10 September 2001


NEW YORK, 8 September (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the statement by Secretary-General Kofi Annan at the conclusion of the World Conference Against Racism, Durban, 8 September:

I am very glad that agreement has at last been reached. As I said at the beginning of the Conference, to have left Durban without agreement would have given comfort to the worst elements in every society. As it is, we do have a call to action against racism, and a programme of action, supported by the great majority of Member States.

Of course, these documents do not contain everything that many people would like to see, and they may contain some things that some people would prefer not to see. That is only to be expected when a large number of States strive to reach agreement on very contentious issues. Compromise is essential, and no one gets a hundred per cent of what they want. But we do have a programme of action containing many detailed commitments on the part of States. This should send a signal of hope to people struggling against racism all over the world. It is up to governments now to work with these brave people, and see that their commitments are actually fulfilled.

I should like to thank the host Government, as well as other delegations, who have worked day and night to achieve the final compromise. And I particularly want to thank the President of the Conference, Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, as well as Mary Robinson and her staff who have put an incredible effort into this Conference over the past two years.

It is regrettable that the useful work of the Conference was overshadowed by disagreements on one or two highly emotional issues, especially the Middle East. Many hurtful things were said -– particularly in the draft document submitted by the NGO Forum –- which tended to inflame the atmosphere rather than to encourage rational and constructive discussion.

Clearly we all need to reflect on this experience and see what we can learn from it. Not all problems in the world can be resolved at United Nations Conferences. And when Member States do decide to hold such Conferences we need to be conscious that, on some issues, they will reflect areas of real disagreement dividing the international community. The United Nations is a mirror to the world, and its work reflects what divides us as well as what unites us. This can be painful, but it is sometimes necessary, since only if we see our divisions clearly can we work to overcome them.

* *** *