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Monday, 3 September, 2001, 18:43 GMT 19:43 UK
UN racism conference: A lost cause?
Controversy and divisions overshadow the United Nations World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance being held in South Africa.

National leaders make pronouncements on the nature of racism to suit their political agendas - Zionism, the caste system and slavery reparations are top of the list.

Is the conference a waste of money or a high-profile gathering which will kick-start global awareness? Can anything concrete be achieved or is it a lost cause before it has even begun?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

We are a nation of action while the rest of the world is all talk and no action

Daniel, Chicago, USA
Everyone is quick to condemn the US for not attending the conference. The US has enacted civil-rights laws, voting rights, hate-crimes legislation, affirmative action, ended segregation, etc. etc. What other nations have concrete laws protecting equality? Everyone wants to condemn us but we are a nation of action while the rest of the world is all talk and no action.
Daniel, Chicago, USA

When one mixes races because of political correctness, there will invariably be long-term trouble. It is a moot point why this is so, history is proof that it does happen. Why don't we learn from history, or from countries that are experiencing these problems right now. Not everyone in society is "good" so their is no solution other then NOT to mix races in a country. Racism is Australia is on the rise because of the many criminal elements let in from Asia. The media stokes racism by denying the feelings of the man in the street on this issue.
Bryan de Pree, Melbourne - Australia

I see that George Milton of Washington USA says another meaningless gathering of politicians to wring their hands and to point fingers at everyone else and to try and take the spot light off the crappy job their are doing in their own country! This little exercise has cost the South African taxpayer a lot of money that could have been put to better use - like building homes for those that live in shacks! But NO the politicians want to show off by throwing taxpayers' money away, by the millions!
R. Campbell, JHB. South Africa

In reply to John Black of Nigeria, more black political opponents of Mugabe are being killed than white farmers and yet there has been very little coverage of this in most of the UK press. All such killings are abhorrent. As for the conference it is a pity that its worthy aims are being undermined by several nations who will not face up to their own problems or those of their allies.
John Hopper, UK

I have worked in a country governed by Islamic law and I would like to mention that was indeed lots of racism. The workers from Asia were treated in a very bad way whereas westerns very treated very well. This included living conditions and remuneration. Now the same Arab nations are voicing their opinion as they are at the receiving end Israel I wonder if this UN racism conference will have any impact on racism. In fact does any of the UN conferences have any significance?
De Silva, Sri Lanka

Surely, only good can come out of this if it is approached in a sensible way. We must look forward, starting with a clean sheet rather than become obsessed with the past. No one should be held responsible for the actions of their forefathers. If so, than as a Briton, may I claim reparations from the Romans, Normans, Vikings etc who invaded and plundered the UK, just as we did later on in the rest of the world?
Simon, UK

Racism is alive and well, pretty much everywhere. Integration will occur and progress will be made. But there will be violence and turbulence and misery over the next few generations, as the world slowly adjusts to the fact a human is a human. Our DNA says so, regardless of learned social behaviours and doctrines. Those things were tribal, and we are in the process of finding out this animal belongs to one huge family.

The task of educating the world to the facts as they exist must be exploited to the fullest, so that all the upheavals to come will be minimalised as much as possible. God bless those attending the conference. Take a newspaper to the back of the heads of those who won't, especially the USA. It needs a wake up call. None of us alive today, nor any of our children, will see the benefits that might come out of this one meeting. But it is a page in the text of human growth, at the beginning of a very long book.
Pete Rakowski, Ottawa, Canada

This conference will say a lot about those nations refusing to attend

Fermin F. Torres, New Mexico USA
It's a great shame that my county, the US of A will not attend the UN Conference on racism. This country is perhaps the biggest export of indiscriminate mass destructive weapons in the world. It gives a new meaning to intolerance. This conference will say a lot about those nations refusing to attend. Regardless, racism is world wide and it MUST be addressed with or without the United States. There is an old saying that many nations have their ignorant, arrogant bigoted fools, but not many have them in very high places. I congratulate those nations that are attending.
Fermin F. Torres, New Mexico USA

Let's see - the US sends more black citizens through college than any other country does through high school. The two highest ranking cabinet members are of African descent, but the US is still inherently racist? Come on! Of course there are racists in the US, where aren't there any? Those countries that point a finger at the US should however make sure their own house is clean. Xenophobia is rampant in Europe, people are afraid of "losing their culture" to new immigrants, so immigration is tightly controlled (or it will be until Europe's declining population makes it a necessity). This isn't racist of course, or is it? What about religious intolerance, which we would just need to visit any number of Middle Eastern countries to witness on a grand and brutal scale.

