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Closing Statement of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Navanethem Pillay, at Durban Review Conference

24 April 2009

I wish to congratulate all those men and women of good will who worked so hard for the successful outcome of the Durban Review Conference. In particular, I am grateful to the President of the conference for his able stewardship of the process, and to all regional groups for their flexibility, which has facilitated Member States’ consensus.  I would also like to thank the Government of Switzerland for hosting this conference.

Despite the misgivings of some critics, the conference has proved to be what it was intended to be all along:  a celebration of tolerance and dignity for all. We will be leaving this hall tonight with a sure sense of accomplishment, with renewed and re-energized determination and purpose.  This experience will sustain the work ahead of all of us: the hard work of delivering on our pledges; the urgent task of giving concrete effect to the conference’s outcome; the imperative of erasing the age-old shame of racism.

In my statement at the opening of the Durban Review Conference, I lauded Member States’ unstinting commitment to move forward as one in combating racism.  They were and are fully aware that the towering challenges of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance require the pooling together of political will, strengths and resources.   This is why Member States have wisely and generously chosen to reject divisive stances.  During this week, they solidified their commitment into a global agreement, the outcome document, to achieve real changes for the millions of victims of racism and racial discrimination.

As I have repeatedly noted, over the last eight years, the implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action has been hampered by several challenges, old as well as new. Amidst the devastating consequences of the current financial crisis and economic recession, poverty and exclusion will continue to represent major challenges. The convergence of these crises and the effects of climate change have indeed affected disproportionally all vulnerable groups within societies.

Globalization highlights the challenge of ensuring mutual respect for and by people of diverse backgrounds in multicultural societies. With increased movements across national boundaries, migrants are often perceived as competitors for scarce resources and as threats to the livelihoods of others. Lastly, the exploitation of difference – ethnic, racial or religious – continues to fuel armed conflict or stoke the fire of communal strife.

Distinguished Participants,         

The document you have adopted this week is a carefully balanced and yet meaningful outcome enshrining a common aspiration: to defy racism in all its manifestations and work to stamp it out wherever it may occur.

It reconciles divergent opinions which have erroneously been presented as a confrontation between cultures, rather than the frank different perspectives they actually were.

It encapsulates several main achievements. By reaffirming the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, it reinvigorates the political commitment of Member States to pursue the anti-racism agenda in the face of numerous challenges, old and new.

The document urges States to prevent manifestations of racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia, especially in relation to migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. States are also asked to promote greater participation and opportunities for people of African and Asian descent, indigenous peoples and individuals belonging to ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities.

Moreover, the document re-affirms the centrality of freedom of expression and stresses its compatibility with the prohibition of incitement to hatred, thereby reconciling these two equally fundamental principles of international human rights law.  


The Durban Review Conference has provided a platform for a new beginning. The few States that chose to stay away should now evaluate the outcome document on its own merit and substance.  Many of them participated in its drafting and were part of the emerging consensus up until the very eve of the Review Conference.  This is why I am hopeful and indeed, expectant that they, at the earliest opportunity, will rejoin international efforts to combat racism as mapped out by the outcome document.

            The focus of this week’s deliberations was on racism and the endeavours made by States towards implementation of the DDPA.  I commend all participants, both in the Assembly Hall and at the forty plus side events, fifteen of which were organized by the OHCHR, for maintaining dialogue at the thematic and conceptual levels.  Where there was a departure from this, and in such exceptional circumstances, I acted as Secretary-General of the Conference as well as High Commissioner for Human Rights to express my view so as to defuse the potential for a chain of inflammatory reactions damaging the integrity and dignity of the Conference and even fuelling divisiveness on fundamental human rights issues in future debates.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As I mentioned earlier, the Durban Review Conference outcome document constitutes a platform for a new beginning. The magnitude of the tasks ahead should prompt all of us to gather and make the best use of our energies and resources with a view to create a world of equal opportunity and treatment for all, irrespective of their race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

You succeeded in finding common ground. As High Commissioner for Human Rights, I urge all States, international organizations, and civil society,  to build on this common ground an edifice of tolerance that we can proudly bequeath to our children and future generations.  

Thank you.