UN Conference on Racism – Empty Rhetoric, No Action


The UN-sponsored World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance (WCAM), as with the two similar United Nations conferences that preceded it in past decades, proved to be a fraud, a farce, and a failure.

The week-long Durban, South Africa, meeting opened on Aug. 31 in the presence of 6000 South African soldiers. It included delegations from the world’s leading imperialist nations and representatives of their subject capitalist neo-colonies.

Delegations from UN-linked NGOs, private corporations, youth organizations, and assorted social and political groups were also invited to give the appearance of breadth and vitality.

About 14,000 attended the conference and its pre-conference associated proceedings, the NGO Forum and Youth Summit.

The leading players were cloistered in private negotiations in an effort to draft a series of hollow and toothless declarations designed to give the impression of international concern for issues that have wreaked horror on most of the world’s people. But they failed to impose their views completely on the conference as a whole.

The U.S. government delegation-joined by Israel, imperialism’s military outpost and agency in the Middle East-walked out of the conference on Sept. 3. They left after the majority of nations present refused to exclude resolution language that associated Israeli Zionism with racism, condemned Israeli repression and murder of the Palestinian people, and addressed the issue of reparations to nations and peoples that had been victims of the colonial slave trade.

The U.S. role was accurately described in the Sept. 4 New York Times: “From the moment the mid-level delegation representing the United States arrived at the meeting, their marching orders were clear-engage actively in behind-the-scenes talks to moderate the conference’s tone toward Israel and do little else to participate unless that effort succeeds.”

The notion that the United Nations, a central agency for the implementation of imperialist intervention and plunder the world over, could even approach a solution to central problems that are inherent in capitalism was not on the agenda.

Also absent from the agenda was the UN- sponsored U.S. genocidal and racist war against the virtually defenseless people of Iraq, which murdered 250,000 people in a week. Nor was discussion scheduled on the racist UN-approved war against North Korea or the more recent UN slaughter in the former Yugoslavia.

In the name of “peace keeping” and “humanitarianism,” the imperialist powers, when they can, broker deals within the UN framework to justify and implement their neo-colonial, and racist objectives. Otherwise, the UN is largely a powerless association of capitalist and pro-capitalist nations. Their General Assembly resolutions are routinely ignored with impunity by the world’s imperialist superpowers.

U.S. tries to dash condemnation of Zionism

The Rev. Jesse Jackson and members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) sought to achieve some credibility as dissident negotiators when they scored the Bush administration for its refusal to send Secretary of State Powell and a high-level U.S. delegation.

But Jackson and the CBC joined U.S. and allied negotiators in the Durban charade when they attempted “behind the scenes” to pressure Palestinian Authority leader Yasir Arafat-initially with some success-into backing off in regard to the justified efforts of the Arab nations to condemn the racist policies of Israel.

An early statement by a high ranking Palestinian delegate, Nabil Shaath, read, “We are not interested in raising an ideological issue against Israel. Therefore, we will not support statements against Zionism. Nor are we going to support statements equating Zionism with racism.”

But even Arafat, who generally looks to U.S. and world imperialism for financial and political support, had to renounce this statement and accede to a condemnation of Israel. Arafat was responding to heavy pressure from the continued mobilization of the Palestinian masses.

Delegations representing countries of the European Union then offered “compromise” language recommending that Israel and Palestine reopen “peace” talks. Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher responded that this was insufficient. “We are talking about a war waged using the most sophisticated weapons against a civilian population,” said Maher. “This is a government that has taken an official position to assassinate people. You want this conference which deals with discrimination, not to mention these things?”

That was precisely the U.S. objective. But not only was the United States present to defend its client Zionist associate, it was there to make sure that its own racist policies were excluded from mention. These policies include the fact that the U.S. racist criminal “justice” system has incarcerated more people in absolute terms and a higher percentage of its population than any nation on earth. The majority of those in U.S. prisons and on death row are non-white.

Representatives of Mumia Abu-Jamal, the world’s most well-known political prisoner and the innocent victim of a racist frame-up, were blocked when they fought to bring the case to the attention of delegates and for its inclusion in conference resolutions.

The United States also joined the European delegations to dash any discussion of reparations for the crime of slavery. They were concerned because of potential financial costs, especially to countries like Britain, Spain, the U.S., and Holland that reaped billions from the slave trade.

COSATU led mass demonstration

Despite the iron control exercised over the proceedings by major imperialist powers in collaboration with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, the voice of protest could not be excluded. Close to 40,000 South African working people, led by the Confederation of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and other unions, massed at the conference doors to protest their government’s move to privatize South Africa’s core industries.

The capitalist African National Congress (ANC) government, which includes COSATU itself, pulled out all the stops to pressure COSATU to call off its planned two-day general strike. A letter from President Thabo Mbeki, published in daily newspapers, asked, “Whose interests are reserved by those who abandon their revolutionary morality and use the workers as canon fodder to launch an offensive aimed at imposing a defeat on their very own liberation movement?”

The ANC’s threats to excommunicate and isolate COSATU were ignored. The massive outpouring of South African workers was joined by many rank-and-file observers and participants in the conference. The ANC’s aura of a liberation movement is wearing thin in South Africa today. A tiny layer of ANC leaders have enriched themselves, while their capitalist policies have reduced additional millions to poverty and disease.

President Mbeki’s Washington meetings with President Bush last month cemented South Africa’s agreement with U.S. imperialism to serve as the military “peacekeeper” on the African continent in order to foster international private investment.

Mbeki and the South African delegation and Annan were relegated to scurrying about the conference to secure secret meetings with the European Union to reverse the condemnation of apartheid Israel and other resolution wording that drew U.S. objections.

Salvaging the conference, and with it, the credibility of both the ANC and the UN as compliant allies of the United States, were their chief objectives. Annan stated, “If we leave here without agreement, we shall give comfort to the worst elements in every society. All of us must continue to play our part.”

In addition to COSATU’s general strike, which represented a major break with the ANC’s pro-imperialist policies, the conference was besieged by some 17 mass protests organized by organizations representing South Africa’s oppressed and exploited.

In this manner, the fig leaf of UN and imperialist concern for the victims of racist oppression and exploitation was removed and the voices of opposition were heard loud and clear.

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SPONSORED By THE MOBILIZATION TO FREE MUMIA ABU-JAMAL & THE INTERNATIONAL CONCERNED FAMILY AND FRIENDS OF MUMIA ABU-JAMAL. CO-SPONSORS: Courage Foundation/Assange Defense.org & Middle East Children’s Alliance, Arab Resource Organizing Center. HEAR Alice Walker, prize-winning novelist; Daniel Ellsberg of the Pentagon Papers; Jamal Jr, Mumia’s grandson; Chris Hedges, prize-winning journalist