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Set aside differences, develop global plan to fight racism, Annan tells UN conference

Set aside differences, develop global plan to fight racism, Annan tells UN conference

The world community must set aside individual disagreements and develop a global plan to fight discrimination, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said today as the World Conference against Racism opened in Durban, South Africa.

In his opening address, the Secretary-General said that failing to reach agreement at the conference would give "comfort to the worst elements in society. But if we can leave with a call to action supported by all, we shall send a signal of hope to brave people who struggle against racism all over the world.

"Let us rise above our disagreements," he said. "The wrangling has gone on for too long."

Mr. Annan said that while the world could agree to condemn racism, the accusation of racism against any particular individual or group was particularly hurtful - nowhere was that truer today than in the Middle East.

"The Jewish people have been victims of anti-Semitism in many parts of the world, and in Europe they were the target of the Holocaust - the ultimate abomination," he said. "It is understandable, therefore, that many Jews deeply resent any accusation of racism directed against the State of Israel - and all the more so when it coincides with indiscriminate and totally unacceptable attacks on innocent civilians."

Yet the world could not "expect Palestinians to accept this as a reason why the wrongs done to them - displacement, occupation, blockade, and now extra-judicial killings - should be ignored, whatever label one uses to describe them," the Secretary-General said. "But, my friends, mutual accusations are not the purpose of this conference. Our main objective must be to improve the lot of the victims."

Kofi Annan with Yasser Arafat (30/08/01).

Afterwards the Secretary-General continued to hold bilateral meetings with various leaders. During such contacts yesterday, he met with Yasser Arafat, President of the Palestinian Authority. They reviewed the latest efforts to halt the violence between Israelis and Palestinians, especially the initiative of German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer to bring together Mr. Arafat and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres for talks in Berlin.

Later at a round table of heads of State and government, the Secretary-General urged leaders to guide a national dialogue on racism, stressing their "tremendous responsibility" in fulfilling the promises made in Durban.

"As the leaders of your countries, you can guide the national dialogue on racism," he said. "Even simple acts, such as attendance at festivals or events held by the minority communities, can send a clear message from the top that diversity is something for a society to cherish - and that you will tolerate nothing less."

At the end of the day, Mr. Annan opened a meeting of business and trade union leaders to discuss the impact of racism and discrimination in the workplace and wider community.

The dialogue was intended to highlight private-sector initiatives to promote equality and inclusion in and out of the workplace, while examining obstacles faced in fighting discrimination. Participants also explored opportunities for new partnerships as part of their commitment to the Secretary-General's Global Compact, an initiative to encourage business and labour to respect standards relating to the environment, employment laws and human rights.