Leadership Conference On Civil Rights Urges Bush Administration to Send Meaningful Delegation to UN World Conference Against Racism

Media 08.31.01

Durban, South Africa -The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), the largest, oldest, and most diverse coalition of civil and human rights organizations in the United States urged the Bush Administration to meaningfully engage at the UN World Conference Against Racism (WCAR) in Durban, South Africa. Civil rights leaders also expressed concern about the political interests that are obscuring the open debate on all the substantive issues of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance that are presented by the WCAR.

“As the WCAR opens, we are profoundly disappointed, but not surprised, that the Bush Administration continues to waver on sending a high level delegation to be seated at the WCAR,” said Wade Henderson, Executive Director, LCCR. “It is certainly a missed opportunity, and it represents a shameful abdication of our international responsibilities. In the end, however, it won’t affect the success of the Conference, and it will hurt the U.S. more than the international community as we sink even deeper
into political isolation from the rest of the world.”

“We are also distressed by the increasing lack of civility displayed by some participants. While we appreciate the right of everyone to speak openly about issues that are of concern to them, we believe that all voices should be heard in a manner that is consistent with the underlying spirit of this conference,” added Henderson.

“It is extremely troubling that so many of the critical issues of racism and racial discrimination that face people all over the globe, such as disparate treatment in the criminal justice system; unequal education, health care and employment; the rise in hate crimes; discrimination based on sexual orientation; and the need to repair the continuous damages inflicted by the TransAtlantic slave trade, slavery and colonialism, are being obscured and ignored because of rising voices of anger,” said Hilary Shelton, Washington Director, NAACP. “These voices have compromised efforts at cooperation and undermined the openness of debate which is so vital to the continued success of the WCAR.”

“The Bush Administration is acting like a petulant child who doesn’t
like the way that the game is going so decides to pick up all his
marbles and go home,” said Karen K. Narasaki, President and Executive Director of the National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium. “This is the first World Conference to begin to identify and acknowledge the interplay of racism and xenophobia faced by Asians and Asian Descendents. The Bush Administration is turning its back on Asian Americans who care deeply about these issues.”

“This is the third United Nations World Conference Against Racism, but the first time that xenophobia has been officially included and linked to racial discrimination,” stated Marisa Demeo, Regional Counsel, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF). “The United States, commonly known as the ‘nation of immigrants,’ is missing a critical opportunity to shape the world agenda which defines and calls
for the recognition of the human rights of migrants by all countries in the world,” she added.

“We are extremely concerned that the government documents contain language that has the cause and effect of undermining all the rights of Indigenous Peoples and subjecting those rights to negotiation with governments,” said JoAnn Chase, Executive Director of the National Network of Grantmakers and a member of the Mandan Arikara and Hidatsa Nation.

William Spriggs, Director, National Urban League Institute for
Opportunity and Equality stated, “The Conference covers much material. The draft Declaration and Programme of Action present many forms of discrimination and offers actions to address problems in education, housing, employment, health, criminal justice and many other areas. By missing all three World Conferences against racism, the U.S. is losing its chance to act as a leader on the ethnic and racial conflicts that are vexing the world.”

The LCCR is also concerned that the rights of persons with disabilities have gone largely ignored. “While persons with disabilities face daunting challenges at home, it is especially troubling when a UN Conference focusing on discrimination seems particularly indifferent to the problems of some of the world’s most vulnerable people,” stated Patrisha Wright, Washington Director, Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund.

The United States government has much to contribute to the global
dialogue on racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related
intolerance. As a country of people who trace their heritage to every corner of the world, the U.S. has the ability to celebrate the progress we have made, share the lessons we have learned and renew our commitment to end discrimination and further advance justice worldwide. The LCCR calls on the Bush Administration to send a meaningful delegation and urges all delegates to respect the spirit of the WCAR in their deliberations.