This summit will accomplish nothing, hearts of men are not changed at summits chaired by bureaucracies. The masses may be temporarily distracted by the words of demagogues who speak there though.
Kyle, Denver, US

I am from India. I have seen what is casteism there. About half of the population knows that it is bad. As a beneficiary of affirmative action, which has no parallel in the world, I cannot understand how this UN conference will have any impact on casteism in India. I am married to an upper caste woman. Had our parents put a block, I wonder, how would an UN resolution come to my rescue! The UN meeting is a waste if they discuss India. Here in the US too, I wonder what UN resolutions will have an impact on the common people. The UN can do better things like human rights, instead of addressing a problem that is unique in every country. To me, growth in the economy of all nations will have a better impact than in spelling a word and adding a phrase in a resolution.
Kadavul, San Jose, USA

It is not as clear as black and white

Vik, Omaha, Nebraska, USA
Nothing but talk. "Racism" when looked at seriously requires a very detailed historical assessment. If such were undertaken, the conveners will realize it is not as clear as black and white.
Vik, Omaha, Nebraska, USA

Shame on the United states for the stand they are taking on the Israeli issue regarding this conference. How dare the US pull out of such an important and globally significant meeting. This shows the US to be weak in resolve and too timid to take a major stand against Israel.
Ali Fadlallah, Beirut, Lebanon

As a non-religious gay white male Afrikaner I paid for my own education and recently acquired a small farm in South Africa with life savings. A poor black family (backed by government officials) intimidated me and let their cattle graze on the property against my will. As a gay man I have often been unwelcome and my stance on religion urged my Afrikaans grandfather to disinherit me. But I am not complaining, just saying that there certainly is a lot to talk about at conference in Durban. However, I believe spiritual poverty is the cause, racism only the effect behind the choices not only politicians but entire nations make in an ever more 'globalised' world.
Boerseun seeking Zen, Pretoria, South Africa

As a victim of racism and former political refugee it shocks me to read that some people put prestige ahead of equality. Shame on Mr Powell - who's side is he on anyway? - and the Indian government for not wanting to discuss racism/casteism.
Rodney Lobo, Oslo, Norway

It opens the door for dialogue

Handa Siangonya, Indianapolis, USA
The UN World Conference taking place may not necessarily solve racial or discriminatory problems in the world but it opens the door for dialogue. Other nations may not agree to now, over time they will realize that they are being left behind. It is a good platform to talk about and inform the whole world about the injustice that minorities are subjected to in their own countries. We need to start from somewhere to lay a foundation for future meetings and debates on the issues related to all forms of discrimination.
Handa Siangonya, Indianapolis, USA

Country(ies)that oppose to the UN Conference on Racism are simply hiding from the shame of their past ,present and future racial intolerance. Shame on them again.
Mike Aziz, Vancouver,Canada

We should lend our support to the conference

William Shi, Australia
Whatever cynicism we may have about our politicians, the role of UN on the issue of racism and the effectiveness of the conference, we should lend our support to the conference as it's important to highlight the issue as a matter of global concern, no less important than issues triggered by globalisation. While we're gaining more material achievements, it's time for us to re-examine our moral responsibilities.
William Shi, Australia

Once again the Bush Administration shows the world that it is indifferent and contemptuous of any point of view that might disagree with its own. How can Colin Powell work for such a regime and still maintain his integrity?
Vinton E. Heuck, Lancaster, CA.,USA

As a proud Hindu and an Indian, I find it extremely offensive that casteism can be compared with racism. My society and culture is the oldest advanced civilisation in the world and I am appalled that our beliefs can be insulted and degraded in this way. Our caste system does not encourage racist behaviour. It is only a small minority that abuse their high rank in the caste system. As a member of the Hindu upper cast, I feel I am being personally targeted despite the fact that I have never shown prejudice against any member of the lower caste. I judge people on their character and not social rank, and quite frankly I hope that the irresponsible people organising this pathetic 'Racism' conference are held accountable for their actions.
Siddharth Vohra, Canberra Australia

