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U.N. racism conference scrambles for impact after U.S., Israel exit

DURBAN, South Africa (BP)–The South African government tried frantically Sept. 4 to salvage what is left of the U.N. conference against racism, following walkouts by the United States and Israeli delegations.

CNSNews.com reported Sept. 4 that the conference’s president, South African Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, was trying to have all contentious language referring to the Middle East withdrawn from the conference’s draft declaration and to start fresh.

South African officials said the European Union and the Arab League have agreed to a compromise.

Dlamini-Zuma convened an urgent meeting Sept. 4 and proposed that South African officials draw up a new draft, which would remove all racist text on the Middle East.

Despite the decision by the United States and Israel to leave over disagreements relating to Israel and Zionism, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson said the event was back on track.

She said there was a positive spirit among the countries remaining to address issues of importance and to reach consensus, CNSNews.com reported.

“I believe we are back on course. We have steadied. The conference is continuing on course and in a constructive manner.”

Robinson said the issues around the text on the Middle East were difficult issues.

“There are very real and historical differences in the perceptions of people. What we are seeing is that they are coming closer in position.”

Various non-governmental organizations groups have been critical of the American and Israeli withdrawals, claiming that other issues of racism and slavery will not be addressed correctly because the two countries had left.

The Jewish Caucus, a loose grouping of about 20 international Jewish organizations, also walked out of the event to protest against a final declaration of a parallel NGO conference, which was presented Sept. 4.

The Jewish groups said in a statement Israel had been the target of “spurious allegations of genocide, ethnic cleansing and other crimes against humanity.”

“Israel is the only nation on earth singled out for criticism in the conference’s governmental draft documents,” the Jewish Caucus noted of the NGO conference.

“The U.N. was founded to promote human rights and international security. This conference, though, has undermined these principles,” the caucus said, calling on the United Nations to abide by its own mission. “Failure to do so,” the caucus said, “compromises the very essence of the United Nations.”

The Jewish organizations were not alone in their criticism of the NGO conference declaration.

Robinson, when given the document Sept. 4, questioned the appropriateness of the language used. “For the first time I can’t recommend to delegates to pay close attention to the document like I normally do, because I cannot accept words like ‘genocide.’ It is hurtful,” she was quoted by CNSNews.com as saying.

Robinson said there had to be some reference “to the suffering of Palestinians,” but added: “This is a conference for victims — and not for finger-pointing to any one country.”

By Friday, Sept. 6, when the U.N. racism conference comes to an end, Robinson said she hoped there would be the fullest support for a plan of action to combat racism worldwide.

Robinson said no country, even those that had walked out, could be outside of this process.

“Even Israel and the U.S. will have to commit themselves to fight this scourge,” Robinson said.
Klusener is a correspondent with www.CNSNews.com. Used by permission.

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  • Mark Klusener