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Anti-racism Durban Review Conference opens in Geneva

The anti-racism Durban Review Conference begins on 20 April in Geneva. Opening the Conference, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay underlined the importance for the international community to work together to combat racism.

The opening ceremony of the Durban Review Conference on April 20. © UN Photo/Jean-Marc FERRE“There comes a time to re-affirm our faith in fundamental human rights and the dignity and worth of us all. A time to give the virtues of tolerance and respect for diversity their fullest due and look beyond a past that divides us toward a future that unites us,” said the Secretary-General when he opened the Review Conference.

“That time is now.”

“Discrimination does not go away by itself. It must be challenged. Otherwise it can become a cause of social unrest and violence. We must be especially vigilant during this time of economic trouble,” he said.

The Review Conference, which runs from 20 to 24 April, will assess progress made since the 2001 World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance held in Durban, South Africa.

High Commissioner Pillay, who is Secretary-General of the Review Conference, expressed her confidence that the Conference would “represent a historic milestone in the fight against racism.”

“Our work will ultimately convince all those Member States who chose to stay away to rejoin our efforts on the anti-racism agenda at a later stage of this ongoing process,” she said.

Both Pillay and Secretary-General Ban regretted that a handful of governments had chosen not to attend the Conference.

“Let us recognize the difference between honest disagreement and mere divisiveness — or worse, sheer obstructionism. Let us lead by example, knowing that our own reputations are at stake,” Ban said.

“If tolerance and respect for diversity is our goal, are we not best served by practicing those very qualities, here and now, as we work toward that goal?”

A Preparatory Committee last Friday agreed on a draft outcome document for the Review Conference.

“I am convinced that the draft outcome document under your consideration is a carefully balanced and yet meaningful outcome which will generate concrete steps to address the plight of the many victims of racism throughout the world. This is why we are here,” Pillay told the Conference.

This week we have the opportunity to take a significant step forward in the fight against racism, a fight that serves the interest of justice, dignity and equality everywhere,” she said.

“The eyes of the world are upon us. We will be judged harshly indeed should this historic opportunity not be fully seized. I am confident that this will not be the case. The victims of racism deserve no less.”

The Conference also heard opening statements from the President of the General Assembly, the President of the Human Rights Council and veteran human rights defender Nelson Mandela.

Mandela, in a written statement, reminded the Conference that “children, men and women, in their millions” are victims of racism.

“Do not allow their dignity, their human right to life, peace and prosperity be compromised because of often obscure differences among policy makers. It is in your hands to make a difference.”

April 2009