THE BATTLE OVER THE DURBAN DECLARATION

By Dr. Conrad W. Worrill (November 8, 2001)

The historic United Nations World Conference Against Racism was held in Durban, South Africa, August 31 through September 7, 2001. It is without question, that African Governments, African Non-Governmental Organizations, and numerous African Movement Organizations, concerned with human rights issues as they impact on African people throughout the world, had a significant impact on the outcome of this conference.

All United Nations Human Rights International Conferences have as their mandate to conclude these conferences with a written document that is referred to as a "Declaration." These declarations are documents that reflect preparatory meetings, regional meetings, non-governmental meetings, and caucuses that deliberate on the pertinent issues relative to a given United Nations Human Rights International Conference. Generally, at the conclusion of these conferences, through debate, interventions, lobbying efforts, speeches, and negotiations, a consensus is reached and written in the form of a "Declaration and Program of Action."

Such was the case with the United Nations World Conference Against Racism that adopted on September 8, 2001, the Durban Declaration and Program of Action as an official reflection of the conference outcomes.

The leadership of the December 12th Movement International Secretariat, based in Brooklyn, New York who over the last twelve years dedicated their organizing work to address human rights issues through the vehicle of the United Nations. Through their organizing endeavors, the December 12th Movement successfully interfaced and worked with the Africa Group that represents the fifty-three African countries. This relationship helped produce the original Africa Group Resolution in of March 1998 that declared "that slavery and the slave-trade constitutes a gross and flagrant violation of human rights against African peoples and a crime against humanity."

From the outset, the European Union, led by the United States, were opposed to the position of the Africa Group resolution that the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade was a crime against humanity. When the United Nations officially announced there would be a World Conference Against Racism (WCAR), the European Union, under the leadership of the United States, began using every tactic at their disposal to beat back any discussion, debate, and acknowledgement on the question of the slave trade being a crime against humanity and the issue of reparations for African people.

The National Black United Front (NBUF) joined forces with the December 12th Movement in 1999 to help organize African people in America to participate in the WCAR. This organizing work led to the development of the Durban 400 Delegation that played a significant role in the World Conference Against Racism. Additionally, the December 12th Movement, under the leadership of Attorney Roger Wareham, initiated the organizing of the African and African Descendants Caucus at the first WCAR Preparatory Meeting held in Geneva, Switzerland in May of 2000.

The organizing work of these forces from the inception of the WCAR identified as key issues the following: 1) Declaration of the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade as A Crime Against Humanity; 2) Reparations for African people in the Diaspora and on the Continent; 3) Recognition of the Economic Base of Racism. As Attorney Wareham observes— "One cannot evaluate the success or failure of the WCAR without reference to them (the above issues)."

Attorney Wareham explains that "In the final analysis, the delays, duplicity, coercion, threats, and walkouts characterizing the WCAR were tied to the refusal of the WEO Group to acknowledge its responsibility and willingness to compensate the victims of history’s greatest crime against humanity— the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade and slavery."

Further, Attorney Wareham points out that "the consensus document which finally emerged from Durban, while not everything which African people wanted, was still an unquestioned victory in its recognition of a crime against humanity and in the struggle for reparations. It gave important language to build on. The WEO Group has apparently belatedly realized the full significance of what they agreed to and is trying to undo it. Although it would seem too late, they never give up."

Attorney Wareham has alerted us that the United Nations Secretariat "has refused to place in the Durban Program of Action three paragraphs which are indisputably action- oriented. They relate to condemnation of and apologies for slavery and the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade, apartheid, colonialism and genocide and a call for concerned States…to take appropriate remedial and other measures to halt and reverse the lasting consequences of those practices."

The key to the outcome of any United Nations Human Rights International Conference is its Program of Action. That is, what should be done with what is contained and written in a "Declaration." The Program of Action is the mechanism for follow-up to the issues raised. Since the World Conference Against Racism Durban Declaration passed that "slavery and the slave trade are a crime against humanity" and called "on states to take appropriate and effective measures to halt and reverse the lasting consequences of those practices" which in effect, as the Ambassador from Kenya, Ambassador Amina Muhammad said, "was indeed a call for an apology and reparations."

The Secretariat, as Attorney Wareham has alerted us, wants to place the paragraphs for the Program of Action "to the Declaration section of the document where they would have no practical follow-up effect."

We agree with Attorney Roger Wareham when he explains "These attempts by the WEO Group to use the Secretariat to undermine the Durban Declaration and Program of Action are racist and should be called out as such." We must do all that we can to help stop this racist maneuver.

The victory of Durban is Ours!

 
National Chairman
National Black United Front (NBUF)


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