World Conference against Racism ends with call to eradicate discrimination

World Conference against Racism ends with call to eradicate discrimination

The United Nations World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance ended in Durban, South Africa, today with a condemnation of those scourges and a call for action by the international community to eradicate them wherever they may be found.

After intensive and often difficult deliberations on key contentious issues, the Conference adopted a Declaration and Programme of Action that commit Member States to undertake a wide range of measures to combat racism and discrimination. At the time of the adoption, however, a number of delegations voiced their reservations or disassociations on certain points, including those relating to the Middle East and to the legacy of the past.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan, speaking to reporters in New York this morning, lauded the effort by delegations to achieve common ground. "The Conference was about victims; the Conference was about the future; the Conference was to try and come up with a plan of action and a declaration that would mean something to all those people in the room and around the world who are victims of discrimination," he said. "We did not achieve everything we went there to achieve, but at least the issue of discrimination was put on the agenda, was discussed, and in the end, a document came out."

In a statement released in New York on Saturday, Mr. Annan expressed regret that the forum had been overshadowed by disagreements on "highly emotional issues, especially the Middle East." He stressed the need to reflect on the experience, and to learn from it. "The United Nations is a mirror to the world, and its work reflects what divides us as well as what unites us," he said. "This can be painful, but it is sometimes necessary, since only if we see our divisions clearly can we work to overcome them."

The statement said the Conference documents "should send a signal of hope" to those struggling against racism. "It is up to governments now to work with these brave people, and see that their commitments are actually fulfilled," Mr. Annan said.

Echoing this view, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, said the Conference must mark a beginning, not an end. "There must be follow-up," emphasized Mrs. Robinson, who also served as Conference Secretary-General. "The documents we have agreed here will be meaningless unless governments act on them."

The Conference Declaration, expressing concern about the plight of the Palestinian people under foreign occupation, recognized their inalienable right to self-determination and to the establishment of an independent State. It also recognized Israel's right to security, and called upon all countries to support the peace process and bring it to an early conclusion.

On slavery, the Conference text acknowledged and profoundly regretted the massive human sufferings and the tragic plight of millions of men, women and children as a result of slavery, the slave trade, apartheid, colonialism and genocide. Acknowledging that these were appalling tragedies, the Conference said slavery, especially the transatlantic slave trade, was a crime against humanity and "should always have been so."

Concerning compensation and reparations, the Conference recognized that historical injustices had undeniably contributed to poverty, underdevelopment, marginalization, social exclusion, economic disparities, instability and insecurity. The Conference recognized the need to develop programmes for social and economic development within the framework of a new partnership based on the spirit of solidarity and mutual respect.

The Conference attracted the participation of 2,300 representatives from 163 countries, including 16 heads of State, 58 foreign ministers and 44 ministers. Nearly 4,000 representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and over 1,100 media representatives were accredited.