Pubdate: Fri, 31 Aug 2001
Source: CNN (US Web)
Copyright: 2001 Cable News Network, Inc.
Note: The petition to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is at


More than 50 years after the United Nations issued its groundbreaking
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, underlining its commitment to
uphold the dignity and worth of every human being, the world remains a
place filled with discrimination, xenophobia and ethnic conflicts.

The controversies swirling around the U.N. World Conference Against
Racism -- set for August 31 to September 7 in Durban, South Africa --
point up the political bombshells loaded within the topic.

In the run-up to the conference, power struggles over its agenda --
and who will attend -- cast a cloud over the U.N.'s stated goal of
creating "a new world vision for the fight against racism and racial

Israel and the United States protested a demand by some Arab states
that the conference texts link Zionism with racism. The United States
also disavowed a demand by various Africans and African-Americans to
discuss slavery as a crime against humanity or the idea of
compensation for slave descendants.

A coalition of U.S. activists, including celebrities such as actor
Danny Glover, singer Harry Belafonte and dozens of legislators, church
leaders and scholars petitioned U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to
challenge U.S. drug laws as discriminatory.

Japan's Ainu minority denounced the country's foreign ministry for
excluding them from the government delegation to the conference.

Some European nations were against discussion of the plight of
Gypsies, while India protested including debate of the Hindu caste
system, calling it an internal matter.

As the conference host, South Africa serves as both a symbol of hope
and one of frustration in the battle for equality and justice.

In Pretoria and other cities, South Africans lit "torches of
tolerance" in ceremonies before the conference, symbolizing a pledge
to build a society free of racism. South African Deputy President
Jacob Zuma said the decision to hold the conference in his country
showed that the world had recognized its accomplishments in moving
beyond apartheid. He added that no topic should be barred from the

"It is important that we are not made to feel guilty for raising
issues which have caused pain to other people in the world," Zuma said. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake