Question of Palestine home || Permalink || About UNISPAL || Search

Follow UNISPAL RSS Twitter

Source: Secretariat
8 September 2001

Report of the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance

Durban, 31 August - 8 September 2001



A. Date and place of the Conference

1. The World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance was held at Durban, South Africa, from 31 August to 8 September 2001, in conformity with General Assembly resolution 52/111 of 12 December 1997. During that period the Conference held 20 plenary meetings.



1. At its 2nd to 19th meetings, held from 1 to 7 September 2001, the Conference held a general debate on agenda item 9 relating to the following themes: (i) sources, causes, forms and contemporary manifestations of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance; (ii) victims of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance; (iii) measures of prevention, education and protection aimed at the eradication of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance at the national, regional and international levels; (iv) provision of effective remedies, recourse, redress, compensatory* and other measures at the national, regional and international levels; (v) strategies to achieve full and effective equality, including international cooperation, and enhancement of United Nations and other international mechanisms in combating racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, and follow-up.

2. Representatives of States and other entities, intergovernmental organizations, regional commissions and associate members of regional commissions, specialized agencies, United Nations organs, bodies and programmes and relevant mechanisms, including human rights bodies and mechanisms, national human rights institutions and non-governmental organizations addressed the Conference.

3. At the 2nd meeting, on 1 September, the Conference heard statements by the President of State of the Republic of Latvia, H.E. Ms. Vaira Vike-Freiberga; the President of the Democratic People’s Republic of Algeria, H.E. Mr. Abdelaziz Bouteflika; the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, H.E. Chief Olusegun Obasanjo; the President of the Republic of Senegal, H.E. Mr. Abdoulaye Wade; the President of the Republic of Cape Verde, H.E. Mr. Pedro Pires; the President of the Togolese Republic, H.E. Mr. Gnassingbe Eyadema; the President of the Republic of Cuba, H.E. Mr. Fidel Castro; the President of the Republic of the Congo, H.E. Mr. Denis Sassou Nguesso; the President of the Republic of Uganda, H.E. Mr. Yoweri Kaguta Museveni; the Prime Minister of the Republic of Mozambique, H.E. Mr. Pascoal Mocumbi; the Vice-President of the Gabonese Republic, H.E. Mr. Didjob Divungi Di Ndinge; and the President of the Palestinian Authority, H.E. Mr. Yasser Arafat.


Consideration of the draft declaration and the draft programme of action


Paragraphs on the Middle-East and related issues


“1. We are conscious of the fact that the history of humanity is replete with major atrocities as a result of the gross violation of human rights and believe that lessons can be learned through remembering history to avert future tragedies.

“2. We recall that the Holocaust must never be forgotten.

“3. We recognize with deep concern religious intolerance against certain religious communities, as well as the emergence of hostile acts and violence against such communities because of their religious beliefs and their racial or ethnic origin in various parts of the world which in particular limit their right to freely practise their belief.

“4. We also recognize with deep concern the increase in anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in various parts of the world, as well as the emergence of racial and violent movements based on racism and discriminatory ideas against Jewish, Muslim and Arab communities.

“5. We are conscious that humanity’s history is replete with terrible wrongs inflicted through lack of respect for the equality of human beings and note with alarm the increase of such practices in various parts of the world, and we urge people, particularly in conflict situations, to desist from racist incitement, derogatory language and negative stereotyping.

“6. We are concerned about the plight of the Palestinian people under foreign occupation. We recognize the inalienable right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and to the establishment of an independent State and we recognize the right to security for all States in the region, including Israel, and call upon all States to support the peace process and bring it to an early conclusion.

“7. We call for a just, comprehensive and lasting peace in the region in which all peoples shall co-exist and enjoy equality, justice and internationally recognized human rights, and security.

“8. We recognize the right of refugees to return voluntarily to their homes and properties in dignity and safety, and urge all States to facilitate such return.



“1. We believe that all conflicts and disputes should be resolved through peaceful means and political dialogue. We call on all parties involved in such conflicts to exercise restraint and to respect human rights and international humanitarian law.

