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UN official sees shared commitment to breakthrough at UN anti-racism forum

UN official sees shared commitment to breakthrough at UN anti-racism forum

Mary Robinson
The top UN human rights official today said countries from across the globe are working to reach agreement on remaining controversial issues in advance of the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance.

"It has been, for me, really very encouraging to see the shared commitment to going together - every country - to Durban to complete the work and to have a real breakthrough against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance," Mary Robinson, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, told reporters on the final day of the current session of the Preparatory Committee for the forum, which will open in Durban, South Africa, on 31 August.

The High Commissioner said her positive assessment was shared by officials from various countries attending the preparatory session. "A number of delegates have been saying to me over the past few days that the spirit has changed and the whole atmosphere is so much more positive," she observed.

"The feeling is there has been considerable progress in regard to language on the identification and description of victims, and also language on how we address the past," she said, recalling that how to deal with past injustice had been a difficult issue at the outset. "There is a genuine feeling that this is going to be one of the real breakthroughs in Durban."

Concerning ongoing discussions on how to address the situation on the Middle East, she said the focus was now "on whether it is possible to find appropriate language." Previously, there had been "great resistance" from certain quarters to any text on the subject.

With sensitive negotiations still going on, Mrs. Robinson refrained from commenting in detail on the issue. "It may be that if appropriate text can be found, this problem can be surmounted, but it is at a very delicate stage in many ways and I really don't want to say any more," she said.

Asked about the role of the United States in the preparatory process, Mrs. Robinson said she appreciated Washington's active engagement, which had led to "very important progress" on certain issues. She added that the World Conference was of great importance to the United States. "I know from my two meetings on it with Secretary of State Colin Powell that he personally believes that it is very important, and that he personally dearly wishes to go to Durban."

Later, in closing remarks to the preparatory meeting, Mrs. Robinson likened the present situation to that of a marathon runner who knows that the worst is over and the finish line is in sight. "We have come a long way, especially over the last two weeks," she said. "At the same time, we are conscious that an extra strong effort will be needed to finish the course."