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

8 September 2001







At a press conference today, the Secretary-General of the World Conference on Racism, Mary Robinson, said the predictions for the end of the Conference had not been good.  Yet the report of the Main Committee had been adopted, including language on the past and the Middle East.  In both cases, the delegates had reached very difficult decisions. 


Referring to the Conference President, Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma of South Africa, Mrs. Robinson said she had compared chairing the Conference to the pain of child-birth but also to the sense of achieving a beautiful new beginning in developing a framework to combat racism.  Her political skill had been remarkable in bringing about agreement among the delegates on the Declaration and Programme of Action. 


For her part, Mrs. Robinson said she had put her own emphasis on the follow-up to the Conference.  The follow-up would be key, involving the responsibility of governments and the role of civil society in monitoring the implementation of the final documents.  There was now new hope for millions of people in their sense of being reaffirmed in their rights and sense of dignity.  “Now we have to show it makes a difference”, she said. 


Dr. Zuma said it had been a pleasure to work with all the teams led by Mrs. Robinson and with all the Member States.  The Conference achievements had been a tribute to the determination and commitment of the delegates and Member States, but the real work began after Durban.  But what came out of Durban would be a powerful tool in the hands of activists to use in the struggle against racism.  She hoped that people had made networks and that the movement started in Durban would continue.  What was amazing was that with all the difficulties, people had remained pleasant and supportive.  In a sense, the Conference itself had made everyone a bit more tolerant.  She thanked everyone, including the media, that had participated in making the Conference a success.


Asked to comment on the effects of fatigue and the tendency of the press to paint the Conference as a failure because of reservations by countries and bracketed clauses, Dr. Zuma said it was important to look at the bigger picture when considering reservations by governments.  All came with very specific experiences and views, and that would always produce reservations.  Mrs. Robinson added that there had been an extraordinary number of reservations at the Beijing women’s conference, but people expected that as a clarifying of their position.  Afterwards it depended on what the real message was.  There were no brackets around what had been agreed to -- that was the great success of Durban.


On the question of the contentious bracketed clauses, Dr. Zuma said political will on all sides, a spirit of give and take and a spirit of understanding among delegations was needed to reach an agreement.  It had been a remarkable compromise when one considered the different perspectives taken by the various delegates.  The clauses in brackets that were not dealt with would fall away.





Robinson & Zuma Briefing              - 2 -                 8 September 2001



To a question on the withdrawal of the United States and Israel, Mrs. Robinson said she regretted that any country would leave before the end of such an important conference, and she had urged that all remain.  It had been clear that every country would have to work hard and make appropriate compromises.  Yet there was now new text adopted that had not been adopted before at the international level.  It was hoped that the text would be shared with those who had not been there and that they would be interested in it.


In response to another question, she said a world conference could be a difficult thing to work on as Secretary-General, particularly when the issues were very complex and politically sensitive.  The role was to try to promote an environment of helping to reach resolution and to encourage an atmosphere of optimism to facilitate agreement.  She would never forget her experience at the Conference and said the Declaration and Programme of Action would be important  instruments for future action. “We will not let governments off the hook, and we will look to civil society to help us to pin governments to what they have committed to here”, she said.  The message of Durban affirmed human dignity and was very important. 


Asked if she had thought the Conference would collapse, Dr. Zuma said she thought there were no times when it would collapse, but there were moments when it was on the precipice.  But the importance of the issues kept everyone together.  Even people of different views were united in their desire to see the Conference succeed.  Ms. Robinson said there had been one moment -- that had been when the two delegations decided to leave.  One thing that kept the Conference going was the strong political will of the President. 


To another question, Dr. Zuma said the issue of apology and reparations “was very close to our hearts”.  “To most of us an apology did not mean money, it means dignity.”  You could not put monetary value on the restoration of that dignity.  Development to restore the dignity of the people of the developing countries was what it meant. 


On the Middle East, she said what was important was whether there would be enough energy, determination and political will to deal with the peace process. 


Asked about conference follow-up, Mrs. Robinson said a group of eminent persons would be reporting twice a year to the Commission on Human Rights and the General Assembly on implementation of the Durban outcome.  There was also a commitment by governments to develop national plans of action.  Those paragraphs most useful to the follow-up process had been adopted.


On issues important to indigenous people and the Dalits of India, Dr. Zuma said it was unfortunate the Conference had not had enough time to deal with all specific issues.  Mrs. Robinson added that indigenous peoples had succeeded in getting their views heard by delegates.  The word “s” had been added to the term indigenous people.  On the Dalits in India and Sri Lanka, she said they now had a basis on which to pursue their objectives.  The Conference indeed had been provided an opportunity for many voices to be heard. 


On her feelings about the vote, Dr. Zuma said it would have been good to avoid a vote, but it was good that there had been no vote in the plenary.


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