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Black Caucus Members Respond To Possibility Bush Administration May Skip Conference On Racism

Rep. Cynthia McKinney and Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson have responded, almost immediately to the revelations that the Bush administration is considering "boycotting" the upcoming world conference on racism in South Africa from August 31 – September 7. Over the weekend we received the following information from Rep. McKinney's office. We think it provides one of the most detailed accounts of what is going on and includes a request for action from those who are not pleased with the possibility that the administration may not attend the event. Black Caucus Chair Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson has even introduced a resolution (H.R. 211) in Congress, calling for President Bush to send a delegation to the conference led by Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Cedric Muhammad
July 31, 2001

Here is what we received, unedited:


As many of you already know, the World Conference on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance will take place between August 31 and September 7, 2001, in Durban, South Africa. Israel and its international network of supporters have been working diligently to omit from the conference agenda any meaningful discussion of Zionism and anti-Arab racism in Israel. American Jewish organizations and pro-Israel members of Congress have introduced legislation seeking to influence the United Nations and pressure the Bush Administration on this matter.

The Administration has not yet decided whether to attend the conference, to boycott it, or to have a low-key participation in its proceedings. U.S. officials have expressed concern about how the conference organizers plan to deal with two main issues - Zionism and the issue of reparations for slavery. State Department spokesmen were quoted as saying "Serious work has to be done to eliminate unbalanced and inflammatory language on the Middle East and slavery and reparations" before the U.S. decision to participate is announced. These issues are expected to be settled at next week's preparatory discussions held in Geneva.

A similar campaign has been waged in Congress where Representative Tom Lantos (D-12-CA) has introduced legislation (H.R. 212) describing attempts to discuss the issue of Zionism and discrimination in Israel as an attempt to undermine the conference by using it as "a platform to resuscitate the divisive and discredited notion equating Zionism with racism." Lantos would like the discussion in Durban to deal with discrimination and prejudice "without reference to specific regions, countries, or present-day conflicts."

Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-30-TX) introduced H.R. 211, a more balanced resolution urging the Bush Administration to send a high-level delegation to the UN conference led by Secretary of State Colin Powell "to demonstrate to the world the seriousness with which the United States Government approaches not only the WCAR, but the grave situation of racial discrimination around the globe."

NAAA-ADC supports H.R. 211 and urges all its members and friends to do the following:

Call, email or write President George W. Bush urging that the U.S. Administration participate fully and meaningfully in the World Conference on Racism because it is in the broad national interest of the United States to do so. Boycotting the conference would diminish the credibility of the United States and further isolate it in the world community.

Call, email or write your member of Congress urging that he/she cosponsor H.R. 211. For assistance identifying or locating your representative, please check the ADC website at


President George W. Bush

The White House

Washington, DC 20500

(202) 456-1414

The Honorable---_________________

U.S. House of Representatives

Washington, DC 20515

(202) 225-3121 (House Switchboard)

Please call Minority Speaker Dick Gephardt and House Majority Leader Dick Armey and ask them to push for the inclusion of House Resolution 211 onto the House calendar early next week. The Bush Administration is seeking to block US participation in the UN World Conference on Racism. This is unacceptable, we need calls made TODAY AND MONDAY to pressure the leadership to adopt this important Resolution and push for US participation in this historic conference.


Please call Jon Fremont in Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney's office at 202-225-1605 for more information.

July 27, 2001

Dear Colleague:

As you may be aware, the United Nations World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance (WCAR) is scheduled to begin on August 31, 2001 in Durban, South Africa. Despite the fact that planning for this important conference began over 3 years ago, the United States has not made a firm commitment to participate or support the WCAR. Unfortunately, racism and discrimination continue to exist in the United States, as it does in virtually every nation in the world, and it is essential that the United States, as a global leader in many fields, sustain this position at the WCAR.

In response, I have introduced House Resolution 211, which states the significance and importance of the conference. Further, H. Res. 211 simply urges the following of the Bush Administration:

That Secretary of State Colin Powell lead the United States delegation to the WCAR in Durban, South Africa in order to heighten the delegation's stature and to demonstrate to the world the seriousness with which the U.S. approaches not only the WCAR, but the global situation of racial discrimination.

That the Administration increase support for the WCAR by providing financial assistance in support of the conference, and to insure that such assistance is consistent with previous commitments the U.S. has made to similar fora.

That the Administration adopt policy positions at the WCAR that seek to advance an understanding of current and historic factors contributing to racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance.

It is essential that the United States play the same leading role in the World Conference Against Racism that it seeks and maintains in other international organizations and conventions. As I am confident that you share my belief that racism and discrimination is a scourge in our global society, please support H. Res. 211.


Eddie Bernice Johnson Cynthia McKinney

Member of Congress Member of Congress


2. U.S. Warns It May Skip Conference On Racism

By Darryl Fears and Alan Sipress

Washington Post Staff Writers

Friday, July 27, 2001; Page A01

The United States will not attend next month's World Conference Against Racism if two contentious issues are included in the conference agenda, a senior State Department official said yesterday.

