Address by Mr. Shimon Peres Minister for Foreign Affairs

United Nations World Conference on Human Rights

Vienna, June 15, 1993

Mr. Chairman,

Bread, freedom, peace, justice and fresh air are the rights that make us human.

As we leave the twentieth century, we can see how those rights were violated.

The greatest shame of this epoch still hovers over the century: the shame of totalitarian regimes, Nazism and fascism, and other dictatorships which frustrated our freedoms and peace as they wrought fear, poverty, oppression, and bloodshed.

With the collapse of Bolshevism, we took leave of a perceived division of our globe – West and East, North and South.

The West and East symbolized the ideological split, which became a military confrontation: the NATO Treaty vis-a-vis the Warsaw Pact. With the fall of the Soviet Union, the West bid farewell to a world of identifiable enemies, and moved into a world of unidentified problems.

The distinction between North and South was supposedly economic. The North – developed, the South – underdeveloped; the North – rich, the South – poor; The North – white, the South – non-white; the North practicing a market economy, the South without a market or an economy. The term ‘third world’ implied the existence of a ‘first world.’

This division is no longer a reality.

Asia, the heart of the South, is undergoing a dramatic transformation, and prejudices of geography, race, and colour are being shattered.

The moment Asian countries set belligerence aside, and invested in education, in nurturing science, in employing high technology, we learned that a situation can change even as the location remains unchanged. And we learned anew that all human beings are born equal. That is the foundation of Jewish faith: Each person is created in the image of the Lord, a non-discriminatory Master.

We reflect the times in which we live. It is for us to create an environment in which everybody can equally enjoy human rights.

So we have to heed the new winds of our time, to adopt new positions, to change rather than repeat.

We have to take leave of the sword. The sources of might and wealth today are intellectual rather than physical. And they cannot be attained by wars. Education determines the fortunes of nations. The world we live in respects economy more than strategy.

We cannot remain indifferent to terrorism, to atrocities, to cruelty, to death. In situations of internal bloodshed where armies of nations cannot handle them, there is a need to have a United Nations peacekeeping army. And those who commit atrocities should be brought to trial.

The highest priority should be given to universal education. Ignorance, like hatred, is a menace to peaceful coexistence. Knowledge is the real treasure of our time. It is also the guarantee for human rights.

We call for political and economic democracy in every corner of the world. The democratization of governments as well as the development of modern economies depends mainly on us. We have to free our lives of the whims of despots, and enable the people to elect their leaders and select their goods in a free system and in a market economy.

And then, all governments must be founded on tolerance: tolerance of religions, ethnicity, nationality, and both sexes. Tolerance must be based on acceptance of human plurality. People are not created identical. Therefore the essence of pluralism is that people should have an equal right to be different from each other.

The opposite of tolerance is oppression. And oppression is costly. It is the cost of a secret police, a shining army, an evil propaganda. It makes nations poor in food and rich in fear.

Anti-Semitism brought untold suffering to the Jewish people. It still exists, even in places where there are no longer Jews. It is still alive where there are only Jewish cemeteries. It is a cancer of the intellect. It poisons the soul of the people. And eventually it makes them victims of their own evils.

We are on the side of all victims, whether black or white, whether they are Moslems, Christians, Hindus, Jews; whether they are Turks, Bosnians, or Somalis.

Jewish history would never permit domination of another people, neither in the past nor in the present, neither Palestinians nor Arab. Therefore the conflict between us is not over civil rights, but over the right solution. We prefer a solution that provides Israel with what she is short of – security, and that provides the Palestinians with what they are short of – self-government. No mother in Israel is happy when her son has to soldier the alleyways of Gaza. Shared tragedies should be replaced with shared understanding. In the negotiations with the delegation of the Palestinian people, we agreed to form a committee on human rights. I hope that the negotiations will gain new momentum and that before long the Palestinians themselves will be responsible for human rights in their communities.

We call on the Middle Eastern countries to draw lessons from the new Asia and the new Europe and to build a new Middle East. Instead of continuing the past conflicts of divided sides, let us take the side of a prosperous Middle East for all of us.

We need a democratic Middle East. Prosperity and stability will effectively be maintained when the Middle East will be a region for the people, not for the rulers.

We need a Middle East free from oppression, free from discrimination, free from occupation, and without hostages, without terror, without fanaticism.

We need a greening of the Middle East. By recycling existing water and producing new, by coupling land and science, by opening borders and inviting tourists who will bring tranquillity, by adopting modern economy, by restraining the race of arms, we can provide our children with food and hope.

It is for our generation to take the pains to transform the old region into a new reality. It is for our generation to take out the desert from the land, the salt from the water, the violence from the people. We have to become a human coalition which knows not only how to pray, but also how to provide prayers with answers.