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Press Release
UNITED NATIONS

RD/D/25
3 September 2001
WORLD CONFERENCE AGAINST RACISM RISKS FAILURE
WITHOUT SPIRIT OF COMPROMISE, NORWAY WARNS


As the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance continued its general debate this morning, the gathering of government leaders and high ministers were warned that maintaining inflexible positions on issues of vital importance for all members of the global community would doom the Conference to failure.

'If each of us insists on maintaining our own proposed language and nothing else, this Conference will fail', Norway's Minister of International Development, Anne Kristin Sydnes, told the assembled delegates. 'Therefore, we must be more open, more forward-looking, more constructive. We must seek compromise, not conflict', she urged.

The attention of the Conference, she said, had been drawn to the suffering in the Middle East. She called for the implementation of the Mitchell Committee recommendations and the swift resumption of negotiations, thus allowing the Israeli and Palestinian people to develop and prosper in security and freedom.

Zouheir Hamdan, Secretary-General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Lebanon, said that two previous international conferences on the issue of racism and racial discrimination, held in 1978 and 1983, had focused on two countries -- South Africa and Israel. And while South Africa had rid itself of discriminatory policies practised there, Israel had increased theirs. Indeed, Lebanon had truly suffered at the hands of Israel. As Lebanon had suffered, the Palestinians were also suffering a holocaust at the hands of Israel. That country should stop the policy of violence, and return to negotiations with the Palestinians.

The Secretary-General of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, Abdelouahed Belkeziz, said the racist policy of Israeli politicians, based on cynicism, so-called racial superiority, the idea of chosen people and its cavalier attitude towards international legitimacy, was a policy of a bygone epoch in which Israel felt that it could give itself the right to use brute force against unarmed civilians in their own occupied territories, assassinate their politicians, close or seal their sanctuaries and Judaize their cities. Those practices constituted breaches of human rights and of international humanitarian laws and the Conference must address those issues with the appropriate response and effective deterrence.

Mordechai Yedid (Israel) said that he was addressing the Conference today because his country's Foreign Minister had refused to attend because of negative developments which appeared to be materializing. Mr. Yedid said this Conference was dedicated to a simple proposition -- that all of us had a common lineage, and were all, irrespective of race, religion or gender, created in the same divine image. If slavery was one form of racist atrocity, anti-Semitism is another.

He went on to say that the twentieth century, which had witnessed the atrocities of the Holocaust, also witnessed the fulfilment of the Zionist dream, the re-establishment of a Jewish State in Israel's historic land. Yet, those who could not bring themselves to say the word 'Holocaust' or to recognize anti-Semitism for the evil that it was, would call for the condemnation of 'racist practices of Zionism'. Anti-Zionism was nothing but anti-Semitism, 'pure and simple'.

A year ago at Camp David, Mr. Yedid continued, Israel demonstrated its deep commitment to peace by offering our Palestinian neighbours far-reaching compromises. Those compromises, applauded by the entire international community, had not been accepted by the Palestinians. To Israel's deep dismay, they had responded with a wave of violence, which over the past year, had escalated into protracted and inhuman attacks on the Israeli civilian population, forcing Israel to defend its citizens by military means.

Another issue of concern to many speakers this morning was the unique plight of vulnerable groups and people in distress, particularly refugees, migrants and internally displaced persons. Most agreed there was a need to make special commitment to ensuring the protection of the rights of those groups. The representative of Bangladesh said that many societies, instead of being inclusive, often practiced a policy of exclusion -- a practice to which migrant workers, immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers were particularly vulnerable. That left groups stranded in an alien environment where they were unable to exercise their rights.

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Statements

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ANNE KRISTIN SYDNES, Minister of International Development of Norway: ...

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The initiative to establish closer cooperation among youth in the fight against racism is most promising, as youth can, among other things, change attitudes and behaviour. Rights have no borders and we should demonstrate that by making special commitment to assuring the rights of refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced persons. The rights of indigenous people should also be a part of the final document. Further, we must be willing to honestly face the truth. Only through repentance and repair of broken relationships and violated dignity can true reconciliation come about. During this Conference, our attention has also been drawn to the suffering in the Middle East. We call for the implementation of the recommendations of the Mitchell Committee and the swift resumption of negotiations, thus allowing the Israeli and Palestinian people to develop and prosper in security and freedom.

ASSAD SHOMAN, (Belize): ...

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We recognize the tradition of not naming specific countries, but sometimes the cause of humanity compels us to dispense with diplomatic niceties and tell the truth, such as in the case of apartheid. In the name of the Palestinian and the Israeli people, Arabs and Jews alike, let us now take up the Palestinian's cause as we did the anti-apartheid cause, for by doing so we will be helping both Palestinians and Israelis to rid themselves of that scourge, and we will be advancing the cause of all peoples who suffer from racism and discrimination. I say that as the representative of a country that supports the State of Israel's right to exist in peace and security, convinced that it can only achieve that if it recognizes the rights of the Palestinian people and removes all expressions of racial discrimination and other aspects of its occupation policy from its State practice.

