2 March 2009The United Nations human rights chief today once again urged all Member States to put aside their differences and work towards ensuring a successful outcome to next month’s conference on intolerance, racial hatred and discrimination, noting these are problems that affect all countries. The conference, to be held from 20 to 24 April in Geneva, will assess progress since the landmark 2001 World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, held in Durban, South Africa.“A persuasive outcome of the review conference and beyond hinges upon the genuine commitment of all States to seek consensus,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay told the UN Human Rights Council as it began its 10th session in Geneva.“Narrow, parochial interests and reflexive partisanship must be cast aside in the interest of a greater common good,” she added.Ms. Pillay underscored that a failure to seek consensus and ensure a successful outcome may reverberate negatively on the full spectrum of human rights work and mechanisms for years to come. “We need to prevent the acrimony of the past from encumbering the fight against intolerance which is – and I am sure we all agree – both of urgent concern and in the best interest of everyone.” The United States, along with Israel, had withdrawn from the 2001 conference citing concerns the forum was being used by some to push an anti-Israel agenda. Recently, the US decided to participate in the preparatory talks for next month’s conference, while Israel indicated last November that it does not plan to take part in the April review.The High Commissioner said she is aware that the legacy of the 2001 Durban summit has been “tainted by the anti-Semitic behaviour of some NGOs” at the sidelines of that conference. “And now the review conference has also been the target of a disparaging media and lobbying campaign on the part of those who fear a repetition of anti-Semitic outbursts. This is unwarranted,” she emphasized.Ms. Pillay, who is Secretary-General of the upcoming conference, said she has countered such distortions in order to set the record straight, and will continue to highlight the fact that the declaration and programme of action resulting from Durban transcended divisive and intolerant approaches. They also offer the most comprehensive framework and platform to combat intolerance and racism in their many forms anywhere and everywhere, she added. A working group made up of UN Member States has begun negotiations in Geneva on a draft outcome document for next month’s meeting.
Nitin Desai, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, told a press briefing at UN Headquarters in New York on Wednesday that next month’s Second World Assembly on Ageing in Madrid, Spain, would take place amid far greater recognition of the importance of this issue compared to the first such Assembly in 1982. Mr. Desai said that he also expected a greater focus during the Assembly on the problems of the developing countries. In contrast to the developed world, where adjustments in the economy, health care, housing and social relations to demographic changes took place over the last 100 years, the developing world will have to learn to cope with the same transformations in just the next 25 years with far less resources.The Assembly’s outcome would look at the problems not in isolation, but as part of an effort to build a “society for all ages,” he stressed, adding that during preparatory negotiations, a lot of attention had been paid to issues of older persons and development, health and well-being in old age, among other things. The crosscutting issues of human rights, gender and poverty also have played a role.While there was 80 per cent agreement on the outcome text, which was still being negotiated, Mr. Desai said the remaining 20 per cent concerned some issues of financing and funding, as well as health care for older persons and human rights.Joining Mr. Desai at the briefing was Ambassador Milos Alcalay of Venezuela, who pointed out that ageing was also part of the development agenda for which the just concluded International Conference on Financing for Development in Monterrey, Mexico, had been the starting point.Speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, Ambassador Alcalay said that the problem for developing countries was that increasing longevity meant that people lived longer in poverty, a situation that had not previously existed. The Group of 77 was very optimistic, he said, that solutions could be found during the remaining negotiations, even if they had to continue during the Assembly, which will take place from 8 to 12 April.