Ominous clouds over World Conference against Racism

Dakar- Senegal (PANA) -- Given its tremendous influence on international relations, America's threat to boycott the forthcoming third World Conference Against Racism (WCAR) in Durban, South Africa, over agenda disagreement has the dangerous potential of undermining a UN effort at combating a serious evil plaguing human kind.
It is not the first time that Washington would be showing indifference to a global initiative against racism, going by the experience of 1978 and 1983, when the last two UN conferences against racism were held in Geneva, Switzerland.
But ahead of the 2001 Conference, many had expected a change of heart from the US, a prominent multiracial nation.
This is against the backdrop of momentous changes such as the demise of apartheid in South Africa, the collapse of the former Soviet Union effectively ending the Cold War, and the telling effects of globalisation, which have all impacted on the international equation since the last UN Conferences against Racism.
Also, the general expectation had been that having lately stepped out of tune with the rest of the world on a number of issues notably, the Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gases and its controversial National Defence Missiles initiative, the George W.
Bush administration should have been more accommodating rather than being isolationist on an important issue like racism, which threatens human existence.
But on the 31 August to 7 September Durban WCAR, the US is insisting that Zionism as it relates to Israel, its strong ally, should not be equated to racism as being propagated by the Arab world.
The issue of reparations for colonialism and the slave trade being pushed by Africa and its Diaspora must also be dropped for Washington to send a delegation to Durban.
Arab countries accuse Israel of racism and racial discrimination in its conducts at trying to actualise a Zionist State, a charge denied by Israel.
Africans, too, and their brothers in the Diaspora believe that countries in Europe and the Americas that benefited from colonialism and slave trade should pay reparation, just like the Jews are being compensated for the Holocaust by Germany.
In view of the magnitude of racism and its undiminished impact even after the two previous UN Conferences, the Durban Conference has been expanded in scope to address all forms of Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance.
Like any typical UN gathering, the intention is to discuss these vexed questions with the purpose of reaching a consensus on minimising the impact of these evils or eliminating them completely.
It is pertinent to recall that in 1975, the UN passed a resolution classifying Zionism as racism despite protestations from Israel and the US, which refused to recognise that resolution.
Although the same resolution was struck down in 1991 under US pressure, Zionism has remained contentious, exacerbated by the escalating Middle East crisis, to the extent that Arab countries believe it should be revisited at Durban.
Various arguments have equally been canvassed for and against reparation for colonialism and the slave trade, indicating that these are issues on which sections of the world community feel very strongly about and therefore require global attention.
To dismiss them off hand is to sweep the dirt under the carpet.
Incidentally, one hallmark of democracy, which the US professes to and champions, is that it should provide an equal opportunity to all, irrespective of their race, religion, creed, nationality, colour or their stations in life, to air their views in reaching a decision on any given issue, be it racism or terrorism.
For instance, the US is still searching for its service men and women who are "missing in action" (MIS), 27 years after the Vietnam war ended.
Just like Washington cannot be convinced to abandon that legitimate cause, apostles of reparations believe that Africa deserves restitution for the millions of its sons and daughters sold in slavery for four centuries.
Shying away from WCAR or threatening a boycott could be interpreted as an unwillingness to support an international effort to help solve pressing global problems.
All what any group that feels strongly about a particular issue needs to do at Durban is to provide superior arguments to win its opponents over so that consensus can be built.
A US boycott of an important UN meeting like the conference against racism by the sole super power, will also be sending a wrong signal to the rest of the world.
If through the same UN, Washington has been able to rally world opinion against terrorism, there should be nothing wrong in using the same forum to reconcile global differences on racism and racial discrimination.
Perhaps, following the US and Israeli examples, India has also warned against the Caste System becoming an agenda issue at Durban.
It goes to show that there are issues whose discussion would bring discomfort to many a country.
But there is a greater danger in refusing to discuss such issues because doing so would annoy these countries.
After all, if the world had listened to the anti-sanction campaigners during the apartheid era, the UN would not have approved the range of measures, which combined with the internal struggle, to end oppressive white minority rule in South Africa.
In the same vein, despite opposition by some countries at the UN, measures were endorsed by the Security Council against Iraq, when it invaded Kuwait in 1990, paving the way for 30 countries to contribute forces in support of a US-led "Operation Desert Storm" that ended that invasion.
A regime of UN sanctions is also in place against Libya over the 1988 bombing of the American PAN AM flight over the Scottish town of Lockerbie that killed 270 people, despite calls for these sanctions to be lifted by some countries.
In other words, with or without US participation, the UN must safeguard its integrity by ensuring that nothing is done to undermine the Durban Conference Against Racism, such as bowing to the threats of boycott from countries which are uncomfortable with the conference agenda.

27 august 2001 12:56:00

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