The Holy See
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Tuesday, 25 March 2003

Madame President,

The Delegation of the Holy See at the Durban World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, urged the Conference not to look on its task only in negative terms. The fight against the negative consequences of racial intolerance - on which we should never let up - is fundamentally about a deeper challenge, that of how we wish to structure the interaction of individuals and peoples at the beginning of a new century and a new millennium. It is about the way in which we wish, within nations and in international relationships, to witness to a fundamental reality: the fact that, in God's design, all humankind constitutes one family.

The challenge of fighting racism has, if anything, become even more urgent in the period since the Durban Conference. Despite that urgency, however, the community of nations still seems to have difficulty in addressing racism. It is as if some deep-seated fear or social inhibition prevents us from addressing this widely pervasive phenomenon with serenity and objectivity.

In the meantime, new forms of division and exclusion, of intolerance and hatred, have emerged. It would be fatal to underestimate how easily racist sentiments can re-emerge, within our own hearts, within our societies, between peoples. Racist tendencies could easily be exploited to become a dangerous element of volatility in the already fragile current climate of international tension.

Our world seeks unity. There are many examples of regional and international cooperation and integration which bear witness to the fact that people seek unity and that structures can be found to overcome past tensions and build a future of cooperation and solidarity.

But even where such a process of integration has begun, racist intolerance and xenophobia can easily set progress back. Historically, the concept of racial distinction was invented to find an allegedly scientific, but profoundly untrue basis to justify discrimination among persons. It can be made use of still today to undermine relationships built on trust and truth. Primitive expressions of racist intolerance, for example towards migrants, emerge with unexpected rapidity even in the most sophisticated, economically advanced countries. Existing social tensions can be easily exacerbated when unscrupulous political groupings foment racist tendencies for their own short term interests.

My Delegation feels that the primary place in the follow up to the Durban Conference should be given to education. I am happy to note that the Working Group on the follow up to the Durban Conference intends to take up the theme "education and racism" at its next session. The racist hatred of today must not be passed on, not even one generation further. We must find the ways to educate future generations to a different vision of human relations, one which corresponds to the truth concerning the unity of humankind.

The Durban Programme of Action, in fact, called for access for all to quality education, without discrimination. It called for evaluation and tracking of the progress made, especially for disadvantaged children and young people, as well as those of national, ethnic and religious minorities.

It indicated the central place of human rights education, including the education of public officials, especially the police, the judiciary, as well as teachers, so that they be aware of forms of racial prejudice which may openly exist or be deep rooted in traditions and behaviour. The Durban Programme of Action appealed for special attention to the education of children and youth towards the values of solidarity, respect and appreciation of diversity.

The roots of racist sentiment can be very deep. They are linked often both to the reality of the history of peoples and to the way such history is read and interpreted. The fight against racial discrimination can be helped by a purification of the historical memory of peoples. Special attention should be given to the manner in which educational textbooks examine history and the relations between peoples. Determined efforts should be made to eliminate from school textbooks any direct or indirect incitement to racial intolerance.

The tone of such texts should be focused towards helping future generations rise above past differences. This can be a demanding task. It must avoid all superficiality and not attempt to play down or reduce the suffering caused, at times over many generations, to victims of institutionalized racial intolerance, within nations or at an international level.

Education against racism should aim especially at enhancing the capacity of individuals and communities, who have in the past been victim of exclusion, to be able to bring their own contribution tomorrow, indeed already today, to the construction of that spirit of unity which can promote future prosperity, coexistence and indeed peace within the one human family.

Racism is a challenge to peace. Peace can only be constructed in a climate of mutual respect and understanding, in the framework of the rule of law. We, as a community of nations, can only claim to "win the peace" when we can ensure, without discrimination, that all persons in our world have the security which enables them to realise of their own personal God-given dignity and potential.

*L’Osservatore Romano 28.3.2003 p.9.

L'Osservatore Romano. Weekly Edition in English n.14 p.6.