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

5 September 2001

 

DAILY PRESS BRIEFING

The two working group co-facilitators on the so-called difficult issue relating to the legacy of the past could not attend today's noon briefing as expected because their negotiation group was holding a meeting at the same time, Susan Markham, Spokeswoman for the World Conference against Racism, said in Durban, South Africa, today.

However, she said, Gilberto Saboia and Amina Mohamed, the ambassadors of Brazil and Kenya to the United Nations in Geneva, had agreed to speak with journalists later today. They had been involved in the whole preparatory process for the Conference and were heading the negotiations on the legacy of the past relating to slavery, colonialism, reparations, apologies and related questions.

Ms. Markham said the plenary would meet twice today. The representatives of the NGO Forum and the Youth Forum were listed to speak first. Copies of the NGO Forum and Youth Forum declarations could be found on the South African Government website, www.racism.gov.za.

The Spokeswoman said that the Credentials Committee would present its report to the plenary at 3 p.m. today. It met yesterday and recommended that the Conference accept the credentials of 170 countries as listed in the report. Copies of the report are available from the information counter at the Media Centre.

Ms. Markham said the list of speakers for the plenary would close today at 1 p.m., which meant that no more requests to speak would be accepted after that time. Two plenary sessions were expected tomorrow to complete, hopefully, all the speakers.

At this morning's meeting of the General Committee, she said, the Chairman of the Drafting Committee reported great progress in both working groups with about two thirds of all the paragraphs having been adopted. It was understood that eight paragraphs of the draft declaration and 13 from the draft programme of action were adopted yesterday. A press release would be available on exactly which ones had been adopted.

The facilitators of the so-called difficult issues also reported to the General Committee this morning, the Spokeswoman said. The co-facilitator on the legacy of the past, Ambassador Saboia, of Brazil, said there had been a useful exchange of views and a paper had been prepared to identify common ground and contentious issues.

Ms. Markham said that the facilitator of the group on victims, Arturo Hernandez-Basave of Mexico, had announced that agreement on the language should be reached today.

She said that the group on the Middle East issue, chaired by Conference President Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, met three times yesterday and was looking at a preliminary text. Contrary to media reports, it had not yet been agreed.

There may be a meeting of the Main Committee, she said. It would either take reports from the Drafting Committee's working groups or adopt paragraphs that the working groups had already adopted. Hopefully, more details would be available later.

Turning to special events, Ms. Markham said that High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson spoke this morning at a round table on racism and indigenous peoples. She said she was aware of the deep concern over the controversy and contradictions about paragraphs 26 and 27 of the draft declaration. Mrs. Robinson assured everybody that governments were working hard to address the issue.

Ms. Markham quoted the High Commissioner as stressing that government delegates were pressured with many demands, but they were indeed working on the issue of indigenous peoples. The overriding issue was that the Durban Conference should be a positive experience for all indigenous peoples and that they should leave Durban with a reaffirmation of their individual and collective rights.

Mrs. Robinson, who is Secretary-General to the World Conference, also said that the government representatives had heard the voices of the indigenous peoples and that she, in her personal capacity, would try to influence them as much as possible behind the scenes on the issue of that contradiction.

Ms. Markham noted that the audience appeared to be very grateful to the High Commissioner for all her efforts on their behalf. She received high applause and was very highly praised by Erica Daes, Chairperson of the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations.

However, the Spokeswoman said, Ms. Daes was critical of "the intolerable and unacceptable" delays that have sometimes failed to change the state of indigenous peoples. Copies of Mrs. Robinson's statement at that event, as well as other documents passed out, would be available at the information counter.

The High Commissioner also spoke this morning at a panel discussion on the link between racism and HIV/AIDS, Ms. Markham said. Copies of a speech at that event by Peter Piot, Executive Director of UNAIDS, were also available at the information counter.

This afternoon, the High Commissioner would speak at an event concerning racism and the impact and role of the media, Ms. Markham said. There would be an opportunity to ask questions from the floor. Riz Khan, formerly of CNN International would moderate the event.

Also this afternoon at 1:15, she said, the High Commissioner would launch a book called "Uniting to Combat Racism" produced with the United Nations Educational, Social and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Copies of the book and additional information were available at the UNESCO exhibition stand at the back of the Durban Exhibition Centre building near the restaurant.

Ms. Markham said an event relating to African immigration and women would be held at 6 p.m. in room 12 in the building opposite the Media Centre entrance, next to the metal detectors.

Details on all special events could be found in the Journal and from the information counter, she said.

Regarding press conferences, the Spokeswoman announced that Archbishop Desmond Tutu would be participating in a press conference in the Press Briefing Room (Coast of Dreams) at 4 p.m. today.

She said South Africa would give its daily briefing at 1 p.m. Immediately after the noon briefing, a new NGO coalition against racism would give a press briefing. At 3 p.m., the East and Central European Caucus would give a press conference.

At 6 p.m., NGOs would hold a candlelight vigil in support of the Conference, Ms. Markham said. They would march around the Conference site.

Regarding problems with the daily Web-casts of proceedings in the plenary, she said the United Nations Web server had been under denial of service attacks of varying intensity. The live Web cast of this morning's plenary session would be archived and posted when the problem was resolved.

Asked whether the Belgian delegation had set a deadline of this evening for an agreed text on the Middle East, the Spokeswoman said that as far as she was aware, there was only a deadline of encouraging the facilitators to complete their work as soon as possible, hopefully by the end of today.

A correspondent said the Spokeswoman's tally of approved paragraphs in the draft documents differed from the information he had received from the Canadian delegation.

Ms. Markham said she did not have any overall figures. She had given journalists the numbers she had heard from the Chairman of the Drafting Committee, who had reported good progress.

The same journalist asked if Secretary-General Kofi Annan was in touch with the Conference. Given rumours that the Canadian and Europeans delegations were preparing to leave, was there a sense of pessimism?

No, not at all, the Spokeswoman replied. The issues were extremely difficult, as the High Commissioner had repeatedly told the media. Negotiations were likely to continue until the last day. A conclusion by the end of today would relieve a lot of pressure, but even if not, there was still time.

Asked when Mrs. Robinson would receive the NGO declaration, Ms. Markham said the representatives of the NGO Forum and the Youth Forum were scheduled to address the plenary this afternoon but they would not be handing over their declarations.

Regarding the status of the United States delegation, she replied that the Credentials Committee approved its credentials yesterday. The Committee's report would go to the plenary and if the United States wished to withdraw its credentials, it must notify the Conference before that meeting.

Recalling Mrs. Robinson's criticism of language in the NGO Forum, another correspondent asked how she could criticize it when it had not formally been handed over.

Ms. Markham explained that the High Commissioner was given a symbolic version of the document at the end of the NGO closing ceremonies, before work on the declaration had been completed. It was not an official document of the Conference and would not be issued as such.


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