“2. We call upon States, in opposing all forms of racism, to recognize the need to counter anti-Semitism, anti-Arabism and Islamophobia worldwide and urge all States to take effective measures to prevent the emergence of movements based on racism and discriminatory ideas concerning these communities.

“3. As for the situation in the Middle-East, we call for the end of violence and the swift resumption of negotiations, respect for international human rights and humanitarian law, respect for the principle of self-determination and the end of all suffering, thus allowing Israel and the Palestinians to resume the peace process, and to develop and prosper in security and freedom.”



1. At the 20th plenary meeting, on 8 September 2001, the Conference considered item 10 of its agenda, entitled “Adoption of the final document and the report of the Conference”. The Conference had before it the following documents that had been adopted by the Main Committee and forwarded to the plenary for further consideration: the draft declaration (A/CONF.189/L.2 and Add.1 and a document without a symbol containing adopted paragraphs) and the draft programme of action (A/CONF.189/L.3 and Add.1-3 and a document without a symbol), as well as two documents without a symbol that had been presented by the President of the Conference to the Main Committee.

2. Before the adoption of the draft declaration and the draft programme of action, statements and reservations were made by the representatives of Australia, Belgium (on behalf of the European Union), Canada, Chile, Ecuador (also on behalf of Brazil, Canada, Chile and Guatemala), the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Syrian Arab Republic and Switzerland. At the request of the participants, the statements and reservations are reproduced below, in their entirety.

3. The representative of Australia made the following statement:

“Australia is unequivocal in its opposition to racism in all its forms and is committed to strong action at all levels to combat it, both domestically and internationally, and this was reflected in the approach we took to this World Conference.

“We regret that far too much of our time has been consumed by bitter, divisive exchanges on issues which have done nothing to advance the cause of combating racism. This has been particularly evident in respect of the debate about the Middle East. Despite the great efforts of many delegations, including that of Australia, to achieve a balanced text, the references to the Middle East contain language which will do nothing to achieve greater peace in that troubled region and nothing to advance the objectives of this Conference.

“The debate on many other issues also has been polarized and recriminatory. These exchanges were the very antithesis of the objectives of the Conference and deeply disappointed many government and non-government participants who had had such high hopes for the Conference.

“Australia wishes to acknowledge the strong efforts of you, Madam Chair, to produce positive outcomes. Despite the Chair’s tireless work, others were more interested in pursuing narrow interests at the cost of good overall outcomes.

“We have some specific reservations on the text we are about to adopt which we would like to be included in the record of the meeting in the same manner as that requested by the Canadian delegation. In relation to the second paragraph 5 of your text on the Middle East, my delegation believes that this paragraph deals with a political situation, and has no place in the outcomes of the World Conference, which is on racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

“On paragraph 7 of the text on the Middle East, my delegation believes that this language undermines the agreements reached between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, as the representative of the Palestinian people, which aim to achieve a just settlement of the refugee problem, in accordance with the relevant United Nations resolutions, through direct negotiations to resolve all outstanding final status issues.

“Australia is a country whose good governance and strong democratic traditions and institutions derive directly from its colonial history. In relation to the text on the past, we therefore express serious concerns at the use of the same language in paragraphs 11 and 116 to condemn colonialism as is used in paragraph 12 to condemn apartheid and genocide.”


5. The representative of Canada made the following statement:


“Canada is still here today only because we wanted to have our voice decry the attempts at this Conference to de-legitimize the State of Israel and to dishonour the history and suffering of the Jewish people. We believe, and we have said in the clearest possible terms, that it was inappropriate - wrong - to address the Palestinian-Israel conflict in this forum. We have said, and will continue to say, that anything - any process, any declaration, any language - presented in any forum that does not serve to advance a negotiated peace that will bring security, dignity and respect to the people of the region is - and will be - unacceptable to Canada.

“That is why the Canadian delegation registers its strongest objections and disassociates itself integrally from all text in this document directly or indirectly relating to the situation in the Middle East. We state emphatically that this text is ultra vires ; it is outside the jurisdiction and mandate of this Conference.

