- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 9, 2001

DURBAN, South Africa — The U.N. conference against racism ended yesterday with participants offering Africans a near-apology for slavery and colonialism in a document that recommends new protections for victims of discrimination.
Attempts by Arab states to censure Israel dominated and divided the proceedings until the end, forcing the conference into a day of overtime.
Even when deals on the Middle East were struck yesterday morning, last-minute attempts to add thinly veiled references to Israel prompted some hardball parliamentary maneuvering as interpreters were walking out the door.
With no agreement possible, delegates voted 51-38, with 75 abstentions, to set aside the contested language.
The president of the conference, South African Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, declared the documents adopted before any of the delegates had a chance to speak.
No one walked out, and the conference moved to a close without Arab-backed language that denigrated Israel as a "racist state" and accused it of "genocide" and "crimes against humanity."
The issue was so contentious that the U.S. and Israeli governments withdrew their delegations Monday and boycotted the remainder of the event.
In Washington, a State Department spokeswoman said that U.S. officials could not comment on the final document because they had not seen it, but indicated there were no second thoughts about the decision to walk away.
"We appreciate the effort of other parties in the conference to remove the offensive language," said spokeswoman Susan Pittman. "We're confident that our withdrawal was the correct measure and hope the decision had some effect on a better but still flawed result."
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who was in San Francisco, said that it is "unfortunate that it took this process to get results."
Israel's Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying that the country "expresses satisfaction," but that the final conference document was "not the best."
"The world rejected the attempts of the radical Arab nations to take over the conference and damage its intentions by turning it into a stage for attacking Israel," it said.
The conference produced two documents, a declaration and a program of action.
However, disputes over the Mideast and slave reparations pushed most other items off the agenda, leaving many participants bitter as they prepared to go home.
The plight of the Dalits — the untouchable Hindu castes of India, Pakistan and Nepal — was technically not included in the program of action, in part because participants were bogged down with slavery and the Middle East.
"Far too much time has been spent on bitter, divisive issues that have done nothing to advance the cause against racism," said the head of the Australian delegation.
He said the discussions on the Middle East were "the very antithesis of the conference."
Nonetheless, U.N. officials and many observers described the event — formally known as the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerances — as a success.
"The issues have been addressed, not answered," said Mary Robinson, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights. "The true measure of our work will be whether it makes a real difference in the lives of the victims of racism and discrimination."
She said her Geneva-based office had already expanded its anti-discrimination unit, and was looking to the U.N. General Assembly for additional funds to beef up its work with migrants, indigenous people and other oppressed groups.
The Durban action plan calls for the high commissioner's office to file annual reports on national and international compliance with the goals set out in the conference's plan of action.
More than 160 nations took part in the weeklong event and nearly a year's worth of negotiations leading up to it.
Just about every country had issues on the table, including those related to mistreated minorities, abusive or exclusionary laws, and embarrassing histories.
One of the most emotional and persistent stumbling blocks was how to deal with the legacy of colonialism and the slave trade.
African nations and their many supporters in the Arab and Latin worlds had demanded an apology and compensation, saying that the slave trade was rooted in economics.
Discussion of slavery largely excluded any mention of the slave trade that continues today in Africa. And little if any mention was made that black Africans also profited from the 18th-century trans-Atlantic slave trade by selling tribal enemies into bondage.
The Europeans and Americans feared that sought-after language, with phrases such as "crimes against humanity," would leave them open to unending lawsuits.
In the end, the African nations agreed to accept the Europeans' offer of "profound regret" for both slavery and colonization.
The conference document referred to both as "appalling tragedies."
Alioune Tine, who led a coalition of more than 100 African nongovernmental organizations, said he was overjoyed with the outcome of the conference.
"It is the first time these issues about the past have been discussed in an international forum," he said.
But when Kenyan Ambassador Amina Mohammed stood up and declared, "An apology and reparations are now in order," the Europeans shot back.
Belgium, speaking on behalf of the 15-nation European Union and more than a dozen other Western democracies, immediately pointed out that conference documents are nonbinding, and cannot be used to impose penalties.


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