Top State Department officials plan to inform three dozen foreign diplomats today of the Bush's administration's position on the issues of Zionism as racism, and reparations for slavery and colonialism, the official said. The Washington-based ambassadors, representing several continents, are expected to meet in Foggy Bottom with Marc Grossman, undersecretary of state for political affairs, and Undersecretary of State Paula J. Dobriansky. They intend to tell the ambassadors that the United States needs their help to build support for striking the two topics.

"We need to be really clear about our position," the senior State Department official said. "We don't want anybody to be surprised when they look up on the day of Durban and wonder why we're not there."

The absence of the United States would be a severe blow to the convention, which is being billed as the most important international discussion of race ever held. Formally titled the United Nations Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, it is scheduled to start Aug. 31 for an eight-day run in the coastal South African city of Durban.

The State Department official's statement was the latest warning about the conference by the Bush administration, which has voiced its displeasure over the agenda for months. And it was a firm message to Mary Robinson, the conference's top organizer and the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, who on Monday will start the last round of meetings in Geneva to discuss the agenda. A five-member State Department team will attend those discussions, a White House official said.

"I am aware that there are quite a number of hurdles," Robinson said yesterday from Geneva. She met twice with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, in February and June, and once with national security adviser Condoleezza Rice in February. What she heard in those meetings, she said, was encouraging.

Robinson and other conference advocates have said that the two issues in question are only proposals for the agenda. Some African Americans and African nations have said they are due reparations from countries that participated in the slave trade during the 1700s and early 1800s. The dispute over Zionism goes back to a 1975 U.N. resolution equating it with racism. The resolution was repealed 10 years ago, but some Arab organizations proposed similar language for the conference's draft declaration.

Whether the proposals will be adopted is an open question. The issues are "being discussed by small teams of negotiators behind closed doors," Robinson said. "They face a considerable challenge because time is short."

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are among the organizations imploring Bush to send a delegation to the conference. Others include the NAACP, the National Urban League and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.

"I think . . . that the U.S. should be at the conference," said Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP's Washington bureau. "I think this is an important opportunity to address these issues of race. It's something that many of us have been actively engaged in preparing for."

Others had stronger words. Wade Henderson, director of the Leadership Conference, said the United States lost its seat on the United Nations Human Rights Commission and was left out of the Kyoto pollution accord "because of a lack of leadership."

That is becoming part of the administration's form, said Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.). "The Bush administration ought to get accustomed to standing alone," she said. "Hopefully they will choose to join the rest of the world and not choose to stand alone in isolation."

A Jewish member of the conference steering committee sided with Bush. "I think the U.S. should vigorously protest," said Rabbi Marvin Hire, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center of Los Angeles. "If it's going to be a circus, the U.S. should send a very low-level delegation."

"The Arab bloc really wants to hijack the conference," he said. "I'm afraid the entire conference is going to be just a lot of shouting that has nothing to do with issues today because of the frustration over what's going on in the Middle East."

Others believe the trouble with the conference lies in its planning. Its plan for action was adopted in March, leaving little time to organize the event. An equivalent document for the World Conference on Women, held in September 1995 in Beijing, had been adopted 13 months before.

The Conference on Women, though controversial, was ushered in with an outpouring of fanfare and money. The Clinton administration donated nearly $6 million to the event, and then-first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton was one of 50,000 attendees.

By contrast, the Conference Against Racism has been greeted with near silence in the media. President Clinton donated $250,000 on his way out of office, and the Bush administration has shown no intention to increase that sum. Only some 10,000 conference attendees are expected in Durban.

Robinson said the conference could be a success, especially if it resulted in a plan to deal with racism in the future. "This is not an easy conference to prepare for," Robinson said. "We have never addressed together the darker side of our society: racism, anti-Semitism, the mistreatment of immigrants, the riots in London by Asian youth and problems in Germany. It is a difficult issue."

In the United States, civil rights activists say a discussion of slavery and reparations would be an uncomfortable one that the Bush administration should not avoid. Henderson, of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, said the issue should remain on the table.

"I believe that democratic principles are advanced amid vigorous and open debate," he said.

One such debate involving the conference against racism would have taken place at a congressional hearing earlier this week, but the Wednesday meeting of the House subcommittee on international operations was postponed until Tuesday by its chair, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.).

The postponement prompted a barrage of charges from McKinney, a senior member of the committee. She said the Bush administration officials who were slated to testify would be in Geneva next week, as would conference advocates who were to attend the hearing.

"The bottom line is that the Republicans maneuvered to protect the Bush administration from any overt criticism with respect to the world conference," McKinney said. "The Republicans in the House subverted the bipartisan way in which we've been working almost for an entire year. They want to prevent black people from having an opportunity to discuss the World Conference Against Racism in an official setting."

Aides to Ros-Lehtinen disputed that claim, saying that a key committee staffer had to travel out of the city for a family funeral. A spokesman for the committee said that such postponements were common, and that some had been made on McKinney's behalf.

Upon hearing that explanation, McKinney said, "It's an affront. The nation's business doesn't stop for any reason. There is no excuse for four weeks of planning being pulled out from under us a day before the hearing."

2001 The Washington Post Company

Tuesday, July 31, 2001

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