“For example, paragraph 7 goes to the heart of the legitimacy of the State of Israel. When read in the context of the Middle East, which we believe to be the intent, the word ‘Israel’ is implicit. Therefore, the formulation with respect to the right of return of refugees is not consistent with United Nations General Assembly resolution 194.

“This paragraph is tantamount to a call for a unilateral violation of the agreed peace accords. Its implementation would be inconsistent with the agreement between the parties that the return of refugees would be pursuant to a negotiated final settlement.

“As such, it is an unhelpful and irresponsible intrusion by this Conference into one of the world’s most dangerous conflicts. Further, as was proposed in the draft document, Canada believed, and continues to believe, that it is entirely appropriate that the Declaration contain an independent and unlinked reference to the need for all of us to counter anti-Semitism. Canada came to this Conference with very clear positions on what is important to us. We will not sacrifice our principles or distort our long-standing, fair-minded policy with regard to the Middle East conflict.


9. The representative of the Islamic Republic of Iran made the following statement:

“In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful,

“To begin with, I should like to express my profound appreciation and thanks to the Government and people of South Africa for the warm hospitality extended to our delegation during this important conference.

“As a delegation which has attached great importance and accorded the highest priority to the World Conference against Racism and its successful conclusion, the Islamic Republic of Iran, in the course of the past two years, has done its utmost to contribute to the full realization of the noble objectives of this landmark event. We actively participated in the preparatory process and spared no effort to contribute to the deliberation in a spirit of cooperation and good faith. We accordingly hosted the Asian regional conference in Tehran, with the hope that this World Conference would be crowned with unity and success.

“However, at this very final stage and as the plenary is about to adopt the outcome of the time-consuming, highly sensitive and complex discussions and negotiations, we cannot conceal our dismay and dissatisfaction over the unexpected turn of events in the past few days which has inadvertently led to the imposition of the viewpoints of certain countries on the others. As a result of the creation of such an unhealthy atmosphere, the question of Palestine and the Middle East, which has taken a high place on the agenda of the international community, has been greatly undermined in this World Conference that is believed to have the responsibility to address the injustices of racism and racial discrimination.

“All efforts made by the members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference to justly address the causes of the oppressed Palestinian people were rendered futile in the atmosphere of intimidation, threat and ultimatum. Consequently, all the paragraphs on the Middle East and Palestinian issue were deleted and were subsequently replaced by new paragraphs in the final documents, despite the opposition of the respective parties concerned. Lack of transparency and the use of undemocratic methods to induce sovereign States to accept certain language and ideas on this issue are indeed unprecedented in the history of international gatherings and conferences.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran is therefore bound to express its dismay at this irrational and unhealthy practice, and strongly believes that such an unfortunate trend should not constitute a precedence for future world conferences.

“Moreover, while subscribing to all the other parts of the final documents of this World Conference, the Islamic Republic of Iran would like to disassociate itself from all paragraphs pertaining to the Palestinian and Middle East issue as appear in the final documents of this Conference. Iran believes that this part of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action falls well short of addressing the fundamental issues of the current situation of the Middle East, particularly in the occupied Palestinian territories, and thus lacks fairness, balance and credibility. In fact, the essence and the magnitude of the tragedy and the suffering of the Palestinian people have been deliberately omitted in the same part of the said documents.

“Obviously, the efforts of the Islamic Republic of Iran, as in the past, continue to be directed towards the full realization of all legitimate rights of the Palestinian people, in particular the right to self-determination and the establishment of an independent State, with Jerusalem as its capital, and the right to regain all occupied territories, as well as the right of all refugees to return to their homeland.

“As regards the terms holocaust and anti-Semitism in the Declaration and Programme of Action, we interpret holocaust as referring to the Jewish holocaust in Europe and anti-Semitism as referring to both Arabs and Jews.