It is very beneficial indeed that such a conference will be taking place so long as positive action follows the discussions. Countries spend a considerable percentage of their GNP on arms and defence, so why not put away the thrift and create teams of constitutional lawyers and educationalists who can thrash out the problem and start off on an aggressive thrust all over the world to change the incumbent mentality.
Athena C., Malta

Racism is the underlying reason for the holocaust, the Rwandan massacre, the Israeli and Palestinian conflict, the caste system in India, the Irish conflict, and most of all the slave trade. Mr Colin Powell, if you would affect any change, this is your opportunity. This conference and its mandate identifies with you the most. Martin Luther had a dream for racial equality in the world, and sacrificed his life for it so that that dream can be realised. What is your dream? To protect your job in the WHITE house?
Kwame, Toronto, Canada

Unless the UN conference reaches the next generation, there is not much hope

Srinivas Rangaraj, Windsor, Canada
I'm originally from India and have seen enough casteism and religious fundamentalism to last me a lifetime. A global conference is a good place to start to air everyone's dirty laundry. Of all the people, Colin Powell - who himself is black living in a white-dominated country - should have come to the conference. India chose to not discuss caste-based discrimination, which is a shame. As far as elimination of racism/casteism goes, it will take education of one human being at a time. Regardless of all the UN resolutions passed, it's what kids hear from their parents and friends from a young age which makes the difference. So unless the UN conference reaches the next generation, there is not much hope.
Srinivas Rangaraj, Windsor, Canada

The UN conference on racism has given the US the opportunity to show its complete and total babying of Israel again. Instead of attending and discussing the subject at hand the US has decided to do the childish thing and not go at all if it doesn't get its way right off the bat. Racism is real in Israel. It has long been known that a Palestinian life is not worth as much as an Israeli's in certain places. This is not anti-semitism, it is a glimpse into reality.
Rick Brunson, USA

Those Muslims and Arabs who are comparing Israel to Nazism and accusing Israel of being racist should just keep quite. They are the worst of racists in the world. Islam is the most intolerant religion in the world. Just look at the Taleban in Afganistan. Many Arab and Islamic countries do not allow Christian religions to be represented in their lands. They should stop their hypocrisy and blindness.
John, Namibia

The West should examine why it gets so upset when issues of Zionism and slavery are brought to the table. Western nations would have much preferred a conference that gave the appearance of doing something without even touching on real issues. The fact that the US is boycotting the event only demonstrates what we already know: the US government is racist.
Keith, Denver, USA

Racism is a real global problem

Chaacha Mwita, St Gallen, Switzerland
Those opposed to the discussion on racism suffer from paranoia, perhaps born of an unwillingness to admit responsibility for their forefathers role in fostering an existent racist mindset. Racism is a real global problem. The media is full of sad stories on racism. History is littered with heart-rending reminders of what racism can do. The only way to stop racism is to confront it. The only logical way to start such a confrontation, is to recognise its existence in a global discussion forum such the South African conference.
Chaacha Mwita, St Gallen, Switzerland

I'm inclined to think that anything the UN sets out to do is a prima facie lost cause.
Robert del Valle, Detroit USA

There is no better place to have been brought up to understand racism than in South Africa

Mark Pillai, Durban, South Africa
I am from the host nation. I am Indian Origin, and I do not support the caste system and never did. My upbringing taught me that any form of oppression is illegal and inhumane. The World Conference on Racism is a brilliant idea, I think we as human beings need to be educated and understand what happens in other parts of the world, in terms of racism. There is no better place to have been brought up to understand racism than in South Africa. The Apartheid system divided. Is this the legacy that we would like to leave behind? I think not! So lets embrace this conference and give those that have put the event together a chance.
Mark Pillai, Durban, South Africa

Seems like the left-wingers of the world needed a new cause. For instance, the so called lower caste people in India want to equate caste with racism. While I do not argue with the history of discrimination, not a word is said about the constitutional privileges they receive in India in terms of quotas in educational institutions, government jobs and parliament. The real question should be, why have 50 years of these policies failed to produce any results? That should be the topic for discussion.
Ashesh, USA

