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Robinson voices confidence on outcome of UN anti-racism forum in Durban

Robinson voices confidence on outcome of UN anti-racism forum in Durban

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights today expressed confidence that the upcoming World Conference against Racism, to be held in Durban, South Africa, will produce a new understanding on dealing with past wrongs in order to build a better future.

"I firmly believe Durban can mark a historic breakthrough," said Mary Robinson, before a meeting with South African President Thabo Mbeki in Johannesburg.

The High Commissioner, who will serve as the Conference Secretary-General, said she was encouraged by the constructive atmosphere that had become apparent in recent weeks, and by evidence that the political will existed to reach "a shared commitment to tackle intolerance and bias." She noted that intensive discussions were continuing on a number of outstanding issues, while considerable progress had already been made in several areas.

"Flexibility is being shown in the search for language on the questions of addressing the past, including slavery and colonialism, and the Middle East," said the High Commissioner. "One thing I would like to reaffirm is that there is a clear understanding that the formulation 'Zionism equals racism' has been done away with," she stressed.

Mrs. Robinson underscored the need for wide involvement in the Durban meeting. "We will need the participation of all countries at the highest level possible to demonstrate our determination to fight this plague," she said.

"There is still a lot of work to be done," the High Commissioner observed. "We want the final document of the Conference to be a sort of Magna Carta in the fight against racism."

Meanwhile in Austria today, Secretary-General Kofi Annan was asked about the participation of the United States in the Durban meeting. He noted that a decision on that matter rested with the country's Government. "There are indications from Washington that if they do not get the language they want they may not participate," he said, adding that "efforts are being made and people are working on the language even as we speak."

Set to run from 31 August to 7 September, the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance will focus on action-oriented and practical steps to eradicate those scourges.