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UN official sees potential breakthrough as planning for anti-racism forum nears end

UN official sees potential breakthrough as planning for anti-racism forum nears end

With preparations for the upcoming United Nations conference against racism entering their final stretch, the top UN human rights official today said a breakthrough on difficult issues is within reach.

"It is my conviction that we can achieve a successful outcome at Durban and that we must persist in our endeavours," Mary Robinson, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, told the bureau of the Geneva-based Preparatory Committee for the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, referring to the South African city where the forum will open on 31 August.

Mrs. Robinson focused in particular on the need for careful negotiation concerning the "quest of two neighbouring peoples, Israelis and Palestinians, for self-determination and justice, the need to resolve protracted conflict and occupation, claims of inequality, violence and terrorism, and a deteriorating situation on the ground." Appealing for cooperation by all, she welcomed the fact that "everyone understands that there can be no return to an issue settled by the General Assembly, the former Zionism-racism problem." In 1991, the Assembly revoked an earlier resolution which had equated Zionism with racism.

The High Commissioner articulated a set of principles to guide negotiations on the issue, stressing the need to recognize the equal rights of both peoples as well as the grievance and frustration caused by prolonged military occupation. She underscored the need to condemn terrorism, indiscriminate violence, excessive and disproportionate force, and the propagation of hatred no matter who commits them. In addition, she urged understanding of the historical wounds of anti-Semitism and of the Holocaust on the one hand, and of the accumulated wounds of displacement and of military occupation on the other.

On remaining issues facing the preparatory committee, due to complete its work Friday, Mrs. Robinson welcomed the fact that working groups have adopted a set of major assessments and policy pronouncements as a foundation for talks. She pointed in particular to an "important breakthrough provision" on the issue of remedies. The agreed text on the matter calls for justice for victims of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, "including the right to seek just and adequate reparation or satisfaction for any damage suffered."

Looking to the remaining weeks before the Conference, the High Commissioner called for ongoing cooperation with the chairmen of the working groups and a continuation, where needed, of "informal facilitation processes." She pledged her personal commitment to push forward, saying "Secretary-General Kofi Annan and I are in contact with national leaders, seeking their cooperation on particular issues, and this effort will continue in the coming period."

Calling inequality "the pressing challenge of our times," Mrs. Robinson said the World Conference must succeed. "A Durban consensus beckons," she said. "Let us all respond positively and constructively."