Annan snubbed the agitating Dalit activists who wanted him to respond to a statement by Republican Party of India MP Prakash Ambedkar that caste-based discrimination should be included in the programme for action and declaration at the inter-government conference. "We have come here to listen to each other and not to behave in this way. Let us have a serious dialogue," said Annan to the protesting Dalit activists. The secretary-general further told a packed plenary of about 5,000 ngo delegates and media persons that Ambedkar's was a statement and not a question that he had to answer. "Let us listen to each other and respect each other," a visibly annoyed Annan admonished the Dalit protesters. Also present was UN Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson.
Even before Annan's outburst, the Dalit campaign didn't have a positive start. First, South African president Thabo Mbeki's inaugural speech at the wcar ngo forum deflated their hopes. Mbeki used strong language to condemn the days of apartheid in South Africa and vociferously endorsed the suggestion of discussing the issue of Palestine, but refrained from mentioning the caste issue, or discrimination on the basis of descent and work. Similarly, Mary Robinson also skipped the subject and mentioned the issue in her speech only after screaming Dalit activists reminded her about it.