Tags: U.N. | Race | Conference | Nears | Collapse

U.N. Race Conference Nears Collapse

Wednesday, 05 September 2001 12:00 AM

The final declaration drafted earlier - which labeled Israel as racist, an apartheid state and guilty of "ethnic cleansing" and genocide - was being held back from publication. U.N. Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, who is responsible for the conference, has angrily said that she is unable to recommend the declaration drafted at an earlier forum of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) for consideration by the conference proper.

Robinson said Wednesday she was still hoping for an 11th-hour deal, but observers at the conference said the 15 European Union countries were clearly near despair in their attempts to reach reasonable compromise solutions on Zionism or reparations for slavery and colonialism.

EU delegates have threatened to follow the United States and Israel out of the conference rather than be steamrolled by an informal alliance of African and Arab delegates (a strange partnership, considering the Arabs' slave-trading history) into accepting the original declarations condemning Israel and demanding reparations for slavery of African peoples.

A large number of black American radicals arrived at the conference taking the hardest of hard lines, greatly influencing the atmosphere. As one African delegate after another rose to demand apologies and massive reparations from the EU bloc, some of the conference sessions became very rough indeed, with a great deal of shouting and screaming - behavior which one EU delegate described as "verging on the psychotic."

At the same time, however, the African-Arab alliance has shown signs of strain, according to observers. The Arab states are now judged by most African states to have played their cards very badly by pushing their anti-Israel case too hard.

An initial split developed within the EU bloc between the four countries once heavily involved in the slave trade - Britain, Portugal, Spain and Holland - and the other 11, who were more willing to offer an apology. But the African group blew its chance to make a deal with the majority and isolate the other four. Instead, analysts said, the African group merely hardened its line, ultimately driving the EU 15 back into one another's arms, uniting around the tougher position taken by the four.

With the United States and Israel gone, EU delegates left the Arab and African group in no doubt that they were just as resistant as Washington to going along with a relatively hard-line resolution on Israel. But the EU has now left them in no doubt that it is just as unwilling as the United States to sign a document that one-sidedly denounces Israel.

The conference president, South African Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, has taken over drafting a new chapter of the declaration on the Middle East issue, and the Europeans have told the African group that they had until the end of Wednesday's session to come up with an acceptable draft on the colonialism/slavery issue - or the EU will simply draw up its own statement on the issue.

Still, observers feel neither of these initiatives seems promising. The South Africans have been totally on the Palestinian side all the way until now, and it is hard to imagine that Zuma will come up with an acceptable compromise - and certainly not on her own. And the gap between the EU and the African group remains wide.

"They're demanding the forgiveness of all African foreign debt as if it's reasonable for us to pick up the tab for dictators and tyrants who stole the money or are using it to fight wars," said one disgruntled EU official.

"And they simply don't want to talk about the slavery still going on in countries like Sudan or Mauritania right now."

Speaking at the Wednesday session, Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, the minister for public service who is leading South Africa's team at the conference, served notice that she was backing the demand that all Western states must apologize for slavery and colonialism, although South Africa had earlier rejected such a position as impractical. Analysts took this to mean that South Africa had decided that it is more important to maintain African solidarity even at the cost of knowingly torpedoing the conference.

The result of this collision is that the Third World and the First World now appear farther apart than ever. The prospect is for a conference that ends in bitter shambles with Arabs and Africans bitterly castigating the West instead of reaching a consensus with it.

Robinson, the very model of leftist political correctness, personifies those who are most determined to find common ground with the Third World, but her plight is now unenviable.

"We could well end up with the conference having exacerbated and amplified resentments rather than reconciling them," said one EU delegate.

"The real foolishness of the Arabs and Africans is that they are even making it impossible for Mary [Robinson] to take their side, and that means that they can't get liberal opinion anywhere in the West on their side. They'll end up by making Mary look foolish and making George W. Bush look smart."

Copyright 2001 by United Press International.

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The final declaration drafted earlier - which labeled Israel as racist, an apartheid state and guilty of ethnic cleansing and genocide - was being held back from publication. U.N. Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, who is responsible for the conference, has...
Wednesday, 05 September 2001 12:00 AM
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