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Saturday, 8 September, 2001, 19:17 GMT 20:17 UK
Mixed emotions as Durban winds up
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, left,  and conference delegates finally reach an understanding in Durban
Agreement - but at a cost of deep disarray?
The UN conference against racism, which teetered on the brink of collapse over the Middle East, has closed with an accord on a global plan to fight discrimination.

It came a day late and only after further discussions were curtailed by a blocking vote.

The conference in Durban, South Africa, adopted two documents - a declaration of principles and an action plan to combat discrimination which the 160 or so states attending agreed to implement.

We have not been deterred from making a breakthrough here in Durban

UN Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson

But some observers asked whether the final documents were worth the trouble stirred up by the conference.

The way was cleared for an accord after the conference voted against Syrian demands to include language implicitly accusing Israel of racism.

Canada, Australia, Syria, Iran and others were deeply unhappy with the declaration's final text on the Middle East conflict - but for different reasons.

Lorraine Nesane, 15, of South Africa, was the victim of racist abuse by a white shopkeeper
The conference did provide a platform for victims of racism

For Australia, "far too much of the time at the conference was consumed by bitter divisive exchanges on issues which have done nothing to advance the cause of combating racism".

Iran, for its part. continued to insist that Israel was a racist state: "We should not forget racial practices are made in the occupied Palestinian and Arab territories."

'More harm than good'

"We have not been deterred from making a breakthrough here in Durban," UN Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson said in a closing speech to the conference, the largest ever held on racism.

She said it would resonate around the world, especially in communities which still bear the scars of slavery.

She warned that the conference would only be measured by its impact on the victims of racism.

But, as the BBC's Barnaby Phillips reports, the more lasting impression of the conference may be one of deep disarray.

Electrician at Durban conference
At one point electricians were dismantling lights while debates were still in progress

At one point, the proceedings almost descended into farce as stewards frantically searched for remaining interpreters.

"Many delegates are leaving Durban with mixed emotions fearing the divisions exposed here may have done more harm than good," he said.


The conference began on 31 August and had been due to end on Friday.

The two main obstacles to agreement, the Middle East and the legacy of slavery, kept delegates up negotiating on the text throughout the night.

European countries agreed to apologise for slavery as a "crime against humanity".

They, along with America, had been keen to make sure that the wording would not make them liable for reparations.

In the way it's drafted now, there can't be any legal consequences

EU's Koen Vervaeke, on slavery reparations

EU spokesman Koen Vervaeke, said: "In the way it's drafted now, there can't be any legal consequences."

However, a package of economic assistance to Africa was reportedly also agreed.

The US and Israel walked out of the conference earlier in the week in protest against Arab attempts to adopt a resolution equating Zionism - the political movement supporting the existence of a Jewish state - with racism.

The BBC's Nick Childs in Durban
"This conference ended as it began - with acrimony and sourness"
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson
"It has been an exhausting nine days for all of us, but it has been worth it"
See also:

05 Sep 01 | Africa
Conference split on slavery issue
05 Sep 01 | Africa
Racism summit seeks breakthrough
04 Sep 01 | Americas
Compensation for slavery
03 Sep 01 | Africa
Racism summit turmoil: Reactions
03 Sep 01 | UK Politics
UK challenged over slavery
03 Sep 01 | Africa
Focus on the slave trade
03 Sep 01 | Europe
Europe split over slavery row
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