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ZOUHEIR HAMDAN, Secretary General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Lebanon: Because of its cultural and social structure, it is clear that Lebanon is committed to combating racism in all its forms. All victims are equal in rights and dignity. The two previous conferences, in 1978 and 1983, focused on two countries -- South Africa and Israel. Lebanon did not want to bring the problems of the Middle East to this Conference. But while South Africa has got rid of its discriminatory policies, Israel had increased theirs. Lebanon has suffered at the hands of Israel many times over the years. At a detention centre, the Israelis practised the most brutal forms of torture, and they undertook a policy of extra-judicial detention. Nineteen Lebanese political prisoners are still detained in Israel. As Lebanon has suffered, the Palestinians were suffering a holocaust at the hands of Israel that began last year. They are using military force against unarmed Palestinians.

Israel is confiscating land and destroying property, implementing curfews and restricting movement -- prohibited by the Fourth Geneva Convention. One minister described the Palestinians as serpents, and said they reproduced like ants. Another one proposed that Palestinians in Israel be marked with yellow cards. Israel should stop the policy of violence, and return to negotiations with the Palestinians.

This Conference is looking at a very important humanitarian matter. We should look at the historical injustices committed against people, particularly in regard to the slave trade and colonialism. Past injustices should be acknowledged. There should be assurances that the decisions of this Conference have adequate follow-up mechanisms.

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TOUFIQ ALI (Bangladesh): Many societies, instead of being inclusive, often practice a policy of exclusion. The particularly vulnerable groups are migrant workers, immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers who are in an alien environment and are unable to exercise their rights. The Constitution of Bangladesh expressly forbids discrimination on the grounds of race, religion, caste, sex or birthplace. We are parties to all the major human rights conventions. Based on those principled positions, we have lent support to persecuted communities around the globe in their defence of their legitimate rights. Our Middle East policy is unequivocal in our rejection of the policies and practices of the occupying Power that are precisely the subject of this Conference.

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MORDECHAI YEDID (Israel): This Conference was dedicated to a simple proposition -- that all of us have a common lineage, and are all, irrespective of race, religion or gender, created in the same divine image. The Jewish response to slavery was remarkable. Rather than forget or sublimate the suffering of slavery, Jewish tradition insisted that every Jew must remember and relive it. If slavery is one form of racist atrocity, anti-Semitism is another. And by anti-Semitism, we mean the hatred of Jews. And while Jews may be the first to suffer from its influence, they have rarely been the last. Those who cannot bring themselves to recognize the unique evil of anti-Semitism similarly cannot accept the stark fact of the Holocaust, the first systematic attempt to destroy an entire people. The past decade has witnessed an alarming increase in attempts to deny the simple fact of that atrocity, at the very time that the Holocaust is passing from living memory to history. After wiping out 6 million Jewish lives, there are those who would wipe out their deaths. At this Conference, too, we are witnessing a vile attempt to generalize and pluralize the word 'Holocaust', and to empty it of its meaning as a reference to a specific historic event with a clear and vital message for all humanity.

And yet, those who cannot bring themselves to say the word 'Holocaust' or to recognize anti-Semitism for the evil that it is, would have us condemn the 'racist practices of Zionism'. Did any one of those Arab States that conceived that obscenity stop for one moment to consider their own record ? Or to think of the situation of the Jews and other minorities in their own countries? Those States would have us believe that they are anti-Zionist, not anti-Semitic, but again and again that lie is disproved. What are the despicable caricatures of Jews that fill the Arab press, and which are being circulated at this Conference? What are the vicious libels so freely invented and disseminated by our enemies -- about the use of poison gas, or depleted uranium, or injecting babies with the AIDS virus? To criticize the policies of the Government of Israel -- or of any country -- is legitimate, even vital. But there is a profound difference between criticizing a country and denying its right to exist. Anti-Zionism is nothing but anti-Semitism, pure and simple.

Barely a year ago, at Camp David, Israel demonstrated its deep commitment to peace by offering our Palestinian neighbours far-reaching compromises. Those compromises were applauded by the entire international community. But the Palestinians did not accept those proposals, nor did they put forward any compromise proposals of their own. To our deep dismay, they responded with a wave of violence. Over the past year, that violence escalated into protracted and inhuman attacks on the Israeli civilian population, forcing Israel to defend its citizens by military means. The vicious libels and the dehumanization we have heard at this Conference will do nothing to prevent more Israeli and Palestinian mothers and fathers bringing their young ones to their graves. Can there be a greater irony than the fact that a conference convened to combat the scourge of racism should give rise to the most racist declaration in a major international organization since the Second World War?

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