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UN urges fight against bias in Eastern Europe

UN rights chief urges fight against bias in Eastern Europe

The Acting United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Bertrand Ramcharan, today called on Eastern and Central European countries to combat extreme nationalism, intolerance and hate speech that he said contributed to bloody conflicts in the Balkans and elsewhere.

Speaking in Prague to a UN-organized Eastern European seminar on racism and intolerance, Mr. Ramcharan said that as the democratization process unfolds in the region, "We must guard against tensions between different national and ethnic groups previously suppressed.

"We must also guard against extreme nationalism, accompanied by intolerance and hate speech. Ethnic strife has led to bloody conflicts in the Balkans and other places," he said.

The Prague meeting, hosted by the Government of the Czech Republic, is the latest in a series of similar regional seminars aimed at drawing up specific plans to carry out the decisions reached at the 2001 World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance held in Durban, South Africa. Meetings for the Latin American and Caribbean and African regions were held last year in Mexico and Kenya. An international group of experts appointed by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan shortly after the Durban conference met last week in Geneva.

Mr. Ramcharan told the Prague meeting: "Your region is presently at a turning point in history. In the turbulent waters of ever increasing xenophobia there can be only one choice: to walk the path of tolerance and inter-ethnic understanding, anchored in the spirit of human rights.

"One way of advancing the cause of human rights is to speak out openly against xenophobia and racism, " he added. "Tackling taboos and going against mainstream populist views takes courage."

In its Geneva meeting, the independent group of eminent experts called for the development of a "Racial Equality Index" to measure racial inequalities in nations throughout the world. They said the index could be similar to the Human Development Index already in use by the UN Development Programme (UNDP).

The group also emphasized "the need for elaboration and implementation of national plans of action relating to the struggle against discrimination."

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