor our own countries, not only in terms of their legislation, but above all the way the legislation is enforced.

Italy has much experience to share in this regard.

Until a few decades ago, large sections of the Italian population were forced to travel to distant lands in search of work: in lands that spoke different languages and had different traditions, in which they lived in what was often a state of hardship and need, and often separated from their loved ones. This is a social history marked by successes and failures, but taken as a whole, it is one of great moral and spiritual wealth.

Since the beginning of the 1970s, Italy has become an immigration-receiving country, even before achieving full employment for her own people. But it is precisely this dual position of Italy, as a country of both emigration and immigration, which gives my country the ability to make a contribution for dealing constructively with today's phenomenon of global migration. Italian domestic law has been based on the principle of what we call "soft integration", designed to provide foreign nationals living permanently in the country with an opportunity which, if accepted, does not require them to refuse to cultivate the great richness they possess from belonging to other cultures.

This conference is Europe's contribution to the United Nations Third World Conference which will be held in South Africa in September 2001.

I would like to emphasize in this regard the importance of the deliberations of this conference, for the value the written conclusions that we shall be reaching, and above all because of our declared ambition to ensure that the European Conference sets an authoritative example of globalisation and commitment to be followed by the other regional conferences. I am thinking in particular of December 2000 in Santiago, Chile, January 2001 in Dakar, and February 2001 in Teheran.

At the recent New York Millennium Summit the Heads of State and Government reiterated the vital part played by the international community in combating racism and intolerance.

Intolerance, the word that has been uttered over and over today during our conference.

For Europe, one of the first fundamental dates on the calendar will be 3-4 November in Rome, for the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Council of Europe’s European Convention on Human Rights. On that occasion we shall be taking stock of half a century of human rights in Europe, and study the strategy to be adopted for the coming decades.

Again in Rome, the member countries of this organisation will be signing the 12th Additional Protocol on non-discrimination, which will be eloquent testimony to our single-minded and unreserved commitment to combating racism and all the social evils connected with it.

The resurgence of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance, which I mentioned a moment ago, suggests a number of specific actions that we should be taking.

First and foremost, we must design new instruments and policies to deal with the challenge of immigration driven by population pressure, wars and racial persecution in developing countries. It is here that new and more violent organised forms of exploitation are emerging, such as the trafficking in children and women, and their reduction to slavery. In order to deal with these dramatic social and human emergencies it is absolutely indispensable for the problem to be seen as a common challenge thrown down to the whole of Europe.

Secondly, we have to review our national legislation, in a much broader and more comprehensive fashion, to protect the most vulnerable sections of society, such as children, the old and the disabled.

In a more general view, our effort to eradicate all forms of multiple discrimination and to integrate a gender perspective in all national and European actions and policies is indeed crucial, as the High Commissioner Mary Robinson and also Miss Hugues have underlined.

Thirdly, I would like very forcefully to emphasise the need to update the tools at our disposal to prevent and combat the trade in and propagation of racist ideas, and execrable abuses against women and children through modern media systems such as television channels and the internet, and to punish the perpetrators. We must take action, and not only issue verbal combinations, against the distorted use of technological progress. We cannot permit systems that are becoming increasingly difficult to control, by virtue of their anonymity, to be used to fuel the most abject and criminal instincts and trafficking.

The European Union has committed itself to take action in this field, as Mr Watson and Miss Hugues have indicated.

Lastly, I add my voice to those of Mary Robinson, Lord Russell-Johnston, Günter Grass, among others, in urging governments to systematically educate the new generation at all levels of the education system and through campaigns designed to disseminate the principles of respect for others. This is a vital instrument in preventing the resurgence of xenophobia and the advocacy of racial hatred, and in guaranteeing harmonious coexistence with people who are different from ourselves.

Our duty as citizens and members of government is to make the best possible use of all the opportunities offered to us by the World Conference and the regional conferences on racism, to examine objectively all the means at our disposal to combat effectively and incisively these repugnant phenomena. Our countries' deep democratic roots are the best possible guarantee, they provide us with the best means for decisive action to combat old and new forms of racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia, and the intolerance which these generate.

Europe cannot only claim to be great in terms of its per capita income, or its industrial output or its technological progress. This is a view that we reject out of hand, because it is narrow and profoundly selfish. The aim that we continue to pursue is to have a Europe based on tolerance and peace, that educates the younger generation to understand the need to respect individuals and their rights, and to give a positive welcome to cultural diversity, combating persecution in all its forms and all kinds of political, ethnic, cultural and religious discrimination.

The new millennium, in short, has to take on board a message of brotherhood and equality that is emerging from our efforts to demonstrate solidarity and generosity, to uphold the dignity of the great human family.

This is our ambition, but above all, it is a deliberately political act.