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Thursday, April 27, 2000 FULL SHOW | HEADLINES | NEXT: Afro Cubans and Race
2000-04-27

U.S. Criticized for Sluggishness on International Race Initiatives

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The United States will participate in a world conference on racism next year in South Africa, but some members of civil rights and social justice groups say the U.S. role in the event is far from being defined. [includes rush transcript]

The United Nations World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance is scheduled for August or September 2001. A planning conference will be held next week in Geneva.

A spokesperson from the White House wants the conference to show that the United States is an active participant in global discussions about race. But after the briefing, some representatives of groups that work on issues such as racial profiling, youth violence, hate crimes, police brutality, anti-Semitism, torture and human rights, expressed frustration, saying the U.S. objectives at the conference are unclear.

Guest:

  • Kwame Dixon, Human rights activist, race scholar and consultant on race for Amnesty International. He was at the White House meeting and will attend next week’s conference in Geneva.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN:

The United States will participate in a world conference on racism next year in South Africa, but members of civil rights and social justice groups say the US role in the event is far from defined. The UN World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance is scheduled for August or September of 2001, and a planning conference will be held next week in Geneva.

Well, earlier this week, the White House held a meeting with dozens of civil rights and human rights groups to talk about the conference. The administration says it wants the conference to show the US as an active participant in global discussions about race, but after the briefing, some representatives of groups that work on issues, such as racial profiling, youth violence, hate crimes, police brutality, anti-Semitism, torture and human rights, expressed frustration, saying that the US objectives at the conference are unclear.

We’re joined right now by Kwame Dixon, a human rights activist and scholar. He’s been an independent consultant on race and racism for several NGOs, including Amnesty International, and he was at that White House meeting, that closed meeting this week, for the discussion of the upcoming UN Conference Against Racism. Welcome to Democracy Now!

KWAME DIXON:

Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN:

Well, you’re headed to Geneva, but before we talk about what’s coming up, let’s talk about what happened in the White House this week. What was this meeting about? Who did you meet with?

KWAME DIXON:

Well, I think it’s important to mention that, as you stated, the United Nations will convene an international conference on race in the summer of 2001. This conference has the potential of making a significant contribution to the current theoretical debates on race within human rights, and presently race is seen very much as a global phenomenon, and the geography of race is becoming more complex. Witness the rise of diasporean blackness in the Americas, the mobilization of indigenous communities in North, Central and South America, and the creation of pan-ethnic communities of Latinos and Asians in the US, and the radically shifting conceptions of race in the context of globalization.

So thus, the UN conference on race presents a rare opportunity to make a historically important and major statement on contemporary international race relations, from a race-based human rights framework, informed by local situations. Thus, what is taking place is that the White House is preparing for this major conference and civil society.

AMY GOODMAN:

And did you get a sense that the White House was serious about this?

KWAME DIXON:

I got a sense that the White House is, at this point, like many organizations, is a little bit disorganized as it pertains to the goals, the objectives, the outcomes of this conference, and the idea of the briefing on Tuesday was to provide an insight into the White House’s strategies for the upcoming conference.

AMY GOODMAN:

And who did you meet with?

KWAME DIXON:

We met with some people from the State Department. We met with some people from the Justice Department, and we met with an interagency task force within the White House. And they provided background information on the upcoming PrepCom in Geneva next week, and some of the strategies. They talked about who will represent them —

AMY GOODMAN:

Who will be the delegation from the US?

KWAME DIXON:

The delegation from the US will be a group of people. Ms. Betty King, who is the US ambassador to ECOSOC. We will have Ms. Nancy Rubin. She’s part of the US delegation to the United Nations. Bill Lan Lee from the Justice Department.

AMY GOODMAN:

These are the people who are going to be in South Africa or at the PrepCom?

KWAME DIXON:

No, these are the people at the PrepCom in Geneva.

AMY GOODMAN:

And who decides then? The US government appoints them?

KWAME DIXON:

The US government decides on this delegation. Now, each PrepCom — and leading into South Africa there will probably be various US delegations going into that. And I might add, there will also be Barton Brown — he’s an academic law professor — and also Cruz Reynoso. So these people will represent the US in Geneva next week.

AMY GOODMAN:

Does the group of people that are being chosen now to represent the US at a historic conference that we haven’t heard much about, do they relate at all to the race commission that came out with findings, what, about a year ago, that President Clinton had appointed, that people, to say the least, were disappointed with?

KWAME DIXON:

Some of the same people who are helping to organize for the UN Conference Against Racism are some of the same people who led Clinton’s race initiative, and I think the thinking with some of the people is that their experience with the race initiative will inform their framework for the race conference.

AMY GOODMAN:

Now, this was a group that didn’t even come out against racial profiling.

KWAME DIXON:

I think that is correct, yes.

AMY GOODMAN:

For years — and we’re hoping to speak soon with Professor Ogletree from Harvard, who recently went to the UN Human Rights Commission with a group of people to testify about racism in the United States — the US has been very unwilling to deal with the issue of human rights at home, particularly race at home, so what kind of hopes do you have for this conference?

KWAME DIXON:

Well, we have major expectations and hopes for the United States. First and foremost, basic background information is that in 1994, the United States Senate ratified the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and with the ratification of this particular treaty, the United States is obliged to submit to periodic reports to the UN treaty that monitors compliance with this treaty.

As we speak, the United States has not submitted its report, and the NGO community, the civil rights community, the human rights community, we are waiting for that report, because that will essentially be a window into the US’s thinking about race and human rights within the US. So that is one major expectation that the human rights community is hoping for, and we would like to see that report soon.

AMY GOODMAN:

Did they say they’ll issue it before the conference?

KWAME DIXON:

Yes, yes, hopefully. That’s a major expectation.

AMY GOODMAN:

I also remember when the UN rapporteur on — I forget which particular area, but on human rights — came to the United States, he didn’t get a lot of cooperation from the State Department. I mean, there was a great deal of sort of umbrage taken at saying that an outside representative of an international body is going to look at human rights in the United States.

KWAME DIXON:

That is true. There’s been a tremendous amount of resistance within the United States with regards to human rights practices here, and I think that the United Nations World Conference Against Racism will provide an opportunity for NGOs to really take a serious look at racial practices, not only in the United States, but in the world, and we are very hopeful that the United States will submit its reports. We are hopeful that the United States will send a high-level delegation to all the world conferences and get involved on a presidential level and make a significant contribution to the UN voluntary fund for the world conference.

AMY GOODMAN:

Well, Kwame Dixon, thank you for giving us this update, an insider’s look at a White House meeting that took place this past week and a meeting that we will increasingly deal with on Democracy Now! and I hope the mainstream media will take it up, as well. You’re a human rights activist and scholar, a consultant to human rights groups, including Amnesty International, and I should also say that you are the husband of our producer, Maria Carrion.

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