World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance

Department of Public Information - News and Media Services Division - New York
Durban, South Africa
31 August 7 September 2001

3 September

 

DAILY PRESS BRIEFING

Midway through the World Conference against Racism in Durban, South Africa, Working Group I has adopted 12 paragraphs contained in the draft Declaration, Susan Markham, Spokeswoman for the Conference, said at the daily noon briefing today.

She said that the working group, chaired by Marc Bossuyt (Belgium), also deleted preambular paragraph 10 and operative paragraph 9 because they were similar to others. The text of 12 adopted paragraphs was available at the information counter in the Media Centre, Ms. Markham added. Paragraphs adopted by the two working groups since the Conference started were also available

Working Group II, chaired by Bonaventure M. Bowa (Zambia), had adopted five paragraphs of the draft Programme of Action, she said, and one element of a sixth. They covered development and financial institutions and people of African descent; the justice system; indigenous peoples; migrant and family reunification; and migrants and their rights in the workplace.

The Spokeswoman said Working Group I had still to go through 92 ongoing paragraphs and 9 adopted with square brackets. Remaining before Working Group II were 37 ongoing paragraphs, 13 adopted with square brackets, and 129 that had not yet been considered.

On the so-called "difficult issues" before the Working Groups, she said it had been proposed that Namibia assist Norway in conducting informal consultations on the question of the Middle East.

Regarding the legacy of the past, she said many countries had spoken of the need for some form of affirmative action to redress the economic, social and political ravages of slavery and colonialism. Pakistan had suggested that the Secretary-General appoint a group of eminent persons to recommend appropriate measures for redress and restitution.

Others had mentioned increased economic assistance to Africa, Ms. Markham said. South African Deputy President Jacob Zuma said yesterday that the New African Initiative -- the Organization of African Unity (OAU) plan to rebuild Africa -- was a way to achieve concrete results in reversing the ill effects of colonialism's legacy. Others had made similar remarks, including President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal.

The Spokeswoman said that the draft Programme of Action contained proposals relating to reparations. Paragraphs 197 and 198 of Section IV list different ways in which reparations might be made, including the creation of an education fund or an international scholarship programme for people of African descent and indigenous peoples.

Other proposals refer to reforming multilateral organizations; restoring art objects and historical artifacts and documents to their countries of origin; improving access to international markets; and creating a development reparation fund financed by private sectors that benefited from colonialism.

On whether an apology would suffice, Ms. Markham said Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo had stated that while an apology must be extended by States that practised and benefited from slavery and colonialism, not every apology must be followed by monetary compensation. She cited his stated view that after an apology expressing a commitment that such acts would never occur again, the issue of reparations ceased to be a rational option, and indeed may further hurt the dignity of Africans.

Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade had observed that the reparations question had been raised in generic terms, whereas the consequences of slavery were not the same in different regions, the Spokeswoman said. It was therefore not possible to achieve worldwide consensus on the issue of reparations, and the President had suggested that a case-by-case approach should be used.

President Fidel Castro of Cuba, she recalled, had proposed that a good portion of the nearly $1 trillion spent every year on commercial advertising could be used for development as part of the payback scheme.

Ms. Markham noted that some European countries have expressed regret. She cited German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer as saying that to recognize guilt, assume responsibility and face up to historical obligations may at least give back to the victims and their descendants the dignity of which they were robbed. "I should therefore like to do that here and now on behalf of the Federal Republic of Germany", she quoted the Minister as saying.

Ms. Markham also cited Roger van Boxtel, Foreign Minister of the Netherlands, who expressed deep remorse about enslavement and the slave trade.

Noting that some journalists had asked for a definition of crimes against humanity, Ms. Markham noted that the concept was unknown at the time of the transatlantic slave trade. The definition had evolved over the past 50 years, since the Nuremberg trials.

The concept was contained most recently in the Statute of the International Criminal Court, the Spokeswoman said. But as that Treaty had not yet entered into force, she referred journalists to the Statutes of the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. The relevant texts of all three Statutes were available at the Media Centre.

In consultations on the issue of grounds for discrimination, Ms. Markham referred journalists to the Programme of Action. Following paragraph 16 there were three prepared texts. From those it could be seen there were some common factors, which included race, colour, descent or national or ethnic origin, as inspired by article 1 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

There were also other factors based on language used in other international instruments. Those included language and religion derived from article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The facilitator for that issue, Arturo Hernandez-Basave of Mexico, would join the briefing shortly to explain that further.

Addressing questions asked yesterday, Ms. Markham said she was unaware of any official dress code for the Conference and that no incident had been reported of NGO participants being turned away for attire deemed inappropriate. However, proper attire was expected.

A correspondent asked whether Secretary-General Kofi Annan's departure would hurt the Conference. If not, did it mean that his presence had not been helpful?

The Spokeswoman replied that the Secretary-General had been part of the Conference's high-level segment, which ended after the first day and a half.

She reminded journalists that the Secretary-General of the World Conference, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, was scheduled to open the "Act to Stop Racism" exhibit mounted by the United Nations Department of Public Information at 12:45 p.m. in the International Convention Centre lobby.

In response to a question, the Spokeswoman said the United States delegation was not listed to speak today, but it was expected to make a statement in the future. Israel's delegation was expected to make a statement later in the day.

Non-governmental organizations were expected to speak in tomorrow's session of the plenary, Ms. Markham said. Representatives of the NGO and Youth Forums would probably address the session as well.

The facilitator for the question of victims of racism, Mr. Hernandez-Basave said it was a core issue of the World Conference and should not have been difficult to resolve.

He said 20 paragraphs referred to the grounds for discrimination and the list of victims. While some delegations believed xenophobia was linked to national origin, others feared that widening the grounds would also dilute them.

Agreement had been reached on the existence of aggravated or multiple discrimination, the facilitator said. Now it was a matter of discussing in a timely manner elements other than those based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. There was a mood of agreement and a commitment to reach one soon, he added.

Asked whether any delegation was working on a compromise text on the issue of descent regarding the Dalits, Mr. Hernandez-Basave said it had been agreed that such consultations would be open-ended and transparent.

Regarding the status of negotiations on indigenous peoples, he replied that they would be included in the list of victims. That question would be discussed today for the first time.

Asked whether the remaining paragraphs could be adopted in the remaining time, Mr. Hernandez-Basave said there were still 270 paragraphs, many of which were to be discussed for the first time. About 20 of those were being considered during the present set of consultations and agreement on them would set a good mood for the other consultations.

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