UN CONFERENCE AGAINST RACISM, DURBAN
Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, Head of the Holy See Delegation
Interview with Archbishop Martin
Individual and collective conversion of hearts
Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations Office in Geneva, led a delegation from the Holy See at the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance held in Durban, South Africa from 31 August to 7 September. On 3 September, Archbishop Martin made the following intervention to the conference.
The Delegation of the Holy See wishes in the first place to express its appreciation to the government and people of South Africa, the host country of this World Conference. South Africa is our host not just physically. Its own history, experience and hopes make it truly the host, and the the inspiration of the lofty ideals which inspire our work and our commitment.
The ethical foundations of a new world community
The Durban World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance presents a significant challenge to the world community at the beginning of a new Millennium.
While the title of our Conference is formulated in negative terms, the challenge we face is a positive one. The fight against racial discrimination is above all about how we wish to structure the interaction of individuals and peoples at the beginning of a new century and a new millennium. Racism is a sin. It is fundamentally a lie, a concept deliberately invented to create division in humanity. This Conference must be about the truth: the truth concerning human dignity, the truth concerning the fundamental unity of the human family. This is a Conference about the ethical foundations of a new world community.
From an honest appraisal of the errors and practices of the past—and indeed, let it be said, of the present—we must together boldly seek a different future, in which each person and each people will be recognised and fostered in their unique dignity and in their inalienable rights.
Despite this contemporary period of unprecedented humanitarian and scientific progress, we have to admit that all too many dimensions of our world community are still marked by exclusion, division and crass inequality, with consequent dramatic human suffering. Nor can we forget that the recent past has witnessed actions aimed not only at exclusion but at the very extermination of entire peoples. The challenge of the new century is to ensure that this will never happen again, and to draw up, as it were, a new world map, one which registers not division or domination, but a fruitful interaction of peoples founded on equitable, just and fraternal relations in solidarity.
Individual and collective conversion of hearts
The Holy See recognises the irreplaceable contribution which the United Nations family has made and is making in addressing inequality and exclusion in today’s world.
This Conference, however, will hopefully mark a new and significant step in the efforts of the community of nations. It begins to touch the most central and the deepest dimensions of what is needed to fight racial discrimination and to build a more just world. The Conference invites each of us, as individuals and as representatives of nations and peoples, to examine the sentiments that are in our own hearts. Without an individual and collective conversion of heart and attitude, the roots of hatred, intolerance and exclusion will not be eliminated, and racism will continue to raise its ugly head again and again in the next century as it has in the century that has just ended.
The preparatory work of the Conference has shown that this is not an easy process. It requires that we examine the reality of history, not in order to be trapped in the past, but to be able to begin honestly to construct a different future. Pope John Paul II has noted: "One cannot remain a prisoner of the past: individuals and peoples need a sort of ‘healing of memories’.1 Evidently there can be no such healing without a vigorous recognition of the truth of historical realities. The healing of memory requires that we honestly appraise our personal, community and national history and admit those less noble aspects which have contributed to the marginalization of today, but in such a way as to reinforce our desire to make the era of globalisation an era of encounter, inclusion and solidarity.
Migrants, refugees and their families
In its contribution to the preparatory work of this Conference, the Holy See has particularly stressed the situation of migrants, refugees and their families. Migration will be one of the typical characteristics of a globalised world. It can be a phenomena which generates prosperity, helps reduce global inequalities and enhances encounter among peoples and cultures.
As the recent document which the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, published as a contribution to this Conference, notes, "increased human mobility demands more than ever an openness to others"2. But today the migrant, especially one who comes from a different cultural background, can easily become the object of racial discrimination, of intolerance, of exploitation and of violence. In the case of undocumented migrants the person may not even have minimum redress with the appropriate authorities. The Conference must constitute a clear reaffirmation of the fundamental human rights of all migrants, regardless of their immigration status. It must indicate the broad lines for an effective national and international application of those rights. At the same time, the fight against racism will require an intensive and balanced programme of education concerning migration.
The fundamental role of education
A further theme which the Holy See has wished to stress particularly during this Conference is that of the fundamental role of education in the fight against racism. Such education must begin in the family. It is in the family that the child first understands the concept of the other. It is in the family that the other becomes truly a brother or sister. The family itself must be the first community of openness, welcome and solidarity. The family must be the first school in which the roots of racist behaviour are firmly rejected.
Education against racial intolerance must become a clear pillar of all dimensions of education, both in the school and in broader society. Such an education must address the ethical foundations which enhance the unity of the human family.
A special responsibility rests with those who have responsibility for the formation of public opinion. Mass media have a special responsibility to avoid any provocation of racism sentiments. All forms of racial stereotyping or efforts at inciting rejection or hatred though racial discrimination must be rejected right from their first appearance.
Human rights education must become a fundamental dimension of educational programmes, as well as in the professional formation of certain categories whose work can help prevent racial discrimination, such as mass media, or which have a special responsibility to protect victims, such as the judiciary or law enforcement officers.
The contribution and responsibility of religious communities
The Holy See has, finally, especially addressed the contribution and the responsibility of religious communities in the fight against racism. In speaking of this Conference some days ago, Pope John Paul II made an appeal to all believers, noting that we cannot truly call on God, the father of all, if we refuse to treat in a brotherly way any person, created in the image of God3. Religion has all too often been exploited as a means to further deepen existing political, economic or social divisions. Religious leaders must recall that all religions by their nature appeal to the unity of the human race. True religious belief is absolutely incompatible with racist attitudes and racist practices. Recent experiences of inter-religious dialogue offer the hope of greater understanding among religions. In many recent conflicts, in fact, the unity shown by religious leaders has been a significant factor in preventing or reducing conflict and in fostering reconciliation.
Let us hope, Mr President, that this United Nations Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance will mark a historic moment, from which a culture of dialogue may assume a new relevance: dialogue among religions, dialogue among civilizations, dialogue among nations and within nations. May one of the fruits of the Conference be the beginnings of a new broad, international cooperation between governments, civil society, religious groups and the mass media, as well as farseeing and courageous individuals, to work together to help construct a vision of humankind, which truly lives in unity. This is, in fact, God’s design for the human family.
1 Message for World Peace Day 1997, §3
2The Church and Racism, Contribution of the Holy See to the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, Vatican City 2001, p.21
3cf. Address before the recital of The Angelus, at Castel Gandolfo, Sunday 26th August 2001, quoting from the Declaration of the Second Vatican Council Nostra aetate, n.5
Weekly Edition in English
12 September 2001, page 7
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