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UN official says Durban conference must achieve breakthrough on racism

UN official says Durban conference must achieve breakthrough on racism

Mary Robinson
The top United Nations human rights official today acknowledged the difficulties facing negotiators preparing for the upcoming World Conference against Racism, and emphasized the need for an agreement on fighting the scourge.

Speaking to journalists at a breakfast meeting in Geneva, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, who is also Secretary-General of the Conference, said there was a growing recognition at the highest political levels of the need to have a successful outcome of the event, which will be held in Durban, South Africa.

Responding to questions from the press, Mrs. Robinson said, "if there is an attempt to revive the idea of Zionism and racism, we will not have a successful conference in Durban." She added that she had expressed this "openly" to Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.

In a separate statement released today in advance of the event, Mrs. Robinson stressed the need for a breakthrough on racism at the Conference, saying this would require "good will and compromise on all sides."

"I am sure that no country or group will walk away completely satisfied, but the time for staking out positions and laying down markers has passed - we are now at the stage where we need to begin reaching agreements."

The Durban meeting would be "nothing less than a conference to discuss the core principles that should underpin this new century," the High Commissioner said. "It is an important opportunity for the world community to commit, for the first time in the post-apartheid era, to a truly global effort to address the ancient and the modern manifestations of this evil."

The forum's Preparatory Committee will begin a two-week session on Monday to finalize its work on the draft declaration and programme of action to be considered by the World Conference when it convenes in Durban from 31 August to 7 September.

Much of the text that remains to be negotiated is not controversial and relates to victims of racial discrimination and new measures that can be taken to ensure a better integration of marginalized groups in society, including better access to employment, education and housing, as well as assistance and support in obtaining access to the judicial system and public services.