UN conference against racism (2001)

These concepts are socially constructed and have been given much weight. What are your thoughts?

UN conference against racism (2001)

Postby Christina Marie » August 12th, 2006, 9:41 pm

I found this looking for something else and found it quite interesting as it covers more than one current hot topic then and now.

Africans back down at UN race talks

Special report: UN conference against racism

Chris McGreal, Durban
Sunday September 9, 2001
The Observer


European intransigence forced African states to back down yesterday on virtually every demand over an apology and reparations for trans-Atlantic slavery in order to save the United Nations anti-racism conference in Durban from total collapse.

Last-minute wording on the Middle East crisis was also agreed after Arab countries bowed to pressure from the South African hosts and dropped their demand that Israel be called a 'racist state'.

As the conference belatedly closed after a week of often bitter negotiations, the final agreement reveals a fudged text that carefully skirts all direct reference to European culpability.

South African Cabinet Minister Geraldine Frasier-Moleketi, one of the negotiators, still called the agreement a 'major' victory for the Africans. But the chairman of the Africa bloc, Eugene Gasana, was closer to reality when he said the deal fell short of his expectations. 'We were really not so satisfied,' he said. 'The most important point is that it lays the basis for the future.'

In the final wording of the declaration, adopted by the conference yesterday when it was reconvened a day after it was officially to have closed, almost all the text matches the original European Union positions, put most forcefully by the British.

'We acknowledge that slavery and the slave trade, including the trans-Atlantic slave trade, were appalling tragedies in the history of humanity, not only because of their abhorrent barbarism, but also in terms of their magnitude, organised nature and especially their negation of the essence of victims,' the text says.

The Europeans also won on their insistence that only modern slavery can be called a crime against humanity because the trans-Atlantic trade was legal at the time.

But perhaps the greatest victory for the Europeans was over the issue that the Africans were most insistent on at the end - reparations. The best the Africans get is a call for support for the continent's Marshall Plan - the New African Initiative - and in a host of areas such as debt relief, funds to combat Aids, the recovery of stolen government funds transferred to the West by former dictators and their cohorts, and an end to the trafficking in people. But nowhere does the word 'reparations' appear.

African-American groups, in particular the US Congressional black caucus, will be bitterly disappointed that the African bloc gave ground. For their own domestic reasons, the Americans were most interested in acknowledgement that reparations are due. One Chicago group hoped to use the issue to back its claim for $20 trillion in compensation for 'post-traumatic slave syndrome'.

European diplomats believe that the Africans overplayed their hand just when they had the EU divided and ready to make concessions. Early last week Britain was virtually isolated among its European partners in objecting to the use of the word 'apology'.

Eleven nations, led by the Belgians, believed that there was no moral alternative to saying sorry. The UK - backed by three other former slave-trading nations, Holland, Spain and Portugal - officially objected on the grounds that an apology could leave the Government open to a lawsuit.

But the US walkout from the conference over criticism of Israel and heavy lobbying by the African-American caucus fired up the African contingent and it upped its demands. It was a fatal error. The Africans - led by Nigeria and Zimbabwe - wanted individual apologies from each of the countries responsible for slavery, recognition of it as a crime against humanity and reparations called as such.

It was too much for the EU, and the Europeans found common ground again with the British position.

The final text drops all direct criticism of Israel, but does recognise the Palestinians' right to self-determination and expresses concern at their plight 'under foreign occupation'.


http://www.guardian.co.uk/unracism/stor ... 54,00.html
"In times of universal deceit, telling the truth will be a revolutionary act." George Orwell
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