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UN panel on racism urges recognizing past wrongs, finding solutions for tomorrow

UN panel on racism urges recognizing past wrongs, finding solutions for tomorrow

The international community needed to acknowledge past racism and other forms of prejudice but needed to find forward-looking solutions to avoid repeating the mistakes of earlier times, speakers at a United Nations roundtable stressed today.

Nine eminent persons appointed by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson convened Friday in Geneva to give their moral and intellectual backing to efforts to forge an international consensus in the struggle for racial harmony and tolerance. The meeting was organized in conjunction with the ongoing preparations for the UN World Conference Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance that will be held in Durban, South Africa, from 31 August to 7 September.

Former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari appealed to the international community to show a "greater unity in a renewed climate of solidarity." In evoking the ongoing debate around the legacy of the history's wrongs, he said that it was "almost impossible to define a common approach on the impact of the past," and proposed the creation of a North-South Forum that could forge forward-looking solutions and avoid repeating past wrongs.

Echoing Mr. Ahtissari's comments, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, former Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, called on the countries negotiating the final text to be adopted in Durban to agree to a forward-looking, action oriented programme. "Racism and racial discrimination are a product of man-made history and xenophobia has grown from ignorance of others," he said.

Speaking later at a news conference, panel member Gareth Evans, former Foreign Minister of Australia, said that people involved in the conference needed to realize that there was a larger game at stake. The magnitude of the issues involved in the conference made it absolutely critical that it not be destroyed by persons excessively concerned about a particular issue, he said, and that the Group of Eminent Persons sought to remind everybody that the issues were too big and important for the conference to be a failure.