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WEB POSTED 09-21-2001



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UN World Conference On Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance

OHCR - World Conference Against Racism

A grassroots victory in Durban
UN succumbs to NGOs, activists' effort to cite slavery 'crime against humanity'

by James Muhammad

( -- The effort to force language that the trans-Atlantic slave trade was a "crime against humanity" into the final document of the UN World Conference on Racism (WCAR) in Durban, South Africa, was a major victory accomplished through grassroots mobilization, according to representatives of Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and activist who attended.

The victory was won in spite of a ferocious and diabolical effort by European countries, the United States and Israel to thwart the conference from beginning to end, they said.

"We were unprecedented in our impact on the outcome of the conference," declared Dr. Conrad Worrill, chair of the Chicago-based National Black United Front, who worked with the New York-based December 12th Movement in organizing efforts.

"The grassroots organizers, who were independent and paid their own way, have raised the ante in our organizing efforts that have caused now a momentum that we will continue to build on. Our work has caused almost the entire Black leadership to sign on to the reparations question," he said.

Dr. Worrill said that the language "crime against humanity" will open public legal debate on the issue of the statute of limitations in charging governments with genocide for slavery. He said the European Union (EU) fought so hard against that kind of language because it was Europeans and the United States that set up the model for reparations.

"The first model was the Jewish holocaust and setting up the state of Israel. Reparations were determined under international law and Germany was made to compensate. It is that model that we are following, and that is the threat."

Language incorporated into the official document says that WCAR acknowledges that "slavery and the slave trade are a crime against humanity and should always have been so, especially the trans-Atlantic slave trade." (See excerpts on page 2.)

The unity of Black leadership over the issue of reparations was also declared by Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.), who attended as part of a Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) delegation. Furthermore, the outspoken congresswoman cited the notorious nature of U.S.-policy concerning the unity of Africa and Black America.

"Historically, there have been countless efforts by the U.S. to undermine cooperation between African Americans and Africans as stated in National Security Council (NSC) Memorandum Number 46, penned in 1978 by then National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brezezinski," Rep. McKinney noted in a statement released to The Final Call. "This document outlines covert steps to be taken in order to thwart cooperation by Black organizations in the United States and liberation movements on the African Continent.

"U.S. behavior during the WCAR, has been so obnoxious and so transparent that it has served to strengthen the bonds between the world�s minorities, in particular, African Americans and Africans, in a way that could never have been anticipated by the current Administration," Rep. McKinney said.

"The U.S. plan to mollify the Africans at the expense of the African Americans backfired as these two groups have unified in an effort to push the issues of reparations and slavery forward even beyond WCAR," she said, adding that the CBC "dissented from the position of the U.S. delegation by adopting the platform of African American non-governmental organizations participating in the WCAR."

Dr. Worrill noted the protracted fight through years of participation in UN meetings, including the Prep-Com meetings held over the last few years to draft the document to be presented at WCAR.

In 1993, Dr. Worrill explained, the December 12th Movement, an NGO, had issued a call for the trans-Atlantic slave trade to be called a "crime against humanity" during the 1993 UN World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna. In 1997, he continued, NBUF filed a complaint, accompanied by boxes of documents and thousands of signed petitions, with the UN Special Rapporteur on Racism. The special rapporteur then recommended that a Third UN Conference Against Racism be held.

In 1998, according to Dr. Worrill, the Africa Group filed a statement with the Human Rights Center that the trans-Atlantic slave trade be classified as a "crime against humanity."

That recommendation was taken off the table because of pressure to the president of the Africa Group (African governments) at that time by the United States and Europe, he said. Even during the Prep-Com meetings, the United States and Europe fought against such language and threatened to not attend the formal WCAR meeting if such language was included.

Dr. Worrill said that language on slavery as a "crime against humanity" was not settled upon even as the WCAR began.

The Durban 400, a coalition of people from the U.S. who traveled to Durban, was able to argue that "racism played out through the trans-Atlantic slave trade was a crime of an economic put-down of all Black people worldwide. That is why we concentrated so hard on Europe and colonialism," said Viola Plummer, co-founder of the December 12th Movement.

"We must now employ a plan of action, using the tactics of the past generations�massive demonstrations" to deal with issues surrounding education, health, land, poverty eradication, etc. "We must be consistent and persistent in our demands to change the quality of deliverance in all those areas. This is real reparations," she said.

Most activists denounced the U.S. and Israeli pull-out from the conference, many describing it as a U.S. "smokescreen" to avoid having to confront the reparations issue. Activists further noted that the United States did not participate in two previous UN racism conferences, using language against apartheid South Africa as their excuse.

"When all is said and done, the Bush Administration clearly appears to care much less about the 40-plus percent of Americans who are Black and other people of color, than its rhetoric about compassion would have us believe," argued Dr. Yvonne Scruggs-Leftwich, executive director of the Black Leadership Forum, Inc., which led a delegation to Durban.

She said the story from the conference was one of "a laser focus on specific racism-driven issues in the face of endless distractions, largely orchestrated by the government of the United States, with strong support from European, Europe-descendant allies and the mainstream media."

Most of the activists interviewed by The Final Call said the "Zionism as racism" argument that erupted during the conference was a media event and not one pushed by Arabs and Muslims to the detriment of other issues at the conference.

Returning from the conference on Sept. 7, Rev. Jesse Jackson, who was criticized by some activists and Palestinian observers for what they felt was his assuaging the Israeli position, told The Final Call: "There is no redeeming value in calling Israel racist or calling Palestinians terrorists. Name calling will not solve that problem. We need our President involved to convene to move from the battlefield to the bargaining table and from bloodshed to reconciliation."

Rev. Jackson said high profile Blacks in government positions such as Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice who supported pulling out of the conference are "employees of Mr. Bush that intend to keep their jobs [so they] must do what their boss says. They�re not free to make independent decisions.

"Unfortunately the major television networks chose to ignore the conference, leaving Americans with too little information about its ramifications. The United States should have been a force at the table in Durban. We chose to send a late, low level delegation, who never took their seats and left early before there was a resolution to be debated," he said.

"Though we went with some glimmer of hope for a recognition of the impact of slavery on the sons and daughters of Africa, I do not believe that any of us were surprised of the many, powerful and successful barriers placed in the way of any statement that would address it, or reparations," said Rep. Donna M. Christensen (D-V.I.) during Sept. 10 press conference in Washington, D.C.

"I have always been of a mind that it should not take a world conference for [the United States] to repair the damage caused by slavery and continued though racism, and racial discrimination. As I work every day on the issues of our health, the effects are clear and undeniable, she said.

Concerning the issue of reparations, the UN document cites "the moral obligation on the part of all concerned States, [and] calls on these states to take appropriate and effective measures to halt and reverse the lasting consequences of those practices � [and] recognizes the need to develop programs for social and economic development of these societies and the Diaspora � ."

Upcoming events and demonstrations will push further discussion on the issue of reparations, activists said. They include a "State of the Black World" conference, to be held Nov. 29-Dec. 2, 2001 in Atlanta, Ga., and an Oct. 12-14, 2002 symposium and protest in front of the White House, among others.

(Memorie Knox and Saeed Shabazz contributed to this article.)



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