E. Michael Southwick, Deputy Assistant Secretary or State
Bureau of International Organization Affairs
Statement, Americas Preparatory Conference Against
Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance
Santiago, Chile, December 6, 2000
I welcome the opportunity to speak at the Americas Preparatory Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance.
Racism is the most challenging issue confronting the world today. Racism prevents individuals, communities, and nations from achieving their full potential in peace and prosperity. We hope that this meeting in Santiago and the World Conference in South Africa will lead to a new vision for the fight against racism in the 21st century.
As President Clinton said in a dialogue on race issues in the United States: "Today we face a choice -- one way leads to further separation and bitterness and more lost futures. The other way, the path of courage and wisdom, leads to unity, to reconciliation, to a rich opportunity for all Americans to make the most of the lives God gave them. This moment in which the racial divide is so clearly out in the open need not be a setback for us. It presents us with a great opportunity, and we dare not let it pass us by."
It is important not to politicize the international struggle against racism. No nation can claim to be free from prejudice and inequality, so we must approach the fight against racism as a shared human goal.
This means we should not view the World Conference as an opportunity to judge and condemn each other. Rather we should go to South Africa prepared to focus on ways to eradicate racism. Our main task should be to share with each other good practices and lessons learned in our struggle to fight racism and bigotry, and to pledge our commitment to work together to eradicate racial hatred and racial disparities.
We believe the Fourth World Conference on Women is an excellent model for the World Conference Against Racism. The Beijing Women's Conference was transforming. It brought to light the commitment and energy of women and men who had been working together to achieve gender equality. And, it inspired others to do the same.
The Beijing conference emphasized women as agents of change rather than as passive beneficiaries or victims. And, more importantly, women themselves recognized they had the power to make a difference.
This is our goal for the conference in South Africa -- that our commitment to fight racism and xenophobia will inspire and empower women and men all over the world to work together to achieve racial equality.
All over the world we see what happens when racial and ethnic or religious animosity joins with lawlessness. We've seen countries and people and families torn apart. We've seen countries go from peace to wholesale slaughter in a matter of months. We've seen people rise up and fight each other over issues they thought had been dormant for centuries.
Even where there is no apparent civil discord, racial and ethnic tensions often exist. In every society, there are racial and ethnic disparities in access to quality education, in access to the health care system, in access to a clean and safe environment, in access to decent housing, in earnings in the workplace, in credit practices of banks, and in the criminal justice system.
The first thing nations must do in fighting racism is to make sure their laws fully protect all its citizens. But, having good laws is not enough. They must be consistently and vigorously enforced. And, strong laws and tough enforcement, although crucial to achieving racial equality, are not in and of themselves sufficient.
Since some of the most innovative and successful programs to fight racism and discrimination have been initiated by non-governmental organizations, their continued and strengthened involvement is crucial to making further progress.
Governments, non-governmental organizations, and the private sector must work together to design, develop and implement solutions in critical areas such as education, economic opportunity, the administration of justice, housing, crime, and health care.
At the World Conference, we will work to include recommendations to eliminate racial disparities in all these areas. For example, in the field of education, we believe governments should adopt rigorous standards for education excellence for all students and implement programs to improve the education of minority students. In order to improve economic opportunity for racial and ethnic minorities, governments, NGOs and the private sector should foster the creation and expansion of minority-owned businesses and increase access by minorities to land, capital, and credit. In the administration of justice, we should teach public officials about international norms prohibiting racial discrimination and their applicability to domestic law, and develop criminal and civil penalties for police misconduct.
At the European preparatory meeting, one of the participants spoke of the cost of racism and racial discrimination. He suggested that governments and NGOs conduct research on the extent of employment and economic discrimination and the economic and social costs of this discrimination -- including the costs to the victims of discrimination and the costs to society resulting from lost productivity and economic activity. The United States believes this is an excellent recommendation. We must try to tackle racial discrimination from all angles.
The foundation of a successful anti-racism strategy is political will. Governments should articulate a vision of an inclusive national identity that embraces and encompasses all parts of the population. Such a vision, which must rest on the foundation of equality and human rights, should serve as a guidepost for developing and implementing measures aimed at combating racism and promoting equality.
A few years ago, President Clinton asked the people of the United States to begin a national conversation on race, to come together across all the lines that divide us. We know we can only fight prejudice by fighting the misunderstanding and fear that produce it. This national dialogue affirmed that violence motivated by prejudice and hatred hurts us all. Whether we like it or not, our futures are bound together. As Dr. Martin Luther King said: "We must learn to live together as brothers, or we will perish as fools."
It is a sign of strength if a society can examine its problems before they rise to the surface. One of our obligations is to focus on issues that will affect future generations and to take actions to improve the outcome. We need to do more in our communities, in our own homes, schools and places of worship to teach all our children about the dignity of every person, and to teach tolerance and mutual respect. We need eloquent voices for tolerance, non-violence and peaceful change. And we need to give young people the tools to become leaders and role models in increasingly diverse societies.
Our growing interdependence requires us to develop greater respect for our common humanity. As President Clinton said at the Millennium Assembly: "We must believe the simple things -- that everywhere in every land, people in every station matter. Everyone counts, everyone has a role to play, and we all do better when we help each other."
UN World Conference Against
[end of document]