Press Releases

    HR/4554
    9 August 2001

    IN STATEMENT TO PREPARATORY COMMITTEE OF RACISM CONFERENCE, HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSIONER MARY ROBINSON REVIEWS PROGRESS

    NEW YORK, 9 August (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the statement by Mary Robinson, High Commissioner for Human Rights and Secretary-General of the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, to the Bureau of the 3rd Preparatory Committee, Thursday, 9 August 2001:

    As we approach the end of this session of the Preparatory Committee, allow me to share with you an assessment of where we have reached in the preparatory process and what lies ahead between now and the opening of the Conference on 31 August.

    Put in a nutshell, negotiations are under way in earnest for the first time, important provisions have already been adopted, informal processes are under way to deal with three sets of difficult issues -- the past, the victims, and a regional situation -- and the valuable suggestion has been advanced that the two Working Groups currently under way should be continued at the Conference as groups of the Main Committee of the Conference.

    Yes, some of these things are happening at a late stage in the preparatory process but, faced with an historic reassessment of problems of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, and with pressing demands for justice in the face of adversity, we still have a real chance of working through the difficult issues and of achieving a breakthrough at Durban. It behoves us all to persist in this endeavour and to work for success at Durban.

    From the texts that have already been adopted in the two Groups, some 20 pages long, which have been distributed as you go along, major assessments and policy pronouncements have already been made that provide the foundations for negotiating the remaining issues. Let me refer to some of these:

    -- The assessment has been made that three decades of action have produced some results in norms and activities but that problems of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance persist in all parts of the world.

    -- A recommitment has been made to the principle of equality and non-discrimination in the United Nations Charter and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

    -- The need has been expressed for stronger action to combat problems of inequality globally.

    -- Problems of inequality have been placed in their economic and social context in a globalizing world.

    -- Particular problems facing persons of African descent, Asian descent, migrants, refugees, displaced persons, indigenous people, minorities, women, children, Romas, and other groups have been signalled -- and the process is continuing.

    -- The need to take account of historical phenomena that have a bearing on contemporary problems has already been registered and the process is continuing.

    -- A process is under way to identify in good faith the contemporary victims of inequality whose plight requires international recognition and cooperation.

    -- On Wednesday evening, 8 August, in Group I, an important breakthrough provision was adopted on the issue of remedies. It reads as follows:

    We also strongly reaffirm as a pressing requirement of justice that victims of human rights violations resulting from racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, especially in the light of their vulnerable situation, socially culturally and economically should be assured of having access to justice, including legal assistance where appropriate, effective and appropriate, effective and appropriate protection and remedies, including the right to seek just and adequate reparation or satisfaction for any damage suffered as a result of such discrimination as enshrined in numerous international and regional human rights instruments, in particular the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Racial Discrimination; ADOPTED by WG on 08/08/01

    -- The principles of the United Nations Charter have received express re-affirmation, including the principles regarding the equal rights and self-determination of all peoples and the principle of respect for human rights without distinction on grounds of race, sex, religion or language.

    -- The provisions of international human rights and humanitarian law have also received express reaffirmation -- which will help in dealing with issues currently under discussion through informal facilitation.

    There has never been a United Nations Conference where there has been such a strong quest for the recognition of historical injustices. The informal consultations on this set of issues have been conducted in good faith and are making substantial headway. I should like to express appreciation to those involved in this process, facilitated by Brazil.

    In different parts of the world people are hurting because of problems of inequality or injustice, and they are pressing their cases at this conference. It is therefore natural that intensive discussions are under way on how to recognize the victims, discussions which are also making substantial progress. What is at issue here is identifying those victims whose plight requires international recognition and cooperation. I should also like to express appreciation to those involved in this process, facilitated by Mexico.

    In the third cluster of issues, benefiting from informal consultations facilitated by South Africa, one is dealing with the quest of two neighbouring peoples, Israelis and Palestinians, for self-determination and justice, the need to resolve protracted conflict and occupation, claims of inequality, violence and terrorism, and a deteriorating situation on the ground. It is therefore understandable that this set of issues will require careful handling right down to the Conference itself. We must all be realistic in recognizing this, and give ourselves space and time to negotiate the difficult issues involved, up to and including the Conference. I appeal for genuine cooperation here and I believe that there are principles that can help us steer a course forward:

    -- Recognition of the equal rights and the right to self-determination of both peoples involved.

    -- Emphasis on solutions achieved through negotiations pursued in good faith by all sides.

    -- Recognition of the accumulated sense of grievance and frustration because of prolonged military occupation, now in its fourth decade.

    -- Condemnation of terrorism, indiscriminate violence, excessive and disproportionate use of force and the propagation of hatred -- by whomsoever committed.

    -- Respect for the great religions involved, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity in particular.

    -- Understanding of the historical wounds of anti-Semitism and of the Holocaust, on the one hand, and of the accumulated wounds of displacement and military occupation on the other. Two fraternal peoples are locked in conflict, and we must help them deal with their mutual assertion of the right to exist and prosper, and with perceptions of inequality and injustice.

    Seen from these perspectives, the pronouncements of the Conference will require careful negotiation, and I appeal for understanding and cooperation on the part of everyone. I am pleased that in the current discussions everyone understands that there can be no return to an issue settled by the General Assembly, the former Zionism-racism problem. This is encouraging in itself.

    With the negotiating processes I have described under way, it is my conviction that we can achieve a successful outcome at Durban and that we must persist in our endeavours. We cannot set deadlines on any particular issue and everyone must participate in the search for solutions -- at the highest levels. I make a strong appeal for this.

    I welcome the suggestion advanced in the Bureau that the two Groups currently at work should continue at Durban. Between the end of this session of the Preparatory Committee and the opening of the Conference, work must continue within the framework of these two Groups. I would appeal for a continuing role of the two Chairpersons during this time and for cooperation with them. I would also appeal for a continuation, where needed, of the informal facilitation processes. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and I are in contact with national leaders, seeking their cooperation on particular issues, and this effort will continue in the coming period.

    In short, I make a strong appeal today to everyone: inequality is the pressing challenge of our times; Durban is crucial; it must succeed; its success lies in the hands of each and every one of us; each and every one of us must play her or his part -- all the way to a successful outcome of the Conference. A Durban consensus beckons. Let us all respond positively and constructively.

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    Durban, South Africa
    31 August - 7 September 2001