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Saturday, September 01, 2001, updated at 13:07(GMT+8)

UN Chief Calls for Sharing Perspectives in Fight Against Racism

World Conference Against Racism Opens in S. Africa
"We are here to learn, not to celebrate," U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said at the opening ceremony of the World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, Friday Morning.

"We are here to share experiences, perspectives and assessments- - of how far we have come, and how much further we must go, if racism is to be finally defeated," Annan stressed at the International Convention Center.

He said that "one thing we can celebrate is the fact that racism is now universally condemned. Few People in the world today openly deny that human beings are born with equal rights."

"But far too many people are still victimized because they belong to a particular group -- whether national, ethnic, religious, defined by gender, or by descent," the U.N. chief said.

"Often this discrimination veils itself behind spurious pretexts," he said. "People are denied jobs ostensibly because they lack educational qualifications; or they are refused housing because there is a high crime rate in their community."

While attributing all these to discrimination, he said: " Injustice traps people in poverty, poverty becomes the pretext for injustice -- and so new wrongs are piled on old."

He noted that "in many places people are maltreated, and denied protection, on the grounds that they are not citizens but unwanted immigrants. Yet often they have come to a new country to do work that is badly needed, or are present not by choice but as refugees from persecution in their own country".

"Such people have a special need for protection, and are entitled to it," the U.N. head stressed.

In his opening address, the secretary general also saluted the leadership of South African President Thabo Mbeki and the memory of all those "who struggled for justice and freedom in South Africa", including Govan Mbeki, Thabo Mbeki's father, who died on Thursday morning.

"For decades the name of this country was synonymous with racism in its vilest form," Annan said. "But today, Mr. President (Thabo Mbeki), you and your fellow citizens have transformed its meaning -- from a by-word for injustice and oppression, into a beacon of enlightenment and hope, not only for a troubled continent, but for the entire world."

"Every one of us must feel the symbolism of this moment-- the conjunction of theme, of time, and of place," he said.

The WCAR is being attended by 14,000 delegates across the world, including U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson as well as more than 10 heads of state and about 160 foreign ministers.

During the eight-day conference, participants are expected to produce a declaration that recognizes the damage caused by past expressions of racism and reflects a new global awareness of modern forms of racism and xenophobia.

A strong practical program of action will also be adopted at the end of the conference.

The first and second WCAR were held in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1978 and 1983 respectively.

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"We are here to learn, not to celebrate," U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said at the opening ceremony of the World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, Friday Morning.

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