SOUTH AFRICA: US boycott nothing new

Issue 

BY JONINA M ABRON

DURBAN — The United States government's withdrawal from the third World Conference Against Racism is consistent with its role in the two previous international conferences on racism. It boycotted those, too.

A review of history reveals that the US has failed to use its influence as a world superpower to support the 29-year campaign of the United Nations against racism and racial discrimination.

In November 1972, the UN General Assembly designated 1973-1982 as the First Decade to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination. The US did not participate in the first decade, and the administration of President Jimmy Carter did not send a delegation to the first WCAR, held in Geneva in 1978.

Just as it has been at the Durban conference, the Middle East conflict was a contentious issue at the first WCAR. Indeed, in 1975, three years before the 1978 conference, a majority vote of the General Assembly approved a resolution that "Zionism is a form of racism".

If this sounds familiar, that's because it is the same language that caused the United States and Israel to walk out of the Durban WCAR on September 3.

At the first WCAR, a majority of delegates supported draft language in the conference's declaration that was critical of discrimination against Palestinians. As a result, several delegations from Western countries walked out of the conference.

In December 1982, the General Assembly designated 1983-1992 as the Second Decade for Action to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination. Part of the Program of Action for the second decade focused on the elimination of apartheid in South Africa, which the General Assembly condemned as "the most extreme form of racism".

US President Ronald Reagan opposed the decision of the UN Security Council to impose economic sanctions against South Africa, but Congress forced him to go along with it.

There was no US delegation at the second WCAR, held in 1983 in Vienna. Apartheid was a major topic of discussion.

In 1994, 25 years after the United Nations approved the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), the US ratified it. The 155 governments who have signed ICERD pledge to fulfill several legal obligations, one of which is to report every two years to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), which oversees the implementation of the ICERD.

People who believe they are victims of racial discrimination in countries that have ratified the ICERD may file complaints directly to the CERD.

Although the US has approved ICERD, it did so with qualifications, saying that it would not be bound by any part of ICERD that contradict the constitution and the laws of the United States.

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