Pubdate: Mon, 27 Aug 2001
Source: Guardian, The (UK)
Copyright: 2001 Guardian Newspapers Limited


UN Organisers Drop Controversial Proposals On Zionism And Slavery 
Reparations But Americans May Still Boycott World Racism Summit

The United States says it may still boycott the UN world conference against 
racism which opens in South Africa this week despite the dropping of 
proposals to equate Zionism with racism and the abandoning of demands for 
reparations for slavery and colonialism.

President George Bush said his administration is still undecided because 
the tone of the conference documents on Israel remains "pretty 
discriminatory" and that the US is not prepared to allow the meeting "to 
isolate our friend and strong ally".

"We have made it very clear through [the US secretary of state] Colin 
Powell's office that we will have no representative there so long as they 
pick on Israel," Mr Bush said. "We will not participate in a conference 
that tries to isolate Israel and denigrates Israel."

The issue has undermined western backing for the conference as have demands 
from African nations for an admission that the trans- Atlantic slave trade 
was a crime against humanity and calls for reparations - both of which have 
now been dropped.

The controversy has also angered the human rights organisations and special 
interest groups which open a parallel conference in Durban tomorrow, ahead 
of the start of the main meeting on Friday.

Non-governmental organisations plan to push a host of issues, from 
accusations that America's 'war on drugs' is racist because it targets 
blacks and Latinos to demands by a group representing former Gurkha 
soldiers that the British government give them better treatment. Landless 
groups in southern Africa also plan to use the crisis in Zimbabwe to argue 
that ownership of land is a race issue.

But activists warn that other important issues that affect millions of 
people are being overshadowed by the issues of Zionism and reparations, and 
helping governments to stifle public criticism of racism and discrimination 
in their own back yards.

"Governments have been very unwilling to allow any discussion of things 
that will affect them," Smita Narula of the Human Rights Watch delegation 
said. "Most governments are coming to the table with an anti-agenda rather 
than an agenda, things they want to keep from discussion. The fomenting of 
ethnic tensions in countries like Indonesia and in so many African 
countries are not on the agenda.

"There's also been a lot of horse-trading between the US, EU and others 
over issues like reparations; a lot of horse-trading by governments that 
want to keep the racial problems in their own back yard off the agenda."

India has worked hard to sideline the issue of caste discrimination, which 
condemns about 250m people in south Asia to a life of degradation, abuse 
and even to murder.

New Delhi's campaign has been so effective that the word caste does not 
appear anywhere in the conference documents. Instead, it is referred to 
euphemistically as "work and descent", on the grounds that under the caste 
system a person's descent decides their work.

Switzerland proposed a clause for debate at the conference that would 
commit India and other governments to combat caste discrimination.

But even though the Swiss paragraph was accepted at preparation meetings it 
was "inadvertently omitted" from the draft agenda. It has been put back on, 
but India is campaigning vigorously against its acceptance.

"We believe that the caste issue is not linked to the main subject of this 
conference, which is racism. You cannot equate casteism with racism," said 
India's foreign minister, Omar Abdullah. However, even the Indian 
government's own statutory human rights commission says it is wrong.

India largely got its way through a combination of Asian solidarity, the 
bullying of smaller nations such as Barbados, which initially agreed to 
sponsor scrutiny of the issue and then withdrew under pressure, and from 
horse-trading with the US and UK over the reparations issue. Initially the 
Indians sounded out the African delegations with a proposal for New Delhi 
to back the call for compensation for slavery in return for an African 
pledge to vote down any proposals that would embarrass India.

But then the Indians got a better deal from the Americans, with the British 
tagging along. The US would shun the caste issue if the Indians opposed 
reparations. In a shameless about-face, New Delhi dumped the Africans for 

However, last week Nepal said it will defy India and press for the 
abolition of caste discrimination.

The Chinese have worked as hard to keep Tibet off the agenda, with nearly 
as much success. The words Tibet, racism and human rights will appear on 
the UN documents but the issue will not receive much attention.

China also succeeded in getting the New York-based organisation Human 
Rights in China barred from the conference.

Beijing uses much the same arguments as New Delhi has in dismissing 
scrutiny of its treatment of Tibetans, by saying that political oppression 
is not racism, and it is purely an internal matter.

But Ngawang Drakmargyapon of the Tibetan government in exile sees it very 

"We believe we are suffering from a racist communist military occupation of 
Tibet," he said. "This sense of superiority in the minds of the Chinese 
authorities results in oppression of Tibetans.

"Unfortunately much of the debate in the preparation process has been 
overshadowed by the reparations and slavery and colonialism, and the 
Zionism. No governments have said they will take up the issue of Tibet. 
Generally they don't."
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