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Sunday, 9 September, 2001, 04:13 GMT 05:13 UK
Anti-racism plan hammered out
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson (left) and conference delegates in Durban
A final agreement - but the forum exposed deep rifts
The World Conference Against Racism ended in Durban as turbulently as it began, but delegates finally adopted a declaration and action plan to combat racism and xenophobia.

The talks had to be carried into an extra unscheduled day as the two issues that had dogged the conference - slavery and the Middle East - continued to cause problems.

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

Australian delegation
The wrangling between delegates continued on Saturday even as the conference hall was being packed up and further discussion was only curtailed by a blocking vote.

A BBC correspondent at the conference says that if the final declaration is implemented it will make a radical difference to millions of people.

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

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

All-night negotiations

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

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

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".

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

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."

European countries did agree to apologise for slavery as a "crime against humanity", but only after the text was drafted in a way that ensured no legal consequences.

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

Help for millions

Observers have warned that the lasting impression of the conference may be one of deep disarray.

But according to the BBC's correspondent in Durban, Elizabeth Blunt, the provisions in the final declaration could make a difference to the daily lives of millions of people suffering from discrimination, if fully implemented.

They urge countries to allow minorities to use their own language, enjoy their own culture and practice their religion freely which at one stroke would satisfy many of the demands of Kurds in Turkey or Tibetans under Chinese rule.

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

They want countries to take a hard look at their criminal justice systems to make sure they do not discriminate against any particular group.

And they call for an end to the culture of impunity, which allows police and other officials to escape the consequences of racist behaviour - a real issue in many countries, and especially in the United States.


They urge access to equal education for Roma or gypsy children - addressing one of the main grievances of Romany communities in eastern Europe.

And they tackle the currently contentious issue of migrants, trying to ensure that governments do not discriminate between them on the basis of race. That could call into question America's annual green card lottery.

"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.

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

The BBC's Nick Childs
"For the African delegates, something to celebrate"
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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