European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI)

Speech by Mr Hans Christian Krüger, Deputy Secretary General, on the occasion of the opening of the Round Table on "Dialogue against violence" organised by ECRI

21 March 2002

Minister Polfer, Chair of ECRI, ladies and gentlemen,

It is for me both an honour and a pleasure to welcome you here today on 21 March, the International Day for the elimination of racial discrimination. As you will all recall, the United Nations decided to devote this day to the fight against racism following the Sharpeville massacres, in a South Africa which at that time was still under the yoke of the vicious and shameful regime of apartheid.

Let us remember first and foremost those victims and all the other victims of racism throughout the world.

I am particularly pleased to welcome you here today, Minister Polfer, and to thank you on behalf of ECRI for honouring us with your presence at this opening session. I know that you are personally deeply committed to the fight against racism, xenophobia, antisemitism and intolerance. I also know that we can count on your country's continued support for the Council of Europe's activities in this area during and after your forthcoming chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers. In particular, the generous support that your authorities have always shown for the work of ECRI is much appreciated within the Council of Europe and also among ECRI's partners in the "outside world", who are so important in transmitting our anti-racism message to the grass-roots level across Europe. We thank you in particular for the financial voluntary contribution of Luxembourg for strengthening ECRI's relations with civil society.

This year, ECRI has decided to mark this day with a contribution to the debate on intercultural dialogue. The tragic events of 11 September 2001 have triggered off such debates in Europe and the world with renewed vigour.
This Round Table, entitled "Dialogue against Violence", will, we hope, provide a pause for reflection and open discussion, for a debate about the different dimensions of this issue from a common starting point: combating racism and intolerance and fostering mutual understanding.
The subject at hand is a crucial issue for the Council of Europe as well as other European and international bodies, but above all for civil society in its multifarious composition.

We are all too painfully aware that the events of last September have given rise to an atmosphere of doubt and uncertainty. Across the world, human beings are asking questions of themselves and of others, and are finding that these are questions with no easy answers.
Last November, the 109th meeting of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe focused on how the Organisation might best contribute to international action to combat terrorism. Among measures identified, a range of actions to prevent spreading the seeds of terrorism were decided, one of which was the necessity to strengthen multicultural and inter-religious dialogue. The Secretary General and the Committee of Ministers are actively initiating a range of activities to implement this decision.

Thus, our Organisation has shown a clear political will to engage in and promote dialogue. This objective will certainly figure high amongst our priorities for the foreseeable future and will increasingly direct our activities across a wide range of topics.

Nonetheless, dialogue is not something which can simply happen overnight: it has to be generated. All the more reason why we need to take a pause for reflection before acting. This ECRI Round Table offers a window of opportunity to that effect.

ECRI has never followed the traditionally accepted way of doing things. I hope that its original way of approaching problems - and here I mean all the problems in the field of combating racism from a human rights perspective - will also guide our debate this morning. ECRI is a Commission with courage. It has never shied away from dealing with difficult or taboo issues. It has done so with calm and with determination, and has usually managed to strike at the heart of the issues involved. I trust that the same approach will be espoused today in a frank and open discussion.

I should like to contribute to this discussion by asking three questions:
Firstly, we know that there is a current train of thought which holds that the cultural differences between people, groups and nations prevent them from living peacefully together. Is this not simply anew form of racism?

Secondly, is it acceptable to advance the diversity of culture as a reason for refusing to recognise the universality of human rights?

Thirdly, why do we find so many young people among those who succumb to violence and hatred today?

Ladies and gentlemen, I wish us a rich and fruitful discussion. I now have great pleasure in giving the floor to Minister Polfer.