Bahai News - Top U.N. Rights Official Seeks U.S. Support for Conference on Racism

Top U.N. Rights Official Seeks U.S. Support for Conference on Racism

Robinson is hoping that such problems as xenophobia, ethnic strife in Africa, trafficking in women and children, the marginalization of minorities, issues of migration within Europe and anti-Semitic acts there, as well as racial profiling in the United States, will be addressed at the conference. The goal of the meeting, called World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination and Related Intolerance, is to produce legislation that participating countries can enact.

The conference and the preparatory meetings in Africa, Latin America and the Middle East will cost $14 million. Robinson has said that $9 million has already been committed or paid from a total of $11 million she hopes to raise; an additional $3 million will come from her U.N. agency's coffers.

The Clinton administration pledged $250,000, and Robinson told a small group of journalists over breakfast yesterday that she hoped to increase Washington's share of the funding needed to hold the meetings. She noted that contributions from the European Union and individual European countries were "significantly more."

Similar conferences were held in 1978 and 1983, with apartheid in South Africa the dominant issue. Robinson, a former president of Ireland, stressed that the Durban meeting would have a broader reach, including "a whole agenda of practical measures," such as the protection of victims of racism and other forms of intolerance at the national level. She dubbed the conference a "Magna Carta for victims."

Youth groups as well as nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) will participate, since the aim will be "a lot of looking forward" in preparing the younger generation for diversity. She said it was time to reinforce the international framework for the protection of refugees and asylum seekers. A growing tendency to embrace a "fortress Europe" attitude in the face of increased migration is cause for concern, she said recently. In comments at the United Nations on Tuesday, Robinson rebuked British Home Secretary Jack Straw for proposing new measures to exclude immigrants, according to news service reports.

The Durban summit "won't wave a wand and magically solve racial problems, but it will deepen our awareness for the need to solve them," Robinson said. "It is not going to be an easy conference but a significant one, and NGOs will bring up issues not raised by the [governments] themselves."

There have been regional meetings in Latin America, Europe and Africa, and Asian countries have chosen to have their preparatory meeting in Tehran. The venue should prove interesting, given Iran's record of discrimination against the Bahai community and its treatment of Iranian Jews, not to mention Iranian intellectuals and thinkers. Israelis are entitled to go as observers, but will they?

Request for New 'No-Fly'

A pastor in the diocese of Lui in southern Sudan, which was bombed by the Sudanese air force in December, has appealed to President Bush to declare the region a "no-fly" zone for military aircraft, according to a Frontline Fellowship mission team that just returned from that country.

Drawing from the example of air exclusion zones in Iraq designed to protect Kurds and Shiite Muslims from the central government in Baghdad, Pastor Jeffrey -- whose full name was not available -- requested urgent action to protect Sudanese Christians from bombing campaigns directed at civilian centers in southern Sudan.

Following air raids on Christmas day and into January, clerical leaders there and abroad have raised their voices in protest. The destruction of the Episcopal Fraser Cathedral in Lui on Dec. 29, confirmed by two independent monitoring groups in Sudan and Nairobi, drew criticism not only from Bishop Bullen Dolli of the diocese of Lui, but also from the archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey.

Castro Angered by 'Uproar'

In a six-hour meeting last Saturday, Cuban President Fidel Castro emphasized to Czech Senate Chairman Petr Pithart how "irritated he was with the international uproar and media campaign" that erupted following the arrest of two prominent Czechs, legislator Ivan Pilip and human rights activist Jan Bubenik, Czech Ambassador to the United States Alexandr Vondra said yesterday.

The two were arrested last month by Cuban authorities and held for more than three weeks for contacting Cuban dissidents, which is illegal in Cuba. The pair acknowledged meeting with dissidents but said they were not aware they were acting illegally. They were released Monday into the custody of a human rights representative of the Inter-Parliamentary Union. Does international pressure really work or is Castro concerned about his image in the world press these days?


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