Pubdate: Fri, 31 Aug 2001
Source: Lexington Herald-Leader (KY)
Copyright: 2001 Lexington Herald-Leader
Author: Bill Miller
Note: Bill Miller of Frankfort is past president of the Kentucky Division 
for the United Nations Association of the USA.
Bookmark: (Racial Issues)


The latest official pronouncement from the State Department is that 
Secretary Colin Powell will not participate in the U.N. World Conference 
Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance 
- -- even though he has publicly stated that the conference, which begins 
today in Durban, South Africa, is very important and that he wanted to attend.

Given U.S. concern about some of the agenda items, the Bush
administration plans to send a low-level State Department delegation,
accompanied by some members of Congress. The administration fears that
there may be a stampede to identify reparations for involvement in
past slavery activities, to single out Israel for intense criticism of
its policies toward Palestinians and to downplay the tragedy of the

Although these may be legitimate concerns, it would be a serious
mistake for the United State to boycott this major international
forum. The obvious reason we should participate is that racism is a
cross-cutting problem that affects virtually every society in the
world, including our own. Thus, this conference has the potential to:

Focus the spotlight of international scrutiny on the evils of racism
and, it is hoped, pursue a constructive strategy to eliminate racial

Encourage national leaders to identify solutions and commit their
legal, human and financial resources to overcome racial

Assist the United States in achieving its foreign policy goals of
promoting democracy, human rights, tolerance, and social and economic

Showcase areas, such as civil rights legislation and affirmative
action programs, that have diminished racism in the United States.

Demonstrate that the United States is not pursuing a totally
isolationist and unilateral position on international conferences and

The Bush administration is viewed negatively by a majority of other
countries, friend and foe alike, because of its insistence on going it
alone and thumbing its nose at international treaties, such as the
Kyoto Protocol on Global Warming, the Convention on the Rights of the
Child and the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

The administration's self-described "a la carte multinationalism" --
whereby we participate in international activities that we control or
perceive to be in our national interest -- is not well received by
other countries. Axiomatically, since the United States is the last
superpower, every issue affects our country. By downgrading our
participation at the U.N. conference, we will reinforce to the other
188 member countries of the United Nations that we are not a team
player, which will ultimately isolate us even more.

The United Nations should be congratulated for taking on such a thorny
issue. Racism is a volatile topic, and few easy answers will emerge --
but emerge they must. The conference is a logical follow-up to U.N.
conferences on genocide and apartheid in 1948 and 1983,

Although the United Nations confronts a myriad of tough international
issues -- ranging from combating drug production and abuse to
maintaining 15 peacekeeping missions in dangerous areas -- to moving
aircraft, ships, mail and weather information around the globe, racism
may be one of the most difficult to tackle.

The United States will be criticized for a variety of perceived or
real racial conditions, such as a disproportionate number of
minorities receiving the death penalty, racial profiling and unfairly
targeting blacks in the battle against drugs. Other countries should
be severely scrutinized for a wide-range of racist/human rights
abuses, such as slave trafficking in Sudan; China's authoritarian
control over Tibet; Turkey's mistreatment of the Kurds; and the
excesses of the Taliban in Afghanistan, which has demonstrated a most
pernicious use of religion by persecuting anyone who disagrees with
its interpretation of fundamentalist Islamic teachings.

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, in tacit support of the Bush
administration, has clearly and forcefully said that it is critical to
acknowledge the past, but that it is even more important to focus on
the future and devise a strategy to eliminate racism, intolerance and
divisiveness. U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson
indicated that one major U.S. concern about equating "Zionism with
racism" has been eliminated from the conference agenda, undoubtedly
to the chagrin of some Arab states.

Looking through the rear view mirror may help us identify where we
have been, but it does nothing to help us move forward into the
future. The United States, as the world's most powerful country,
should look to the future and take a positive leadership role in the
conference, developing a workable plan that will alleviate racial
problems and tensions.

Are we going to leave it to the French, Chinese, Russians or Rwandans
to develop a forceful agenda to combat racism? If we are conspicuously
absent at the highest official level, other countries will set the
agenda and will probably attack racial conditions in the United
States. If we are at the table, we help set the agenda, exert some
control over the outcome and defend our interests.

There's still time for Powell to catch a flight to Durban.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake