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World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination,
Xenophobia and Related Intolerance

31 August 2001

Release your frustrations into a global movement, says UN secretary-general Kofi Annan
by Stephen Webb

Anger and frustration felt by many NGO Forum delegates because their concerns are unlikely to be reflected in the World Conference Against Racism's (WCAR) Declaration and Programme of Action can be valuable, according to UN secretary- general Kofi Annan.

Addressing the NGO Forum on August 30 before the World Conference in Durban, South Africa, Annan said the delegates could channel their frustrations into the creation of a worldwide anti-racist movement, in which all their different struggles would converge.

But, while attempting to mollify the NGOs, Annan also acknowledged the importance of governmental decision-making. "Texts adopted in conference halls will not change anything unless people like you work with governments to follow them up and to ensure that they are implemented," he said. "You must set benchmarks by which to measure whether governments are living up to their word."

Annan recalled that it is civil society that took the lead in the struggle against apartheid, and that it is often civil society activists who breathe life into UN conferences. "Sometimes it is also you who bring clarity, because you can discuss openly those awkward issues that governments have to avoid, or to blur, in the interests of reaching consensus."

He said that in Durban, he was seeing representatives of constituencies which for the first time were discovering the United Nations as an arena where they could bring their concerns. "I mean such groups as the Roma or Sinti from Europe, the victims of discrimination based on work and descent, from South Asia, Japan and West Africa, the people of African descent from the Americas, and organizations of migrant workers."

On the same day, the moderator of the World Council of Churches' (WCC) Central Committee released the text of a statement expressing similar hopes to those expressed by Kofi Annan. The statement, "Intolerance: An Evil That Must Be Eradicated", will be published in the book of the World Conference Against Racism.

His Holiness Aram I, Catholicos of Cilicia, said, "Religions, actors of civil societies and states can together play a pivotal role in combatting violence in all its forms and expressions. I consider such a partnership of crucial importance in this globalized world; a partnership that maintains the particularities of each partner, uplifts the specific vocation of each, and strengthens collaboration for common action."

"I pray that the growing partnership between the United Nations, world religions and civil society will become real, and that this effort to work together will deepen collaboration on issues arising from intolerance and give shape to relevant forms of action in concrete situations," the statement continued.

The question of how the conference would be followed up was raised after Annan's speech. The UN secretary-general said that the important thing is action: "Each government must do something and civil society must stay engaged."

The United Nations High Commissioner and secretary general of the World Conference Against Racism, Mary Robinson, said she hoped every country will adopt a national plan of action against racial discrimination.

Responding to another question, Annan said legal and juridical implications make it unlikely that reparations will be considered by the governmental meeting beginning in Durban on August 31.

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