Racism is ingrained in the minds of people by their upbringing, society and situation. Many racists don't even realise that their pursuits are meaningless. Politicians have always covertly fostered racism to further their ends. In India, the issue of caste is being kept alive by politicians, though in reality the common man has no time for such pursuits. It is the wastrels of society who sway to the tunes of these politicians and keep it alive. Any person with a proper vocation will not have time for such nonsense. In this scenario it is ironical that these very people are claiming to find a solution to this problem. Shun the politicians.
Ravi Teja Seethamraju, Minneapolis, USA

I have the feeling the problem is going to grow in Europe

Fabrice, Munich, Germany
I sincerely hope that this conference can achieve something because things don't seem to be getting better. I have the feeling the problem is going to grow in Europe because of the need for immigration and the fact the different political parties are having trouble accepting it. One thing that needs to be talked about is election campaigns run on anti-immigrantion platforms which worsen the situation.
Fabrice, Munich, Germany

What about racism against white people? Look at Zimbabwe where the white farmers are killed. If they were blacks, all the blacks around the world have cried "the racist regime is killing our brothers!" But do the non-white races respect the white race as equals? I don't think so.
John Black, Nigeria

Why doesn't the UN concentrate on a few other things while they're at it.

  • The systematic destruction of the world through Americanisation
  • Human rights violations by almost every country on the planet
  • Poverty on a sickening scale
  • The madness we call the Middle East
  • Terrorism
  • Illegal Immigration As for racism, we don't need a conference to tell us how brutal Israel is, ISRAEL IS BRUTAL. There you go.
    Paul Thomas, UK

    This is a conference organised by a powerless institution

    Rustam Roy, London, England
    This is a conference organised by a powerless institution, designed to allow a public airing of those limited issues which the respective attending governments feel are watered down enough so as not to be a threat to them. The amount of horse-trading that has taken place between the various attending countries means that this is nothing but a farce. Developed and developing countries alike are guilty of a great deal of cowardice and selfishness in terms of agreeing on a meaningful agenda for the conference.
    Rustam Roy, London, England

    The UN conference on racism is a good attempt on an age old important issue that is threatening to tear the modern world apart. The anarchy and civil wars that are threatening the world today because of racism will very soon bring the progress of mankind to a halt.
    Sinna Thamby, Toronto,Canada

    Go on, Mr Annan - surprise us

    Darren Oldfield, London, UK
    The UN, in its normal role of toothless giant, will no doubt pass resolutions, discuss and compare, bang the table, but ultimately melt back into the comfort of its own inadequacy - or will it force some concrete action against the likes of Robert Mugabe? Go on, Mr Annan - surprise us.
    Darren Oldfield, London, UK

    Suppose they gave a conference and nobody came? I agree with George Milton. This forum has become marginalised. In typical US fashion, Colin Powell has elected to boycott a conference that needs his presence, in order to make a point to the Palestinians about Zionism. Well done Colin! You could have been an effective presence at a conference the world needs desperately. There is a lot more to racism than bickering over agendas. Since he isn't going to the World Conference on Racism in Durban, I suggest Mr. Powell use the time to visit other parts of Africa, starting with Zimbabwe.
    John Francis, Toronto, Canada

    I'm amused by those 'thinkers' who want to solve the problem of racism. This conference is just a subversive attempt to divert attention from real issues like economic inequality and corporate domination of the world.
    Rahul Dutta, Australia

    Conferences like this one create awareness and educate people

    Wanzusi, Mississauga, Canada
    Until we all live in Utopia, racism will never disappear from the face of the earth. However, conferences like this one create awareness and educate people about the political, economic and social problems we continue to face in the world. A case in point, racism in developed countries against people from the Third World is rampant. This conference will address this issue and seriously challenge racist policies on the globe.
    Wanzusi, Mississauga, Canada

    What a farce!
    Haru, York, PA

    Another meaningless gathering of politicians to wring their hands in moral disgust while attacking their political opponents. Such forums have been marginalised through their transparent abuse.
    George Milton, Washington DC, USA/Rome, Italy

  • See also:

    27 Jul 01 | Middle East
    Zionism issue threatens summit
    16 Aug 01 | South Asia
    India rejects caste 'racism' debate
    11 Aug 01 | Americas
    Slavery row dogs racism conference
    01 May 00 | Europe
    UN links globalisation to racism
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