Bahai News - 2 Stubborn Factions Divide Coming U.N. Meeting on Racism
March 12, 2001
2 Stubborn Factions Divide Coming U.N. Meeting on Racism
By BARBARA CROSSETTE
UNITED NATIONS, March 9 - A four-day meeting intended to bring some coherence
to the agenda of an international conference on racism in August ended today
in Geneva with virtually every major issue still in dispute, human rights
European countries and a bloc of Asian, African and Latin American nations
are growing increasingly divided over what the conference will address, said
Michael Colson, executive director of U. N. Watch, a private monitoring group
based in Geneva. The United States has stood largely on its own, he said, but
supports Europe on many issues.
Some diplomats say it is too early to declare the conference agenda in
trouble. "I don't think this meeting was ever intended to come to any final
conclusions on the document," a Western diplomat said. "It was supposed to be
an initial reading, and we have finally started to do that. You've got 100
or so delegations in the room and everyone is making suggestions."
Nevertheless, a second, previously unscheduled working-group session may now
have to be planned.
Mr. Colson said India, Pakistan, Iran and Syria dominated the meeting, which
began on Tuesday. The four have tried to limit discussion to the Asian and
Middle Eastern platform adopted last month at a regional meeting in Iran to
firm up the August agenda. "They are largely playing out of the same song
book," he said.
Australia and New Zealand were barred from attending the Iran meeting by the
Asian nations, which - together with Middle Eastern and Pacific nations -
sought to curb all discussion of issues they did not want included on the
agenda of the August conference, which is to be held in Durban, South Africa.
The theme of the conference is broad: racism, racial discrimination,
xenophobia and related intolerance are all part of its title. That approach
had encouraged groups around the world that say their experiences with
discrimination are never heard in this kind of forum. But leaders of a number
of groups found themselves barred from attending the Iran meeting, among them
the Bahais and representatives of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
Benny Widyono, a leader of Gandi, a relatively new Indonesian rights
organization fighting for an end to racism and discriminatory laws against
Indonesia's ethnic Chinese people, was among those who left the Iran meeting
dissatisfied. In an interview here this week, he said neither his
organization nor groups representing the ethnic Chinese of Malaysia had been
able to get their cases included on the Asian agenda for Durban. Advocates
for dalits, or untouchables, in India also remained unacknowledged.
"There are 43 legal documents in Indonesia that discriminate against
minorities," Mr. Widyono said. "We wanted to ask for their repeal. Most of
these were instituted by President Suharto as a punishment for all Chinese."
Mr. Widyono said he did not believe that participants in the Iran meeting
had acted out of malice toward ethnic Chinese - an ethnic Papuan from
Indonesia was also sidelined - but rather that the Iranians, backed by other
large Asian nations, had organized the conference in a way that effectively
kept unofficial campaigns from being aired.
Various groups feeling that they have been excluded from the planning of the
conference will have another chance to lobby when a final preparatory meeting
takes place in Geneva from May 21 to June 1.
©Copyright 2001, The New York Times Company
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