Interview with Vatican Aide at Durban
DURBAN, South Africa, 4 SEPT. 2001 (ZENIT)
The World Conference Against Racism must not be turned into a court
to judge one country, a Vatican aide said in the wake of the U.S. and
Israeli pullout from the gathering.
Washington and Tel Aviv decided to withdraw citing the harsh language
used at the forum, against Israeli policy in the Palestinian
In the following interview, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, the head of the
Vatican delegation at the conference, addresses the most heated issues
of the summit.
Q: From the beginning, the Middle East question was the thorn that
pricked the forum, yes?
Archbishop Martin: Unfortunately, already in the preparatory
conferences there were moments of tension. I must say that our
intervention on two or three occasions was decisive to calm the debate,
redirecting it to its real source.
The problem is that the actual situation in the Middle East makes it
very difficult to remain serene. In any case, the conference is not a
court to judge only one country. This is a historic moment in which an
ethical question is being posed, and no one gets an excellent grade.
Q: In what sense is it a historic moment?
Archbishop Martin: Compared to the previous ones, the Durban conference
is different; all countries are involved. All, at the same time, are
good and bad. Racism is a current problem in all countries of the world,
without a single exception, a problem that touches the feelings of the
heart and not just policies.
Q: One of the topics addressed is that of slavery, in particular,
reparation to the victims' descendants. The document "The Church in
Face of Racism," prepared by the Holy See on the eve of the summit,
is favorable to compensation.
Archbishop Martin: It is fundamental to make a moral acknowledgment, to
recognize the historical truth, but not to remain prisoners of the past,
but to build a new future.
Therefore, the problem is not so much one of indemnity as such, but of
doing the opposite to what was done with slavery and colonialism. If
atrocious sufferings were caused then to so many villagers and peoples,
resulting in incalculable economic damages, today policies must be
implemented that value human resources, that help every person to become
a protagonist in his or her own life.
Q: There is a historical reading according to which the only ones guilty
of slavery are the whites. However, Yoweri Museveni, the president of
Uganda, recalled that the whites bought slaves from Arab and African
Archbishop Martin: I think it is important to make an objective reading
of history, so this aspect must also be considered. In fact, slavery
today is a phenomenon that still happens in Africa among blacks. This is
mentioned in the document presented by the [pontifical] Council for
Justice and Peace on the eve of the conference.
Q: The Holy See is favorable to the proposal of several African leaders
to transform reparation into aid for development.
Archbishop Martin: For example, I see the New African Initiative
favorably, a program that was mentioned in this conference, launched by
the African governments themselves, which points not only to economic
development but also fosters the capacity of each one of the governments
to be more efficient, eliminating corruption and nepotism.
Q: At the conference, the Holy See addressed the topic of immigration,
requesting governments to be more open.
Archbishop Martin: Immigrants are among the primary victims of racism in
our world, and this must be acknowledged.
In particular, illegal immigrants are victims of the most terrible
abuses and, precisely because of their condition, they have no means to
Q: However, how can this opening be reconciled with the need to
elaborate concrete migratory policies, as the Holy See also affirms?
Reality demonstrates that the massive and uncontrolled entry of
immigrants ends by provoking racist reactions.
Archbishop Martin: There is no contradiction. We are talking here about
immigrants, not immigration. In other words, we are talking about
individuals and their families, who have inalienable rights, and not
about immigration policies, which are something different.
Q: In your address to the Plenary Assembly, you said that education
against racism begins in the family.
Archbishop Martin: Yes, we have succeeded in including a paragraph in
the Plan of Action that recognizes the role of the family, as education
begins in the family. In it, the child understands for the first time
the concept of the other. In the family, the other becomes a brother or
And, in growing up, they must understand that the family is an open
place, which opens to new brothers and sisters. The family must be the
first school in which the roots of racist behavior must be firmly
Q: In this conference, there has been no talk of religious
discrimination, which happens in many Muslim countries, or of the
situation in India. You did not raise the question either, despite the
fact that many Catholics live under persecution.
Archbishop Martin: It's true, nothing much has been said publicly, but
it has [been addressed] in the working commissions. There is religious
intolerance, but there is also interreligious dialogue.
This is why we have supported the introduction, later accepted, of an
article that underlines the importance of the interreligious dialogue as
a factor of education against racism.
It hasn't been easy, given that there are delegations, like the European
Union's, which are allergic to the religious question. Some would like
to accuse religions of the factor of intolerance, something that is
objectively unacceptable. ZE01090409