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

7 September 2001

 

DAILY PRESS BRIEFING

The plenary has 111 NGO representatives listed to speak today, the final day of the World Conference against Racism, Susan Markham, Spokeswoman for the event, said at the daily noon briefing in Durban, South Africa. However, it is unlikely that they will all have time to speak as discussion on this agenda item will conclude at 1 p.m. today.

She said that Working Group I on the draft Declaration finished its work last night. It had a few remaining paragraphs relating to the Middle East question and the legacy of the past, which would be taken up once the negotiations on those issues were completed.

Working Group II on the draft Programme of Action worked until 4:30 this morning but still had a number of outstanding paragraphs, she said. The Chairman of the Drafting Committee, Ali Khorram of Iran, said this morning that there were 150 paragraphs left in both documents, but mostly in the Programme of Action. About 85 were awaiting the outcome of informal consultations on the two remaining "difficult issues". The remaining paragraphs, about 65, were from the Programme of Action, the Spokeswoman added.

She said the two working groups would come together as the Drafting Committee and adopt everything that they had agreed on. Then the documents would go to the Main Committee, which was scheduled to meet at 3 p.m. At that meeting, any outstanding paragraphs, such as those concerning the Middle East and the past, would be resolved.

Regarding the Middle East, she said that the President of the Conference, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, had reported at this morning's meeting of the General Committee that she had not yet received all the final reports from all the regional groups concerning the text that she had circulated yesterday in the General Committee. The President said she expected the reports before the end of this morning.

Yesterday, the President had requested three delegations to identify those paragraphs in the draft Declaration and Programme of Action that dealt with the Middle East question, the Spokeswoman said. When a list of those paragraphs was circulated to the General Committee this morning, 33 had been identified, of which nine were considered to be of a general nature, not specifically relating to the Middle East. They were referred back to the working groups for immediate action.

Ms. Markham said that of the remaining 22 paragraphs, four appeared to deal with the legacy of the past. Of the remaining 18, there was some disagreement over whether or not all of them dealt specifically with the Middle East question. In particular, operative paragraph 33 of the draft Declaration was cited, which dealt with foreign occupation as well as a number of other paragraphs on the same issue in the two documents.

"There was a difference of opinion as to whether or not these should now be referred to the working groups to resolve or whether they should remain pending until the negotiations on the Middle East are resolved", the Spokeswoman said. "As of now, the working groups have been asked to resolve those dealing with general issues only."

On the legacy of the past, Ms. Markham said that Gilberto Saboia of Brazil, on behalf of his co-facilitator, Amina Mohamed of Kenya, reported to the General Committee that yesterday afternoon's negotiations on the legacy of the past had continued as informal consultations. A paper had been produced around 4 p.m. yesterday reflecting the elements of agreement and identifying where the differences lie.

Last night, Mr. Saboia and Ms. Mohamed met with the President to report on what had been agreed, the Spokeswoman said. The Brazilian representative said that the co-facilitators had thus concluded their work and the President of the Conference would now take the lead on resolving the remaining outstanding issues on questions of the legacy of the past.

The President indicated that the negotiations were near conclusion and the remaining one or two outstanding matters could be resolved, Ms. Markham said. Mr. Saboia also said that a similar process was under way to identify the specific paragraphs in the draft Declaration and Programme of Action relating to the legacy of the past. The purpose obviously was to ensure that all the other paragraphs were acted on in the working groups before they went to the Main Committee. The paragraphs on the Middle East and the legacy of the past would be resolved in the negotiations.

Ms. Markham said it was clear that as of 10 a.m., when the General Committee finished, there were still some unresolved issues. The President of the Conference was taking the lead on resolving them. While that was going on the Drafting Committee would meet to adopt the paragraphs agreed by the two working groups.

The focus this afternoon would be on the Main Committee meeting scheduled for 3 p.m., where proposals would be made concerning the remaining unresolved paragraphs, the Spokeswoman said. It was anticipated that prior to the Main Committee meeting, texts of both draft documents as agreed in the Drafting Committee would be available. They would be circulated in the Main Committee meeting.

Both the Drafting Committee and the Main Committee meetings would be held in the Plenary Hall, Ms. Markham said. The final meeting of the Conference would be the plenary, which would then adopt the report of the Main Committee containing the final texts of both the Declaration and Programme of Action. It would also hear any closing statements by regional groups, the host country, the Secretary-General of the Conference and finally the President of the Conference.

The Spokeswoman said the President had indicated in the General Committee meeting that she would like the plenary to meet at 4 p.m. today to conclude the Conference. However, the actual meeting time would be determined by how long the Drafting Committee and Main Committee took to complete the adoption of the draft Declaration and Programme of Action.

A joint final press conference had been tentatively scheduled for the President and Secretary-General of the Conference, Ms. Markham said, the time to be determined.

Turning to special events, she said there were four listed in the Journal, the final one to conclude at 3 p.m.

On press conferences, she said the South African Human Rights Commission would hold one at 1 p.m.; the International Youth Committee at 1:30 p.m.; and the International Steering Committee of the NGO Forum at 3 p.m.

Ms. Markham said that this morning, at the International Steering Committee's request, Mary Robinson, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and Conference Secretary-General, met with NGOs to clarify her position on the NGO Forum Declaration. She had explained yesterday that she had wanted to meet with them earlier, but the pressures of the Conference had forced her to postpone the meeting.

