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Britain refuses to call slave trade a crime

Alex Duval Smith
Friday 31 August 2001 00:00 BST

The British Government will not condemn the 300 years of the transatlantic slave trade as a crime against humanity at the United Nations conference on racism that begins in South Africa on Friday, Baroness Valerie Amos said on Thursday.

Outlining a position that she said was in line with that of other EU countries ­ all of whom have sent low-level delegations to Durban ­ Baroness Amos, the Foreign Office minister for Africa, the Caribbean and Overseas Territories, said Britain "is prepared to agree to strong wording on the slave trade, like 'regret', 'abhorrence' ­ that kind of language'' in the final declaration expected next week.

But she said that only contemporary slavery would be condemned as a crime against humanity.

She spoke as some 6,000 delegates, including Fidel Castro, the Cuban President, and the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, began arriving in the South African port for a United Nations conference that is already mired in conflict over issues such as Zionism and slavery, as well as the wording of the final declaration and a proposed action plan against racism, xenophobia and discrimination.

Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, decided not to attend the conference, in protest at language in the draft declaration, proposed by Arab and Islamic nations, equating Zionism with racism.

Mary Robinson, the high commissioner for human rights and the secretary general of the conference, said: "Zionism will not be on the agenda. There is no text on this in the draft declaration and where it exists there is a commitment to change it.'' Despite her pledge, it is clear that America will send only a low-grade delegation.

In Thursday's parallel forum for campaign groups, a news conference planned by some 20 Jewish organisations was disrupted by Arab and Islamic delegates who noisily denounced them as racist.

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