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Durban: Success in the follow-up

DURBAN, South Africa (CNN) -- The world racism conference has adopted a final declaration recognising the injustice of slavery and colonialism and the "plight" of Palestinians after nine days of recrimination and brinksmanship.

The final declaration was reached after the European Union and African delegations agreed to acknowledge that slavery is a crime against humanity.

It dropped a call for reparations and a demand for apologies by African countries, making reference instead to debt relief and other economic and development assistance to Africa.

The first conference on racism ends with a consensus reached. Charlayne Hunter-Gault explains (September 8)

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Mary Robinson, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the success of the conference would be judged on how countries responded to the undertakings they had given in Durban.

"We will not let governments off the hook," said Robinson. "We will look to civil society to help us, to pin governments, to what they have committed to here. And we will report on it."

Conference chairwoman Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the South African foreign minister, said the reparations and apology for slavery should not be monetary. "It does not mean money, it means dignity," she said.

The U.S., who walked out last Monday with Israel, said it was disappointed with events.

A State Department spokeswoman said Washington was "disappointed that the conference, which had an opportunity to address the issue of racism, was politicised."

Israel welcomed adoption of the document because it did not include language that Arab and Muslim delegates had wanted.

"Israel expresses great satisfaction that the hate-filled language against Israel and the Jewish people were removed from the final resolution," said a statement from the Israeli foreign ministry.

"The world rejected the attempts of the extremist Arab countries to take over the conference and hurt its goals whilst turning it into a stage to knock Israel."

CNN's Johannesburg Bureau Chief, Charlayne Hunter-Gault, said that in the words of the conference chairwoman, South African foreign minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, delegates were "all a bit bruised."

Pleased to have finally reached agreement but visibly exhausted from working out the differences, Zuma said the process had been difficult on all involved. In recent days, many of the more than 160 delegations had stayed up late to hammer out the language issues.

But the success of the conference, Zuma said, will be measured in its effects.

"That is now the biggest challenge," she said. "The real work begins after Durban."

She hailed the determination and stamina of those at the conference to press ahead, even when their views sharply differed.

Robinson also referred to the departure of the U.S. and Israeli delegations, saying she regretted any country would leave without committing themselves to compromise.

"We are very tired delegates tonight, but they know that they have achieved with us the first agreed framework against racism that deals with all the issues," she said. "We now begin a long road of tackling racism and discrimination, and there was that political will and that made all the difference."

The document was approved by consensus shortly before the plenary session, the final meeting of the conference which went into an unscheduled ninth day because of the deep divisions among the delegates.

Hunter-Gault said even though the declaration was approved, various countries involved were expressing concerns about parts of it.

Canada said too much attention had been paid to trying to "delegitimise the state of Israel."

Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa rejected the paragraph recognising the Holocaust, saying that Europeans were responsible for the genocide and "are trying to spread their guilt around the world."

The EU and African delegations agreed to acknowledge that slavery is a crime against humanity.

On the issue of compensation, the parties made reference to debt relief and other economic and development assistance to Africa.

"We are happy we found a solution," Hans Winkler, an Austrian delegate, told the Associated Press.

It remained unclear what the new language would mean for European fears of potential lawsuits seeking reparations, though several European delegates told the Associated Press their fears had been addressed.

"It's certainly an issue that warrants further exploration," said Wade Henderson, a lawyer and executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, a U.S. organisation, told AP.

Hunter-Gault said that because the conference had gone into an extra and ninth day, many of the countries had left by the time the document was approved.

"It is not a document which is going to make everyone happy. But at least U.N. officials can say the document they have produced represents consensus."

• United Nations
• World Conference Against Racism

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