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Saturday, 11 August, 2001, 16:44 GMT 17:44 UK
Slavery row dogs racism conference
Mary Robinson
Mary Robinson said progress had been made
By Emma-Jane Kirby in Geneva

Preparations for the forthcoming UN World Conference on Racism are being dogged not only by how the talks should deal with the Middle East problem, but by the stance it should adopt on reparations for the slave trade and colonialism.

Some American NGOs who have been attending the talks in Geneva over the past two weeks are accusing the United States of using the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a means of ducking the other major sticking point of negotiations.

The US was "beating the issue of the Middle East as a diversion", said Adjoa Aiyetoro, the spokesperson for the African and African Descendants Caucus and the US legal consultant for the US National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations.

I think it's ridiculous - it's another way of the US attempting to hold this conference hostage

Adjoa Aiyetoro, African descendants' spokesperson
Ms Ayietoro said that her understanding of the outcome of the talks was that the US still had serious problems with the idea of apologising for slavery and colonialism, and in agreeing on the wording of the summit agenda document.

This was despite assurances from the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, that there had been much progress in addressing the issues of the past.

"We think their (the US) position is wrong," Ms Ayietoro said.

"It's another aspect of the United States not wanting to take responsibility for its conduct in enslaving our ancestors and engaging in the tragic transatlantic slave trade.

"Its a way of avoiding a full democratic discussion of the issues... and it violates the very diplomatic principles they say this country was founded on."

US boycott?

The United States objects to the calls from African nations to term the slave trade "a crime against humanity".

Two State Department advisors at preparatory talks
US legal advisers listen to the arguments
It also shares the fears of Canada and the European Union that an apology with a compensation package could open the way to a flood of individual lawsuits.

As preparatory talks ended in Geneva, Mary Robinson did, however, admit that no conclusive text had been drawn up.

She said negotiations would have to continue in Durban to agree a firm agenda for discussion.

So now the US has a big political decision to make.

Does it boycott the conference from the outset, or should it risk attending Durban?

If it does so, and there is no further satisfactory progress made on the issues of zionism and reparations for colonialism, it may be forced to leave once discussions have begun, and in the full glare of world media attention.

See also:

09 Aug 01 | Americas
US may boycott racism conference
04 Aug 01 | Africa
New warning on racism conference
30 Jul 01 | Africa
Rows threaten racism conference
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