“Our message to the Palestinian people is clear and simple. We will never compromise their legitimate rights. We deeply and wholeheartedly sympathize with their cause and suffering. The peoples of the world will not condone the inhumane Israeli policies and practices, which are clear manifestations of racism and discrimination. The pertinent parts of the final document of the NGO Forum submitted to this World Conference testify to this assertion. We believe that the suffering of the Palestinian people and their legitimate rights, which have been vastly and grossly violated by the occupying racist power in the course of the past 50 years, have not been given proper and due consideration in this Conference. Consequently, the outcome of the Conference in this respect cannot be interpreted as a successful achievement.

“In conclusion, I hereby request the secretariat to reflect fully the content of this statement in the final report of this World Conference as the position of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran on the Declaration and Programme of Action of this World Conference.”

10. The representative of the Syrian Arab Republic made the following statement:

“Allow me at the outset to thank the President, Government and people of South Africa for hosting this very important Conference. I think the holding of this Conference has been one of the achievements of South Africa.

“I wished, and so many of my colleagues wished, that this Conference had been able to create a much better atmosphere than it has, especially in the sense of reconciliation and bringing people closer together in condemning racism and racial discrimination in all its forms. We hope that, at any event like this that may take place in the future, there will be an improvement in the atmosphere, in the language and in the sincerity of the delegations.

“I say this because we felt that certain interventions by certain delegates fuelled racial feelings rather than reconciliation. Our hopes and expectations are still great, and we believe that this Conference has made great progress in the fight against racism and racial discrimination.

“Although Syria wished for clearer wording, especially on the Middle East - and I am speaking here about practices, not a political solution for the Middle East and Israel, because from the beginning I agreed with those colleagues who said that we were not here to find a solution - and although the Conference is not part of a peace process for the Arab-Israeli conflict, we should not forget that racist practices are being carried out in the occupied Palestinian and Arab territories. It goes without saying that we have documented evidence of the demolition of houses, the use of F-16s, the uprooting of people and trees, especially olive trees, the transfer of people, the besieging of people, of making people starve, and of the killing of children: all these are racist practices and it is obvious that Israel is carrying them out. Of course, I know that some of our friends and colleagues in the western hemisphere do not like such language, but if they do not like it, why do they attend such a Conference in the first place? However, my country, my delegation, has cooperated and it did all that it could to make this Conference a success; we made every effort to find the right wording to which everyone could subscribe, rather than what would satisfy us.

“I should like to note that we did not hesitate to join the draft declaration that you offered to us instead of the Islamic paper, or non-paper, because we wanted South Africa to be in a strong position as the host of this meeting and to convince others that everyone at this Conference was cooperating to make it a success. Those who withdrew from the Conference spoiled, or tried to spoil the Conference, no matter what explanations or pretext they used, and no one should have done anything to spoil the Conference. On the contrary, we did all that we could to make it a success, because it took place in South Africa.

“I have only one observation on this paper which you have presented. That observation addresses the understanding and the substance of the meaning of the Holocaust. Of course, I would like to say from the beginning that the Holocaust was a horrible thing, regardless of where it happened. But we must remind our European friends who are very sensitive about the Holocaust that the Holocaust happened in Europe, and was committed mostly by Europeans. To generalize it, as though the Europeans want to distribute their sense of guilt throughout the whole world, is a mistake.

“Let us be morally courageous enough to tell the truth: what do they mean by, ‘We recall that the Holocaust must never be forgotten’? It should not be forgotten by the people who made it, who created it, who did it. We were not party to it, we have never been a party to it and we will never be a party to it, and that is why we do not accept this general term here. We would like it to be very concise and very specific and not to be applied to every nation on earth.

“This is all I wanted to say, and I would like to thank you very much again and the great people of South Africa.”


14. The statement of the representative of Guatemala reads as follows:


“The delegation of Guatemala also has reservations about, and disassociates itself from, paragraphs 6 and 8 of the paper by the President of the Conference on the Middle East, because they contain political elements which should be decided in the political negotiations between the State of Israel and the Palestinian Authority and which do not correspond to the theme of the Conference or are not applicable to the situation in question, such as that of refugees.

“We also regret that anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, the most serious crime ever committed in all of mankind’s history as a result of racist feelings, have not been properly dealt with. Minimizing them or trying to exclude them from this Conference shows that there are still serious manifestations of anti-Semitism in the world to which we should turn our attention.

