UN World Racism Conference begins today PTI Durban, August 31
The first-ever UN-sponsored world conference on racism begins here on Friday in the face of vigorous campaigning by dalit organisations and NGOs from India for inclusion of caste on its agenda and a stiff resistance by the US to any attempt to label its close ally Israel a racist state.
The Indian government, which will be presented by an eight-member delegation headed by minister of state for external affairs Omar Abdullah, on Thursday strongly opposed inclusion of caste in the agenda. "Casteism cannot be discussed as we have made adequate provisions in the constitution and have enacted a plethora of laws to fight it," Abdullah told. On the eve of the conference, a meeting of the NGOs attended by dalit organisations, in which UN Secretary General Kofi Annan participated, turned acrimonious reflecting the mood of the depressed sections. The dalit representatives turned angry when Annan brushed aside one of their questions on the plight of the community in India as "a statement and not a question."
In a significant statement at the parallel NGOs conference on Tuesday, South African President Thabo Mbeki had supported discussion on the caste issue at the UN conference.
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) of India, which has supported the dalits' stand, has also sent a representation to the UN conference. Asserting that caste could not be bracketed with race, Abdullah said "India recognises the problem of casteism and other countries acknowledge our efforts in combating it." "The killings on casteist lines are an aberration. These cannot end overnight. But the government is creating social awareness," he said. Major issues before the conference are measures to eradicate racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance at the regional, national and international levels.
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and about 14 heads of states including Cuban President Fidel Castro are expected to attend the conference. US secretary of state Colin Powell decided not to attend it because of anti-Israeli language in the draft declaration. Almost all major countries are being represented at the conference by middle-level ministers or diplomats. Arab and Islamic countries were insisting that the Durban meet must address Israel's treatment of Palestinians and declare the Jewish nation as a racist state.