Press Release
Department of Public Information · News Coverage Service · New York

4 September 2001



Secretary-General Kofi Annan arrived in Durban from Austria on Wednesday morning, 28 August. He conferred that day with the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, who was also Secretary-General of the Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, which he came to attend.

On Thursday the Secretary-General addressed the NGO Forum, a conference of non-governmental groups which ran parallel with the World Conference on Racism.

"So often it is you, the civil society activists, who breathe life into these events," he said. "Sometimes it is also you who bring clarity, because you can discuss openly those awkward issues that governments tend to avoid, or to blur, in the interest of reaching consensus."

Texts adopted in conference halls will not change anything, he added, "unless people like you work with governments to follow them up, and to ensure that they are implemented."

He called on them to "shine a spotlight into the dark corners where racism lurks.

"It is people's attitudes, and the way we treat each other, that need to change, in every country. And whether that happens depends above all on you."

He proposed to those present that they work together to produce an annual report on the struggle against racism, highlighting not only violations but also success stories, "so that practices which have worked against racism and intolerance in one country can be tried in others" (see SG/SM/7926).

After his speech, which was interrupted repeatedly by applause, he took questions from the audience.

The Secretary-General then had a series of bilateral meetings, starting with a call on President GnassingbJ Eyadema of Togo, with whom he discussed UN electoral assistance to Togo and West African security issues, particularly peace efforts in Sierra Leone.

He then met with Yasser Arafat, President of the Palestinian Authority, for a review of the latest efforts to halt the violence between Israelis and Palestinians, especially the initiative by German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer to bring together President Arafat and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres.

They also assessed the prospects for a return of the two parties to talks that might restore the search for a lasting peace.

With Prime Minister Pascoal Manuel Mocumbi of Mozambique, he focused on security issues in southern Africa, the conflict in Angola and the effort to develop the region economically led by the Southern African Development Community, which Mozambique now chairs. They also touched on the peace process in Burundi.

The Secretary-General's last bilateral meeting of the day was with President Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria. They discussed, among other things, ways to overcome the remaining divisive issues of the racism conference

On Friday he officially opened the World Conference on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, addressing frontally an issue that continued to divide delegates, as well as non-governmental activists.

The accusations of racism against any individual or group is hurtful, he said, and nowhere is that truer today than in the Middle East.

The Jewish people have been victims of anti-Semitism and in Europe were the targets of the Holocaust -- "the ultimate abomination," he stated. "This fact must never be forgotten, or diminished.

"Yet we cannot expect Palestinians to accept this," he added, "as a reason why the wrongs done to them -- displacement, occupation, blockade and now extra-judicial killings -- should be ignored."

He then concluded, "Mutual accusations are not the purpose of this conference . . . Let us admit that all countries have issues of racism and discrimination to address."

The Conference is a test of the international community's will to unite on a topic of central importance in people's lives, he asserted. "Let us not fail this test."

In closing, he said, "Let us rise above our disagreements. The wrangling has gone on for too long."

But if we can leave with a call to action supported by all, he said, "we shall send a signal of hope to brave people struggling against racism all over the world."

Before giving his speech, he paid tribute to Govan Mbeki, the prominent African National Congress leader and father of the current South African President, who passed away the day before.

Before a lunch hosted by the President, the Secretary-General had three bilateral meetings. He met one-on-one with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni. With Cuban President Fidel Castro, he discussed the link between racism and poverty. Finally, he met privately with a leader of the United States congressional black caucus, Rep. John Conyers, Democrat of Michigan.

In the afternoon, the Secretary-General opened a round table discussion on racism among participating heads of State, which was chaired by President Mbeki. The Secretary-General urged leaders to guide national dialogue on racism (see SG/SM/7934).

He then participated in a Global Compact event running parallel to the World Conference, at which business and labour leaders discussed the impact of racism and discrimination in the workplace and in the community. "If there is one message I would want to emanate from Durban", he told the business and labour leaders, "it is that all of us must do our part in the struggle against racism. As more and more corporate leaders are saying, discrimination is everybody's business" (see SG/SM/7936).

On Friday evening the Secretary-General attended a working dinner hosted by South African Foreign Minister Nkosazana C. Dlamini Zuma, who earlier that day had been named by acclamation President of the World Conference against Racism.

On Saturday, 1 September, the Secretary-General began his last day in South Africa with a private working breakfast with President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria.

He then met with the head of the US delegation to the Conference, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Michael Southwick, who described the US policy position concerning the latest negotiations on the Conference's draft Declaration and Programme of Action.

Amre Moussa, Secretary-General of the Arab League, then called on the Secretary-General. They assessed the prospects for compromise on the points of disagreement in the draft text. They also discussed the situation in the Middle East generally, as efforts were under way to arrange a meeting between Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres.

The Secretary-General then met one-on-one with the Egyptian Foreign Minister, Ahmed Maher, before joining the General Debate of heads of State and Government in the Conference Plenary.

He broke away from the General Debate for another series of bilateral meetings, starting with the Israeli delegation headed by Deputy Director General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mordechai Yedid. They discussed the dispute over language in the draft text, and Mr. Yedid laid out the Israeli position.

The Foreign Minister of Italy, Renato Ruggiero, and the Foreign Minister of Germany, Joschka Fischer, then met with the Secretary-General. The Secretary-General asked Mary Robinson, Secretary-General of the Conference, to join. They discussed the European negotiating strategy on the draft text for the Conference. The Secretary-General also raised the issue of the Middle East peace process in light of Foreign Minister Fischer's latest initiative.

Afterwards, the Secretary-General met privately with the Italian Foreign Minister. At a press conference later, in response to a question, the Secretary-General said they had discussed the issue of whether the United Nations Food and Agriculture's World Food Summit could be held in Rome as scheduled. Following the riots of the G-8 Summit in Genoa, the Government had expressed a preference for moving the World Food Summit out of Rome.

The last of these bilateral meetings was with six members of the Black Caucus of the US Congress, including Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (Democrat of Texas). They asked the Secretary-General how they could help steer the Conference towards success, and they discussed strategy.

The Secretary-General then gave a half-hour-long press conference before hosting a luncheon in honour of the heads of State and government attending the Conference. After the lunch, he met briefly with the President of the Conference, South African Foreign Minister, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma.

The Secretary-General then flew out of Durban for Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

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For information media - not an official record