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U.N. racism summit a failure

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The United Nations missed a golden opportunity with its summit on racism to focus on the appalling amount of slavery that is condoned or tacitly allowed throughout the world today. Instead, delegates sought to further their own transparent political agendas, focusing on only one side of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute and on abuses that happened many years ago.

In the end, after seemingly endless wrangling and maneuvering, they adopted a 24-page plan that calls on nations to grant equal access to education for Gypsies, religious freedom to minorities, access to AIDS treatments and an end to racial profiling by police departments. The final statement calls the ancient slave trade an appalling tragedy — a statement of the obvious.

Earlier, this page urged the United States not to boycott this conference. Now, it seems inevitable that an American delegation would have had little choice but to walk out on this charade at some point.

How could delegates from 163 nations meet to discuss racism and not emerge with a sharp condemnation of Sudan and Mauritania, two African nations where slavery still is a way of life for thousands of innocent victims? In Sudan, government troops regularly raid villages and carry women and children away for the slave trade.

How could they have ignored the plight of millions of people in Southeast Asia who are trapped in a never-ending "debt bondage" that requires them to work as prostitutes or other laborers for years on end? Asia, according to some estimates, harbors more slaves than any other continent.

How could they have missed the need to speak out against the practice of forcing women into service as house servants and prostitutes in some eastern European nations?

Of course, many groups that have suffered oppression were present at the conference, loudly demanding that the spotlight shine on their causes. They were persistent and hard to ignore. But not one current slave could make it. Slaves don't have a voice. They can't organize an interest group, and they aren't available for talk-show appearances. Theirs is a silent scream.

That the leaders of civilized nations could meet to discuss racism and completely ignore these innocent victims is a tragedy. That some would attempt to turn the summit into an anti-Jewish platform is unconscionable.

In the end, it would have changed little to have a united statement against modern slavery. Racism and human bondage stem from collective attitudes and social customs. They are evidence of a collective lack of moral education. For that, much more than a resolution is required.

Still, the world could have benefited from a conference that focused on these modern ills. Instead, the world is shaking its head at the spectacle that emerged. No question, the delegates to this conference blew it.