- The Washington Times - Monday, January 7, 2002

Slave language
Four months after the conclusion of the rancor-filled U.N. conference against racism, diplomats have finally figured out how to phrase the difficult language on the slave trade that consumed them for nine days and nights.
In the end, African and European negotiators agreed to compromise language that hinted at an apology and encouraged increased development assistance to sub-Saharan nations, without specifically linking it to the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
But diplomats left the Durban conference before they could agree on where to insert the paragraphs, setting off more closed-door negotiations between indignant Europeans and outraged Africans.
On Thursday, the African group agreed to European insistence to put the language in the conference declaration, rather than the more forward-looking and therefore weightier program of action.
In the months leading up to the conference in Durban, South Africa, former colonial and slave-trading nations had refused demands by some but not all African nations to make reparations and define the 16th-century practice as a crime against humanity.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, whose international standing was undermined by the Durban debacle, praised the just-completed text as a "living, breathing document" that can finally be presented to the General Assembly for acceptance.
The myriad issues of racism, xenophobia and hatred were also overshadowed by the Arab-sponsored castigations of Israel as a racist state language that U.S. and Israeli diplomats found so offensive they left halfway through the conference.
With no settlement possible, the Zionist language was ultimately dropped in the final moments of the conference.
To see the final Durban statements, go to www.unhchr.ch/html/racism/Durban.htm.

AIDS in Africa
Stephen Lewis, the U.N. point man for the fight against AIDS in Africa, said 2002 should be the turning point for the continent's battle against the virus but only if government assistance isn't re-allocated to counterterrorism activities.
"Whatever else is happening in this world the reference is obvious the HIV/AIDS pandemic remains one of the greatest threat to humankind, particularly in Africa," said Mr. Lewis in the first U.N. press conference of the new year.
Africa is hardest hit by the virus that causes AIDS, with an estimated 28 million people infected. In 2001, according to UNAIDS, there were 3.4 million new infections and 3.1 million AIDS-related deaths in the continent. The vast majority of these cases was in sub-Saharan Africa.
Despite the mounting losses, however, Mr. Lewis a former UNICEF official and an admitted optimist painted a positive picture for the near future.
He said that general awareness of the disease's transmission and treatment is building, from grass-roots educational organizations to government statehouses.
Significant anti-retroviral treatment and other AIDS-related drugs are more widely available in Africa, Mr. Lewis said, either because they are increasingly produced in generic form by factories in the developing world, or distributed at heavily subsidized prices by the patent-holding manufacturers themselves.
Programs to limit mother-to-child transmission are starting to show results, as are the efforts by some governments to import more condoms, earmark more money for health care and lessen the stigma attached to AIDS.
With all of these positive developments, said Mr. Lewis, "2002 is the year of truth in Africa; we must turn the tide this year."
But little else can happen without money, which is why Mr. Lewis minced few words in demanding a renewed financial commitment from donor nations.
"Quite a remarkable amount of money has been found since September 11," he said, adding that similar efforts should be made to fund advances against a disease that the United Nations estimates claims 6,000 to 8,000 lives in Africa every day.
Mr. Lewis notes that 30 years after the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries set a voluntary target for development assistance at .07 percent of gross national product, the average expenditures have fallen to .02 percent and never reached the goals anyway.
"There is an appallingly low level of official development assistance," he told reporters here last week. "When you look at the difference between .022 and what was agreed upon, you're talking about roughly $110 billion to $120 billion additional dollars per year."

Betsy Pisik may be reached via e-mail at [email protected]

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