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

RD/D/13
31 August 2001

 

WORLD CONFERENCE AGAINST RACISM OPENS IN DURBAN

South African President Mbeki Tells Conference 'We Must Defeat Consequences of Slavery, Colonialism, Racism'

During its opening session this morning, the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance was addressed by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan; the President of host country South Africa, Thabo Mbeki; the President of the Conference and Minister of Foreign Affairs of South Africa, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma; the President of the General Assembly, Harri Holkeri; and the Conference's Secretary-General, Mary Robinson, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The Conference is taking place in Durban, South Africa from 31 August to 7 September, providing an opportunity for the world to engage, for the first time in the post-apartheid era, in a broad agenda to combat racism and related issues. The Conference's objectives are to produce a declaration that recognizes the damage caused by past expressions of racism and that reflects a new global awareness of modern forms of racism and xenophobia; to agree on a strong practical programme of action; and to forge an alliance between governments and civil society that will carry the fight against racism forward.

In his opening address, the Secretary-General of the United Nations said all the leaders gathered in South Africa for the Conference must feel the symbolism of the moment -- the confluence of theme, of time and of place. Who better to teach the international community to overcome racism, discrimination and intolerance than the people of South Africa? The Conference was a test for the international community of its will to unite on a topic of central importance in people's lives. "Let us not fail this test", Mr. Annan said, calling on delegations to rise above disagreements. Echoing the slogan that rang throughout South Africa at the end of apartheid, he added "Sekunjalo. The time has come".

Mrs. Robinson, United Nations High Commissioner of Human Rights and Secretary-General of the Conference, said the international community had come a long way psychologically and substantively too. The journey to Durban helped shape the thinking about who were the victims of racism and discrimination, what sort of remedies could be made available and the best kinds of preventive measures. When the balance sheet was drawn up for the Conference, the greater understanding which had been achieved of the sources, causes of and remedies for racism should weigh heavily in its favour. She announced that an anti-discrimination unit would be formed, reporting directly to her.

Welcoming participants to his country, Mr. Mbeki, the President of South Africa, said there were many who suffered indignity and humiliation because they were not white. They expected that something would come out of the Conference that would signify a united and sustained global drive to help rid them of the suffering they bore. "Our common humanity dictates that as we rose against apartheid racism, so must we combine to defeat the consequences of slavery, colonialism and racism which, to this day, continue to define the lives of billions of people who are brown and black, as lives of hopelessness", he said.

On behalf of the African Group, the representative of Kenya nominated Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma as President of the Conference. Following statements of support by the representative of India on behalf of the Asian Group, the representative of Bulgaria on behalf of East European Group, the representative of Mexico on behalf of Latin American and Caribbean Group, and the representative of Canada on behalf of the Western Group, Ms. Dlamini Zuma was elected by acclamation.

In her introductory statement, Ms. Dlamini Zuma said the Conference should issue a clarion call to the rest of the world to end the evils of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. Concomitantly, with this call, there should be a sustained programme of action capable of being implemented by every country at every level. Intensive preparatory meetings and consultations in Geneva had at times seemed gloomy and hopeless, but there had been perseverance and substantial progress had been recorded. That needed to be built upon, with awareness of the sensitivity and pain involved in confronting the issues. "We must succeed; we cannot afford anything less than success", she said.

The President of the General Assembly, Mr. Holkeri, said in the Millennium Declaration, adopted at the end of last September's Millennium Summit, governments had committed themselves to respect equal rights, without distinction. The General Assembly had played a significant role in addressing racism and racial discrimination. The three Decades to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination, the two previous World Conferences against racism and racial discrimination, and the current Year of Mobilization against Racism and Racial Discrimination had all served as tools in the fight against racism.

The Conference observed a minute of silence in memory of Govan Mbeki, father of South Africa's President, who passed away yesterday. The elder Mr. Mbeki was a leading figure in the African National Congress.

After a short suspension of the meeting, the Conference elected Armenia, Azerbaijan, Barbados, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, China, Croatia, Cuba, India, Iraq, Italy, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Senegal, Slovakia, Sweden and Tunisia as Vice-Presidents. Edna Maria Santos Roland (Brazil) was elected as Rapporteur-General. After determination of the Chairman of the Main Committee, one of these countries will withdraw from the list of Vice-Presidents.

Ali Khorram (Iran) was elected as Chairperson of the Drafting Committee and John Dauth (Australia) as Vice-Chairperson/Rapporteur. Bonaventure M. Bowa (Zambia) was elected as Chairperson of the Drafting Committee's Working Group 2. The Western Group will report to the Conference at a later stage on the chairmanship of Working Group 1.

The Conference elected Alexander Slabi (Czech Republic), Ernan Couturier (Peru) and Prasad Kariyawasam (Sri Lanka) as Vice-Presidents of its Main Committee. The Committee's President will be elected at a later stage and will come from the Western Group.

The Conference established its Credentials Committee, which consists of Bahamas, China, Ecuador, Gabon, Ireland, Mauritius, Russian Federation, Thailand and the United States. Also during this morning's session, the Conference adopted its draft rules of procedure (document A/CONF.189/2).

The President of the Conference announced that there had been agreement on elements of the draft agenda that had been under negotiation. The brackets around "compensatory" in the text would be dropped and a footnote added which stated that use of that word was without prejudice to any outcome of the Conference. The Conference then adopted the draft agenda without a vote.

A performance by Ballet Theatre Afrikan preceded the session.

This afternoon at 3, President Mbeki will chair a round table in which 15 heads of State will participate. The Conference will meet again tomorrow, 1 September, at 10 a.m. to begin its general debate.

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