November 22, 2002

Annan, Race Delegates Criticize Powell Boycott

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan added his voice on Tuesday to those urging the United States to take part in a UN conference on racism, saying it was an issue affecting all countries.

"I hope the US will participate and that they will come and sit with other governments to move the process forward," Annan told a news conference during a visit to Austria.

The US State Department said on Monday Secretary of State Colin Powell would not attend the United Nations World Conference Against Racism because of "offensive" language about Israel in some texts, adding that the United States might boycott it altogether.

Washington fears that the conference -- due to begin in Durban, South Africa on Friday -- will be used by Arab nations to equate Zionism and Israel with racism and apartheid.

Canadian Foreign Minister John Manley, echoing the US concerns over the criticism of Israel, told reporters in Ottawa on Tuesday that he had not decided if he would attend.

"We have very serious concerns about the text," Manley said. "The text, such as it is that I've seen, goes much too far in singling out one country, in this case Israel, and I'm not sure whether that text can be improved enough."

Annan said it was the sovereign right of every country to decide whether or not to attend, but stressed the conference's importance in confronting racism.

"No country is immune from racism and xenophobia," Annan said. "I hope all governments will participate at the highest level possible."

Earlier on Tuesday, delegates to a racism forum organized in Durban by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) showed that the threatened US non-attendance showed it was failing to tackle racism.

"It's a clear political message that the Americans are insisting to show they are not on the side of human rights defenders. It will make the conference easier. Usually the Americans are the obstacle to a good agreement on human rights," Shaqi Issa, a spokesman for the Arab NGO bloc, told Reuters.

The racism conference takes place against a backdrop of escalating violence in the Middle East.

Israeli troops seized positions in Palestinian-ruled Beit Jala on Tuesday and sent bulldozers into a refugee camp in southern Gaza only hours after Israel assassinated a top Palestinian leader.

A bloody weekend in which 11 people died in fighting has all but doused hopes for truce talks between the sides.


A crowd of around 7,000 delegates at the opening ceremony of the NGO race forum chanted "Free, Free Palestine," while some Arab and Palestinian delegates carried posters saying^ South African President Thabo Mbeki opened the NGO forum by urging all nations to commit themselves to wiping out the legacy of racism, slavery and colonialism "that condemns billions across the globe to poverty and despair."

Mbeki did not comment on Powell's decision to stay home.

The United States has threatened a complete boycott of the Durban meeting, although US black leader the Rev. Jesse Jackson said he would lead his own unofficial delegation.

"The exact nature and level of our representation, if any, is not clear," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told a news briefing in Washington on Monday.

President George W. Bush said on Friday the United States would not go to the conference at all if the participants "picked on" or denigrated Israel.

Daniel Lack, a member of the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists from Geneva, said: "I believe they (the Americans) are acting consistently, taking a moral stand. It looks a conference for the promotion of racism.

"Washington was right not to send an important personality (Powell) who can be used in other circumstances to use his moral and high office to bring peace to the Middle East."

But human rights group Amnesty International said it regretted Washington's decision.

"Amnesty International is very disappointed that Colin Powell is not coming to this conference. Every government should be sending their most senior delegation as racism is a huge issue the world over," spokeswoman Maya Catsanis said.

"It will make the US look rather silly. We all know that racism in the United States is a real problem," she said.


A draft declaration before 7,000 delegates at the non- governmental meeting urged the United Nations to accept that Israel was a a "discriminatory" state and that Palestinians could resist "occupation by any means."

The document also demands Israel pay "full compensation" -- effectively reparations -- to Palestinians who are described as people living under a foreign military occupying power.

"The Palestinian people are one such people currently enduring a colonialist, discriminatory military occupation that violates their fundamental human right of self-determination," the draft said.

Pro-Israeli groups in Durban denounced the proposed NGO document and plans for the official conference to focus on Israeli actions in the Middle East.

"The conference has been hijacked, hijacked by those with political agendas," said Shimon Samuels, Director for International Liaison at the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, a leading Jewish human rights group.

"It's a total ganging up on Israel...Neo-Nazism should be on the agenda," Samuels told Reuters.

(Chinadaily.com.cn 08/29/2001)

In This Series
Report to UN Race Meeting Slams US Border Policy



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