Statement of the representative of Eastern and Central European NGO Caucus
at the plenary session of the World Conference Against Racism,
Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance

Durban, South Africa
September 6, 2001

Mr. Yuri Dzhibladze,

President of the Centre for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights, Russia

Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen,

I am speaking on behalf of NGO delegates from 21 country of Eastern and Central Europe and the former Soviet Union -- nations which are called now "countries in transition." Like many other groups here, we are both concerned about addressing global problems of racism and trying to have our specific issues included in the agenda of the World Conference. But probably no other region as big as ours is so much out of focus of the Conference debates. We believe that if specific problems of racism and xenophobia affecting lives of almost half a billion people living on 20 per cent of the world territory are left out in the discussions of the World Conference, this global forum will not have the right to be called truly global. We call upon you to respond to the challenge and address all different forms and manifestations of modern racism because they require different remedies.

People of our region who have lived in the last decade through the most tragic experience of human suffering resulting from intolerance and ethnic hatred, such as the bloodshed in the Balkans and in Caucasus, have lots of lessons to share with the rest of the world. Racism has many ugly faces, not always easily recognised and confronted. Our experiences teach us that it takes honesty, courage and responsibility to address contemporary manifestations of racism and develop effective responses.

The conference should recognise that in many regions of the world, particularly in countries in transition, the is alarming growth of aggressive nationalism and ethnocentrism, which are expressions of racism and xenophobia not rooted in the slave-trade but deeply embedded historical prejudices and hatred towards ethnic and religious minorities. They often lead to large-scale human rights violations, discrimination and persecution targeting specific groups such as Jews, Roma, peoples from the Caucasus and Central Asia, Meskhetian Turks, and frequently even to "ethnic cleansing" and crimes against humanity with elements of genocide, particularly in the Balkans and Chechnya.

Our region knows too well how ethnic hatred escalates into armed conflicts which in turn perpetuate xenophobia and intolerance in the war zones and beyond. Impunity should not be permitted. We urge the States speedily conduct on the national level investigation and persecution of war crimes in compliance with resolutions of the UN Commission on Human Rights, not awaiting for the establishment of the International Criminal Court.

Effective protection should be granted to refugees and IDPs, the majority of whom are minorities, and that are being forced to return to the areas of armed conflict in violation of international humanitarian law. UN special rapporteurs must be provided access to areas of armed conflict.

The next problem is the problem of state racism. State racism is typical for many countries in our region and is often manifested by political and intellectual elites who exploit the nationalistic and xenophobic sentiments of the general public for political mobilisation and legitimisation of their authority and political power. It is done not only in the traditional blatant ways but also in relatively new, more covert institutionalised forms. In many countries official programmes and actions aimed at controlling migration and preventing ethnic conflicts often represent these new covert forms of institutionalised racism.

Criminal justice system and actions of law enforcement agencies are often based on stereotypes about alleged criminality of different minorities. Racial profiling is extensively used. A legacy of the communist past -- internal passport and residence permit system -- represents a policy leading to discrimination and expulsion of ethnic minorities in many countries in transition. All this leads to the institutionalisation and justification of racism, xenophobia and discriminatory practices tolerated, inspired, or perpetrated by government institutions and officials. These policies must be abolished.

The problem is aggravated by the problem of denial of the very existence of racism by government officials. On many occasions we, NGO activists, hear from our public officials: "Racism is not our problem; we do not have it." We affirm that no efforts to combat the scourge of racism can be successful without recognising that the problem exists. It is essential that governments stop denying, tolerating or legitimising racism and xenophobia in all forms.

My statement would not be complete without drawing your attention to the plight of the people who live through a terrible tragedy today, the Chechen people. We affirm that the Chechen people still suffer mass outrageous violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. This is about racism -- because the military operations in Chechnya are accompanied by a wide-scale campaign to incite hatred toward the Chechens which results in mass persecution and discrimination of the people of the Caucasian ethnic origin outside of Caucasus.

This is the last lesson from our region that I wanted to share with you today. When gross abuses of human rights and violence are justified through the creation of enemy images, hate and intolerance permeate the whole society, and the infectious virus of racism and xenophobia becomes much more difficult to cure.

Unfortunately, a similar problem has undermined the process of compilation of the NGO Forum documents here as well as debates at the World Conference. When difficult dialog about human rights is substituted by political and ideological accusations, it gives way to new intolerance and hatred.

Our region has important lessons to share with the rest of the world but has also a lot of home work to do to combat racism and xenophobia. We need to work together, all regions of the world, governments and NGOs, citizens and politicians, to fight the dragon, including the most dangerous dragon the one within us.

Thank you.