Statement to the 2009 Durban Review Conference
Racism originates not in the skin but in the human mind. Remedies to racial prejudice, xenophobia and intolerance must accordingly address, first and foremost, the mental illusions that for thousands of years have generated false concepts of superiority and inferiority among human beings. At the root of this intolerance is the erroneous idea that humankind is composed of separate and distinct races, peoples or castes, and that these sub-groups possess varying intellectual, moral and/or physical capacities, which justify different forms of treatment.
The reality is that there is only one human race. We are a single people, inhabiting one planet: one human family bound together in a common destiny and obligated to "be even as one soul."
Recognition of this truth is the antidote to racism, xenophobia and related intolerance. It should therefore continue to be the guiding principle behind all the discussions, deliberations and ultimate outcome of the Durban Review Conference. Indeed, a proper understanding of this fact can carry humanity beyond intermediate notions of tolerance based on multi-culturalism. Such concepts are stepping-stones towards a peaceful and just world but insufficient to eradicate the deeply rooted afflictions of racism and related prejudice.
The principle of human oneness strikes a chord in the deepest reaches of the spirit. It is not just a way of talking about ideals of solidarity. Nor is it some vague concept or slogan. It reflects an eternal, spiritual, moral and physical reality brought into focus by humanity's collective coming of age in the twentieth century. It is all the more visible now because the peoples of the world have many ways to perceive their interdependence and become conscious of their underlying unity.
Perceiving humanity's collective oneness comes after a historic process in which individuals gathered into ever greater units. From clans to tribes, to city-states and nations, to unions and associations of States, the next step for humanity is to create a diverse and yet unified global civilization – where all people, populations and cultures are component parts of a single organism: humanity itself. As stated by Bahá'u'lláh over 100 years ago, "The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens."
The Baha'i writings state that the oneness of humanity "implies an organic change in the structure of present-day society, a change such as the world has not yet experienced. It calls for no less than the reconstruction and the demilitarization of the whole civilized world – a world organically unified in all the essential aspects of its life, its political machinery, its spiritual aspiration, its trade and finance, its script and language, and yet infinite in the diversity of the national characteristics of its federated units."
In the context of the Durban Review Conference, a proper understanding of the oneness of humanity implies that any law, tradition or mental construct that grants superior rights or privileges to one grouping of humanity over another is not only morally wrong but fundamentally at odds with the best interests of even those who consider themselves to be in some way superior.
It also implies that nation-states, as contributors to an emerging global civilization, must hold common standards and take active steps to purge from their laws, traditions and practices any form of discrimination based on race, nationality, ethnic origin – or, for that matter, on gender, religion, language or any other individual characteristic or choice. While racial, national and/or ethnic heritage can be sources of pride and a backdrop for positive social development, such distinctions should not become a basis for new forms of separation or superiority, however subtle.
Finally, it implies that justice must be the governing principle of social organization, calling for widespread measures by governments, international agencies and civil society to address economic injustice at all levels.
International human rights standards embody a collective global consensus. As such, they represent the best instrument available to combat racism, racial discrimination and related intolerance. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, ratified by 173 States, is the only legally binding global instrument that comprehensively addresses the issues at the centre of our debates here. It is vital for the discussions at this Conference to affirm the principles contained in the Convention – and to require their implementation – rather than to focus on other matters, where unity and harmony does not yet prevail.
With a membership of more than five million, the worldwide Baha'i community is composed of individuals from over 2,000 racial and tribal groups and from nearly every nationality, religious background and social class. Uniting its great diversity goes beyond a shared theology, as its members work together closely in communities to consciously create a global culture based on peace, justice and sustainable development. Baha'is believe that their own success in building a unified community stems from its inspiration in spiritual teachings emphasizing the reality of human oneness and the imperative need to create a peaceful world civilization. Over 100 years ago, the Founder of our Faith wrote:
O Children of Men! Know ye not why We created you all from the same dust? That no one should exalt himself over the other. Ponder at all times in your hearts how ye were created. Since We have created you all from one same substance it is incumbent on you to be even as one soul, to walk with the same feet, eat with the same mouth and dwell in the same land, that from your inmost being, by your deeds and actions, the signs of oneness and the essence of detachment may be made manifest.