Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Condemns U.S. Government’s Walk-Out at U.N. World Conference Against Racism

Media 09.5,01


Civil and Human Rights Group Decries Anti-Semitism But Says Government Should Have Stayed

September 4, 2001
12:30 PM Durban, SA
6:00 AM EST

Grace McDonough
011 27 82 858 3545 (Durban)
[email protected]

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, today condemned the U.S. government’s decision to walkout of the U.N. World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance (WCAR) being held in Durban, South Africa.* The government’s stated reason for leaving the conference was to disavow verbal assaults against Israel and Jews. In Washington, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said he had instructed the U.S. delegation to return home, citing “hateful language” proposed for the final conference statement. He said he had made the decision “with regret” but had become convinced that a successful conference “will not be possible.”

Anti-semitic sentiments expressed at the conference are repugnant and reprehensible. Some delegates to the WCAR are working to rewrite disputed language to assure that the governments’ draft declaration does not reflect such sentiments.

“We share the concerns of those who decry anti-semitism and other forms of bigotry, However, the United States’ decision to withdraw from the WCAR was premature and unwarranted. Moreover, it foreclosed our nation’s ability to be a part of the ongoing process to improve the language,” said Wade Henderson, Executive Director of the LCCR.

The Leadership Conference also expressed concern about the increasing lack of civility displayed by some non-governmental organization (NGO) WCAR participants. The LCCR respects the right of everyone to engage in vigorous and open debate on important civil and human rights issues, but also believes that all voices should be heard in a manner that is consistent with the underlying spirit of the conference. Increased incivility and the pursuit of singular political interests regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict are obscuring important deliberation on other substantive issues of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance presented by the WCAR.

“Non governmental organizations should set an example for governments to follow by using a civil tone in their discourse, and recognizing that there are a wide range of critical
global issues that are imperative for a conference on racism and racial discrimination to examine,” said Michael Posner, Executive Director of the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights.

Finally, many members of the Leadership Conference expressed their concern about problems associated with the language and adoption of the NGO Declaration and Programme of Action. While the majority of the language in the NGO document addresses important issues of civil and human rights in a substantive and constructive manner, an unfair process and lack of transparency has resulted in an unacceptable outcome.

“The NGO drafting and adoption of language was a deeply flawed and chaotic process,” said Karen K. Narasaki, President and Executive Director of the National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium. “Because of the nature of the process, I believe the document does not reflect a consensus of the NGOs participating in the World Conference, and I am particularly concerned with declarations equating Israel with a racist and apartheid state, ” she elaborated.

In separate action, Barbara R. Arnwine, Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the Americas’ representative to the NGO drafting committee submitted her resignation to the International Steering Committee (ISC) in response to the flawed process. “I was deeply disappointed that fundamental procedural problems with the NGO document overshadowed the many important voices of victims that the document included,” said Arnwine. “However, when my initial concerns met no response and were followed with continued flaws in the process, I felt that the integrity of the document was compromised and I could not ascribe to the final result.”

The Leadership Conference is developing a letter to the ISC that will express our deep concerns about some of the language in the NGO document and the process by which the document was developed. We are asking other groups to sign-on to the letter and will make it available tomorrow.

With three days remaining until the end of the WCAR, the Leadership Conference urges all governments and NGOs to take advantage of our time together and work collectively to achieve the positive outcomes we all deserve.

*This statement has not been endorsed by all LCCR member organizations