“We would like our reservations to be reflected in full in the final report of the Conference.”


20. The Conference then adopted, by consensus, the draft declaration and programme of action submitted by the Main Committee, as the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action.

21. The representatives of Brazil, China, Iraq, Mexico (also on behalf of the Group of Latin American and Caribbean States), Qatar (on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference), the United Arab Emirates (also on behalf of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia) and Venezuela indicated their intention of making statements after the adoption of the Declaration and Programme of Action. Since this was not possible owing to time constraints, the President of the Conference suggested that these statements should be handed to the secretariat in written form and that they would be reflected in full in the report of the Conference.


24. The statement of the representative of Iraq reads as follows:

“My country’s delegation wishes to express its appreciation for the endeavours made by the participants in this Conference, and particularly those made by the host State, South Africa, to ensure the formulation of a declaration and programme of action that would serve as a guideline for mankind in its efforts to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. Unfortunately, however, it is noteworthy that many of the important issues concerning foreign occupation and settlement were not discussed, even though they formed an essential and intrinsic part of the agenda of this Conference. Moreover, during the Conference, a certain group adopted practices and methods designed to steer the Conference in a manner consistent with its own wishes and conducive to its own ends.

“My delegation notes, with regret, that the paragraphs of the Declaration and Programme of Action concerning the Middle East do not reflect the actual situation in the occupied Arab territories, the racist practices to which the Palestinian people are being subjected and the repression and racial discrimination from which they are suffering. Accordingly, my country’s delegation declares that it is neither a party to, nor bound by, the consensus concerning the paragraphs relating to the Middle East. I request that this be recorded in the Conference documents.

“We wish this statement to be properly reflected in the records of this Conference.”


27. The statement of the representative of Qatar (on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference) reads as follows:

“I appeal to the Conference to consider this statement on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference before the adoption of the Conference’s final documents.

“The following is the legal explanation of the position taken by the members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference on some of the major themes of the Conference.

“First, with regard to paragraph 2 and paragraph 4 of the President’s text, the Organization of the Islamic Conference would like to state the following:

“(i) Concerning the reference to the Holocaust in paragraph 2 of the President’ s text on the Middle East, the Member States of the Organization of the Islamic Conference stress the fact that the Holocaust took place in Europe and that the people and countries outside Europe do not bear any responsibility.

“(ii) As far as the reference to anti-Semitism in the President’s text on the Middle East is concerned, the Member States of the Organization of the Islamic Conference stress the fact that the overwhelming majority of the Semites are Arabs.

“Therefore, I request that this statement be fully reproduced in the official records of this Conference.

“Secondly, I also request the President to state precisely to the Conference the specific placement of each paragraph of the President’s text in both the final Declaration and the Programme of Action. Our understanding is that the President’s text will replace all paragraphs relating to the Middle East, the Holocaust and anti-Semitism in the original text of the Declaration and Programme of Action.

“Thirdly, I also request that the statement made today by the State of Qatar on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference be fully reproduced in the official records of this plenary meeting and accordingly in the report of the Conference.”

28. The statement of the representative of the United Arab Emirates (also on behalf of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia) reads as follows:


“While emphasizing the content of the statement made by the Organization of the Islamic Conference in the Main Committee, we also wish to point out that we cannot accept some of the concepts included in the final document and, consequently, the delegations of our States wish to make it clearly understood that:


30. Also at the 20th plenary meeting, the Rapporteur-General introduced the report of the Conference (A/CONF.189/L.1 and Add. 1-3). The Conference adopted the draft report and authorized the Rapporteur-General to complete the report, in conformity with the practice of the United Nations, with a view to its submission to the General Assembly at its fifty-sixth session.

31. At the same meeting, a draft resolution, submitted by the President, forwarding the report of the Conference, including the Declaration and the Programme of Action, to the General Assembly at its fifty-sixth session was adopted, without a vote, by the Conference. For the text, see chapter I, section C, resolution 2.



Follow UNISPAL RSS Twitter