United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon arrived in Geneva, Switzerland, early on Monday, 20 April.
That morning, he addressed the Durban Review Conference in Geneva, whose goal was to review progress and assess implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action. That Declaration was adopted at the World Conference against Racism, held in 2001 in Durban, South Africa.
In his speech he said that “the time is now” to look beyond a past that divides us to a future that unites us. He expressed his fear that the current economic crisis, if not handled properly, could evolve into a full-scale political crisis; in such circumstances, the consequences for communities already victimized by prejudice or exclusion could be frightening indeed. (See Press Release SG/SM/12192)
He said that the outcome document prepared for the Conference was carefully balanced, that it addressed key issues and that it set the stage for concrete action in a global campaign for justice for victims of racism worldwide.
Noting the non-participation in the Conference by some nations, the Secretary-General said that he deeply regretted that some chose to stand aside and hoped they would not do so for long. He asserted that his allegiance and sympathies had always been with the men and women in the arena, struggling with courage and determination to win the day.
Speaking to reporters later, he pleaded for a joint effort to combat racism. “We must join hands and work together to achieve a constructive, substantive agenda to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance,” he said. “It has been painful to see divisiveness where we should have had unity and a common sense of resolve,” he continued. “Racism is truly a global issue, and we need it to be discussed at a global level, however sensitive and difficult that may be.” He stressed the work done by the Member States to reach a common position -- “We have come such a long way in a very delicate and very sensitive process. I really appreciate and commend the sense of flexibility and compromise by many Member States, which have really helped to reach this process. […] This is not the end of the process, this is just the beginning.”
Responding to questions about the statement made in the plenary by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, the Secretary-General stated: “It is deplorable that the very august chamber of the Assembly [Hall] of the United Nations has been misused to divide and accuse, and even to incite,” reaffirming his statement issued earlier where he said: “It is deeply regrettable that my plea to look to the future of unity was not heeded by the Iranian President. At my earlier meeting with him, I stressed the importance of the Conference to galvanize the will of the international community towards the common cause of fight against racism. I further stressed the need to look to the future, not to the past of divisiveness. In this regard, I reminded the President that the United Nations General Assembly had adopted the resolutions to revoke the equation of Zionism with racism and to reaffirm the historical facts of the Holocaust respectively.” (See Press Release SG/SM/12193)
The Secretary-General held bilateral meetings that day with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and with Dr. Nkosazana C. Dlamini Zuma, Foreign Minister of South Africa, with whom he discussed the Durban Review Conference, humanitarian issues in Darfur, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia and Burundi. He also met with the Foreign Minister of Norway, Jonas Gahr Støre.
The Secretary-General departed to Malta early on Tuesday morning, 21 April.