UN rights chief urges Member States to overcome differences in fight against racism

23 February 2009 – The top United Nations official for human rights today stressed the need for Member States put aside their differences and work together to defeat racism ahead of the so-called Durban Review Conference later this year, which will examine the progress made worldwide since the 2001 global anti-racism summit held in the South African city.

Navi Pillay, High Commissioner for Human Rights, sent a report to Member States planning the review conference that will be held in April in Geneva to assess and accelerate progress towards the implementation of measures adopted at the landmark 2001 World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance.

She appealed to governments “not to allow any single issue dominate discussions of such vital importance to human dignity to the exclusion and detriment of others.”

Some of the language proposed for a draft outcome document that will be used as the basis for negotiations at the conference has been controversial because of its criticism of Israel’s policies in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Israel indicated last November that it does not plan to take part in the April review conference.

“I appeal to all to uphold the consensually agreed objectives of the Durban Review Conference, and to bear in mind their importance to the millions of victims around the world,” said Ms. Pillay, adding, “I urge Member States to transcend their differences and to join efforts to confront racism and xenophobia.”

The High Commissioner also proposed holding a series of workshops to help governments find common ground on the issue of defamation of religions.

Several Islamic nations have suggested revising language in the document to limit wording that they describe as offensive to religion, but some Western states have expressed difficulty in accepting the changes because of the potential negative impact on freedom of expression.

“I believe that from a human rights perspective and in light of the Durban Review Conference, it should be addressed as an issue of incitement to religious hatred within the existing framework of international human rights law,” said Ms. Pillay.

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