Tags: Powell | Pulls | U.S. | Out | U.N. | Racism | Conference

Powell Pulls U.S. Out of U.N. Racism Conference

Tuesday, 04 September 2001 12:00 AM

Citing proposals the Americans said contained "hateful language" and were anti-Israel, the mid-level U.S. mission was ordered from the conference after participants failed to reach a compromise on a final declaration to be distributed when the conference ends Friday.

"I know that you do not combat racism by conferences that produce declarations containing hateful language, some of which is a throwback to the days of 'Zionism equals racism'; or supports the idea that we have made too much of the Holocaust; or suggests that apartheid exists in Israel; or that singles out only one country in the world, Israel, for censure and abuse," said Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, in a statement announcing the recall.

The conference in the South African port city of Durban reached a critical point Monday as U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson was unable to convince the American delegation to stay despite the criticism of Israel.

Human Rights Watch on Monday criticized the U.S. decision, arguing that the United States should be part of the process of fighting against racism. The organization said the United States should have chosen to remain at the conference and lobby for the removal of the draft's language concerning Israel.

"This meeting is about the millions of refugees who are fleeing racism but who find intolerance, about the so-called untouchables of South Asia, about how HIV/AIDS disproportionately affects people of color, about the unique ways racism and sexism interact, and about racism in the application of the death penalty. These are issues that the United States wanted to avoid, but clearly it cannot," said Reed Brody, the advocacy director of Human Rights Watch, in a statement.

Arab nations have been demanding condemnation of Israel in the conference's final declaration. Powell boycotted the conference because of "offensive" language about Israel in a text prepared before the event began on Friday.

Instead, the United States sent a mid-level diplomatic team to Durban. The delegation, including Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif., had been working unsuccessfully behind the scenes to change the wording, but had not taken part publicly in the conference.

Lantos told the South African Broadcasting Association that the conference had been hijacked by Arab countries and Muslim extremists who turned into a "propaganda weapon" to attack Israel and the United States.

"Today I have instructed our representatives at the World Conference Against Racism to return home," Powell said. "I have taken this decision with regret, because of the importance of the international fight against racism and the contribution that the conference could have made to it."

Powell added: "But, following discussions today by our team in Durban and others who are working for a successful conference, I am convinced that will not be possible."

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres announced the Israeli delegation would also walk out of the conference.

At a news conference in Jerusalem, Peres called the South African conference an "unbelievable attempt to smear Israel."

"An important convention that's supposed to defend human rights became a source of hatred," Peres said. "We knew from the start we didn't stand a chance of convincing the leagues of hatred but we had some respect for other countries."

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Michael Melchior told United Press International the Israeli government had hoped to reach a formula "where the hate language (in the conference's final declaration) would be replaced with language of cooperation and peace, where there would be no signaling out of any country, where the hate of Jewish people would be rejected."

In a public appeal Monday, the World Union for Progressive Judaism, an umbrella group representing more than 1.5 million Jews worldwide, urged U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan not to allow the World Conference on Racism to be hijacked by anti-Israel organizations.

"The United Nations is now undergoing probably the most shameful metamorphosis since its creation in 1945," said Rabbi Francois Garai, the union's main representative to the United Nations in a statement.

Reacting to the U.S. withdrawal, the South African government called the decision "unfortunate and unnecessary" and said the conference would continue in a statement.

"Any delegations withdrawing from this process will deny not only this conference of their experience and insight but will also be denying themselves a vital learning experience," said South African Cabinet Minister Essop Pahad.

Pahad said the representatives gathered in Durban, "are united in their resolve, not to be distracted from the conference agenda but to forge ahead with deliberations and discussions which must result in a clear program of action aimed at pushing back the frontiers of racism, xenophobia and related intolerances."

Copyright 2001 by United Press International. All rights reserved.

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Citing proposals the Americans said contained hateful language and were anti-Israel, the mid-level U.S. mission was ordered from the conference after participants failed to reach a compromise on a final declaration to be distributed when the conference ends Friday. I...
Tuesday, 04 September 2001 12:00 AM
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