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“Voices”: a call for more determination to combat racism

High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay highlighted the importance of speaking out, at the end of a week-long event where “voices” from various parts of the world bore testimony to their experiences with racism in their countries.

Berthe Kayitesi, Rwandan genocide Survivor. UN Photo/Pierre Virot“Individuals who speak out can and do alter the course of nations towards justice and equality,” she said

“Voices - Everyone affected by racism has a story that should be heard,” provided a platform for a number of individuals from diverse countries and cultures to share their personal experiences of discrimination, giving a human face to issues discussed during the Durban Review Conference. Their testimonies illustrated the universality of racism and the suffering it causes: physical violence, psychological trauma, stigmatisation, exclusion from society, and poverty.

The “Voices” sessions were moderated by Gay McDougall, UN Independent Expert on Minority Issues.

The High Commissioner also called on States to make a commitment against racism.

“The nations present at this global conference all have a commitment to take its message back to the cities, towns and villages of their people. This message must be that equality, justice and non-discrimination are not only the demands of a few; they are also the very foundations upon which we build our strong, diverse and peaceful societies together,” she said.

This view was shared by the “Voices” panellists who, at the end of the five-day side event, delivered a final common message of thanks to the High Commissioner and Ms McDougall, also urging them and the audience to exert more vigilance, determination and perseverance in the fight against racial discrimination.

As Rwanda commemorates the genocide of hundreds of thousands of its Tutsis and Hutu political moderates that occurred in April 1994, Berthe Kayitesi, a young genocide survivor who lost part of her family, gave a powerful and hopeful message of peace and of reconciliation in her country. “We are asking for justice," Kayitesi said. "And the first thing is to recognize the crimes.”

The High Commissioner also said that “nations are represented in the conference halls and decision-making forums. However, affected individuals must also be present to remind Governments of progress, but also of commitments that remain unfulfilled, and ultimately to demand results that truly steer change.”

April 2009