- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 2, 2001

DURBAN, South Africa — The leader of Black Africa's biggest state, Nigeria, yesterday opposed calls at the world racism conference for the United States to pay compensation for slavery.
Nigerian President Olusegun Obesanjo called for an apology for slavery but said that after that, "the issue of reparation then ceases to be a rational option."
"We must not forget that monetary compensation, as being proposed, may further hurt the dignity of Africans, and exacerbate the division between Africans on the continent and Africans in diaspora," he said.
Meanwhile, thousands of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), meeting near the U.N. World Conference on Racism, excoriated Israel early today as a "racist apartheid state." The move only heightened tensions surrounding the U.N. conference.
Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade earlier told the conference that his own family once held slaves.
Some African and black American congressmen at the conference are asking for billions of dollars in reparations to the black diaspora and their African countries of origin for the damage caused when an estimated 12 million people were sold as slaves from the 15th to the 19th centuries.
One black U.S. congresswoman said that she had been warned not to bring up the question of compensation — a charge the U.S. delegation quickly denied.
"The U.S. Constitution guarantees freedom of speech, but there has been an attempt to keep us from talking about reparations," said Eddie Bernice Johnson, Texas Democrat.
"We have been told not to talk at this conference [about reparations] — there is no good outcome if one is muzzled."
She said that a bill to commission a study of the costs of paying reparations for slavery — either to black American descendants of slaves or to African nations from where they were taken — has been blocked in Congress since 1989.
A U.S. official attending the conference said there was no effort to muzzle the black members of Congress.
Nongovernmental organizations meeting on the sidelines, meanwhile, added "genocide" yesterday to their list of charges against Israel.
As the conference grappled with the contentious issue of reparations, the NGO forum in a final declaration accused Israel of "systematic perpetration of racist crimes including war crimes, acts of genocide and ethnic cleansing."
The declaration, adopted after voting by 3,000 NGOs in 44 regional caucuses, outraged Jewish groups.
The Israeli government delegation to the U.N. conference blasted the NGO resolution as an incitement to hatred of Jews.
"The decision of the conference of the NGOs adopted this morning is outright incitement, whose only purpose is to delegitimize the Jewish state and its people," delegation spokesman Noam Katz told Reuters.
"[It] adds fuel to the attempts that are being made to demonize Israel," he added.
Meanwhile, the United States continued efforts to delete anti-Israel language from the world conference's final document as Nelson Mandela gave a taped plea to cure racism, which he called "an ailment of the mind and soul."
Cuban President Fidel Castro whipped up support for reparations and against Israel.
"The rich and squandering" developed countries should pay reparations to the victims of slavery, and Israel should end "the ongoing genocide against the Palestinian people that is taking place while the world stares in amazement," he said in his speech.
Cuba supports reparations "based on a major precedent, that is, the indemnification being paid to the descendants of the Hebrew people which in the heart of Europe suffered the brutal and loathsome racial Holocaust," according to the official translation of Mr. Castro's speech.
Speaking of developed countries "and their consumer societies," he said: "That rich and squandering world is in possession of the technical and financial resources necessary to pay what is due to mankind."
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan tried to smooth things over.
"We should not allow one or two issues to derail the conference," Mr. Annan told a press conference.
Palestinian Chairman Yasser Arafat lashed out against Israel in his speech to the conference yesterday, saying Israeli policy toward the Palestinians "embodies racial discrimination in its ugliest forms."
"Israeli occupation … represents a dangerous and flagrant violation of [the U.N.] charter, international human rights and human law. The Israeli occupation is a new and advanced type of apartheid," Mr. Arafat said, adding that it is "unacceptable that international concensus on this issue remains paralyzed."
And there was little agreement about which groups, tribes and peoples should be included in a list of victims of racism, xenophobia and related intolerance.
Mr. Annan said that failure to find agreement at the conference would "give comfort to the worst elements in society."
The Israeli delegation objects to 24 paragraphs in the two conference documents under discussion. These paragraphs deny the right of Israel to exist, and condemn Israeli policies as racist and crimes against humanity.
The Norwegians and other nations are trying to craft compromise language that the Israelis have indicated that they could accept. But Arab League Secretary General Amr Mousa, didn't show much interest.
The Israeli delegation yesterday attended the main conference, as well as the meetings to pore over disputed text.
They dismissed Arab and Islamic efforts to shame Israel as counter to the purpose of the anti-racism conference.


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