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



The co-facilitators appointed to handle issues relating to the legacy of the past gave a briefing to journalists this evening as they broke from their latest negotiations in Durban, South Africa.

Gilberto Saboia, Permanent Representative of Brazil to the United Nations in Geneva, said concrete progress was being made in the two working groups dealing with the draft official documents of the World Conference against Racism. Responding to questions, he said the facilitation group hoped to come to a good result by dealing in a straightforward manner with a set of issues relating to injustices of the past.

The negotiators were seeking common ground and focusing on new language that would facilitate consensus, he said, pointing out that the issues were very difficult to define and express. They had been the subject of much discussion during the regional meetings and the preparatory process leading up to the World Conference.

Mr. Saboia said the issue involved identifying injustices of the past (slavery, the slave trade and colonialism), the need to acknowledge and remember them, expressions of regret or apology and recognition that those facts continued to have adverse consequences in the present time.

Co-facilitator Amina Mohamed, Permanent Representative of Kenya to the United Nations in Geneva, said the delegates involved were returning to the negotiating room to seek a meeting of minds. They remained positive and optimistic that they could bridge the gaps, given the necessary goodwill. "The only disagreement is on language, expectations and how to effect a follow-up after the Conference", she added.

A journalist asked whether there had been any movement on the question of a formal apology. Had there been agreement on declaring slavery and colonialism crimes against humanity or on delinking the two?

Ms. Mohamed replied that all the non-papers submitted in the facilitation group contained language expressing direct apology, deep remorse or regret.

Would the negotiating group dilute the language to keep the Europeans from leaving or were the African delegations unwilling to compromise on the reparations question? another journalist asked.

Pointing out that she was not representing the African Group and was only a facilitator, Ms. Amina said she had no information about any threat to walk out. The Europeans were involved in the negotiations. "As far as we are concerned the process ends on 7 September", she said.

In response to a similar question by another journalist, Mr. Saboia replied that the group had heard no statement about a deadline for reaching consensus. The negotiators were working in good faith on an issue of interests to all continents and countries and not only to particular regions.

Asked whether the outstanding paragraphs in the text could be adopted in the remaining time, he said the group was not dealing with the paragraphs in terms of numbers, but with concepts and how to remove the difficulties. "There are many areas of convergence and when we can agree on how to remove the differences we can decide on replacing the language", he said. "It is a matter of political will. The willingness to compromise will determine the speed", he added.

A journalist asked why the issue of reparations was back on the table after United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson had said it had been settled.

Mr. Saboia replied that he did not recall such a statement by Mrs. Robinson, who is Secretary-General to the Conference. The reparations question had been mentioned in the Santiago document resulting from the regional preparatory meeting for the Americas as well as in official Conference documents.

Ms. Mohamed added that the reparations issue had also been mentioned in the official documents from the African regional preparatory meeting in Dakar, Senegal.

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