- The Washington Times - Friday, November 9, 2001

NEW YORK The outcome of the bitter U.N. racism conference in South Africa remains a virtual secret two months after the conclusion of the meeting.
The reason: Some African governments still are trying to link development assistance to slavery.
Although compromise language expressing remorse for the trans-Atlantic slavery was hastily reached at the Durban conference, the placement of those new paragraphs in the two official conference documents still is not accepted.
African diplomats want to see them placed in the forward-looking program of action, which could have the appearance of linking aid to an admission of guilt.
Western diplomats say they can accept the language, but want it included in the more neutral conference declaration. Until that issue is resolved, neither document can be distributed to the public or submitted to the General Assembly, said U.N. human rights officials who also decline to provide copies of the compromise language.
The racism conference was nearly derailed by disagreements over how former colonial powers should atone for the slave trade. Many African leaders, but not all, demanded reparations. The West refused to link assistance with the past.
"There is an attempt to reopen the Durban agreement, and that's where we are digging our heels in," said one Western European diplomat. "We've gone to the limit of what we can accept."
Durban's other contentious issue whether Israel is, by definition and deed, a racist state also upended discussions and sent the U.S. and Israeli delegations packing on the third day of the conference. However, that disagreement has nothing to do with the delay of the documents.
"You are all aware of the problem with the documentation of the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance," Mary Robinson, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, said at a General Assembly meeting Tuesday morning. "This disagreement does not relate to their [compromise paragraphs] substance, only where they should be placed. But until this matter is settled, we are severely limited in our ability to promote the anti-discrimination agenda."
The meeting of the Human Rights Committee already had been postponed once because of the disagreement. Mrs. Robinson, who has devoted most of her energy to the conference for the past year, warned delegates that concrete anti-discrimination initiatives could be put on hold for lack of funds if they could not present the program of action to the United Nations.
The issues of slavery and Zionism were so contentious that they crowded nearly every other aspect of racism and discrimination off the public agenda.
Failure to circulate the Durban declarations and then formally accept them will compromise both the intention of the conference and the funding for efforts that would grow out of it.
The Mexican representative said Tuesday that she was concerned the latest diplomatic scuffle would compromise the proposed permanent office to promote the rights of indigenous people.
The Moroccan representative asked Mrs. Robinson what she was doing to overcome these difficulties. She responded by saying that her role was to be a bridge among the various parties, but "lately I feel as though it were something of a suspension bridge."


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