Mrs. Robinson told the NGOs that she did not reject the declaration, Ms. Markham said. She accepted it, but it contained provisions that were inappropriate and unhelpful. Mrs. Robinson said that because of this, she could not commend the document to delegations as she normally would like to do. It was the first time she was not able to commend a document in its entirety. She mentioned in particular paragraphs 418 and 419.

However, Ms. Markham said, the High Commissioner did say that a number of things in the document were extremely good, in particular, the identification of victims in the preamble. Mrs. Robinson described the declaration as a rich document with very good sections on criminal justice and the judicial system. Noting the value of involving the NGO Forum and the Youth Forum in the Conference, she emphasized the importance of follow-up.

More details of her comments were available, the Spokeswoman said.

Asked whether the Conference would actually end today, Ms. Markham replied that it would end today, but the only uncertainty was the exact time it would end. "The President would like to begin the final plenary session at 4 p.m. We'll see what happens, because the Main Committee has to meet before that and at the Main Committee, the outstanding issues will be decided on", she said.

Was there a possibility of stopping the clocks? the same journalist asked.

That was possible, but hopefully it would not be necessary, Ms. Markham said. Explaining the meaning of "stopping the clock", she said it occurred when a conference went beyond midnight. "We always like to have a conference end on the day it's supposed to. While I can't at this stage say that I anticipate that it will go beyond midnight, it is always a possibility, but we sincerely hope not."

Noting that a reference to affirmative action in paragraph 128 of the original draft Declaration seemed to have disappeared, another journalist asked if all such references had been expunged from the text.

The document would be available shortly and he could then confirm whether or not that was the case, the Spokeswoman replied.

She said in response to another correspondent's question that under the rules of procedure, the process was supposed to be concluded by consensus. If consensus could not be reached, it would go to the vote. "We hope that it will not require a vote, we hope that delegations will be able to reach consensus, but in the final analysis the rules of procedure are there to help the Conference come to a final agreement", she added.

The same journalist asked whether there was an effort to expunge all references to Palestinians, Palestine and Israel so that the final document was completely generic, or if it would include those words.

Ms. Markham replied that there was a little confusion about the list of victims. The generic phraseology that had been agreed to was for the overall list. Within the document itself there were specific paragraphs on specific individual groups, such as indigenous peoples, refugees and others. The word "victims" would replace any long list.

She said the Middle East issue had not been resolved and she did not know the specifics of the language that would be finally agreed.

Responding to a question on voting procedures, the Spokeswoman said that under rule 34 of the rules of procedure, the Conference would "exert all possible efforts to ensure that its work and the adoption of its report are accomplished by general agreement", normally interpreted to mean consensus.

She said that under rule 36 the procedure was that "subject to rule 34, decisions of the Conference on all matters of substance shall be taken by a two-thirds majority of the representatives present and voting. Unless the Conference decides otherwise, and except as otherwise provided, decisions of the Conference on all matters of procedure shall be taken by a simple majority of the representatives present and voting".

According to the rules, the President of the Conference would rule on any question as to whether a matter was procedural or substantive. "If a vote is equally divided, the proposal or motion shall be regarded as rejected."

In response to the same correspondent's question on the Dalits of India, Ms. Markham said she did not know if there would be any addition to the specific paragraphs on specific groups of people, but as of now there was no specific mention of them in either draft document. "But one would assume that the generic list, which includes the word "descent", would incorporate a number of different groups, including them."

Another journalist noted that the Indian delegation's position was that the term "descent" did not include the Dalits, who must be covered by the term "work and descent". Had the word "work" been removed? he asked.

Ms. Markham said the actual wording of the list of victim did not include the word "work". It included only those words included in the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. The remainder of the grounds had not yet been agreed. "My understanding was that it would also be generic and would not include specific factors like socio-economic status, health, work or employment."

On the timing of a possible vote, the Spokeswoman told another journalist that the working groups were deciding by consensus on those outstanding paragraphs that were not part of the negotiations on the Middle East and the legacy of the past.

Ms. Markham told another journalist that the text on the legacy of the past had not yet been presented to the General Committee. When she was ready the Conference President would bring the proposed text to the regional groups.

On the involvement of the United States in the Conference following its early departure, she said she did not know of the current presence of any delegation member. The United States credentials were approved by the Conference as included in the document of the Credentials Committee. The United States was also included in the list of participants document issued yesterday of countries that participated in the Conference.

In response to another question, the Spokeswoman said there were no heads of State at the Conference at the moment. Most had left over the weekend following the high-level segment during the first day and a half.

However, she understood that South African President Thabo Mbeki was in Durban yesterday, she said, and he had been expected to attend the closing of the Conference. "But I think the circumstances of the death of his father forced changes in those plans, so I don't think he is coming, but I will find out from the South African Government and let you know."

Asked whether the transatlantic slave trade been declared a crime against humanity and to what extent reparations had been mentioned in the draft Declaration, Ms. Markham said both issues remained unresolved. They were part of ongoing discussions on the legacy of the past.

Another journalist asked whether the documents would reflect how delegations voted in the event of a final vote.

The Spokeswoman said that a recorded vote would list those countries that voted for and against as well as those that abstained. An unrecorded vote would not reflect how a country voted unless it gave an explanation of its vote. The decision of whether a vote would be recorded or not was in the hands of Member States.

Responding to another question, she listed the five regional groups represented at the Conference: the African Group, the Asian Group, the Latin American and Caribbean Group, the Eastern European Group and the Western European and Other States Group.


* *** *