International Committee

 

NLG Report on UN World Conference Against Racism Part II

 

August 31st, 2001

REPORT FROM DURBAN
by David Gespass, Southern Regional Vice President


There has been a lot of criticism of the logistics and difficulties people are having with access to the conference itself, which begins this morning.   It appears that the main problem is that there is a staff of six people handling all the coordination and logistics for the 700+ NGO's who are represented.  That is, to me, another measure of the organizational commitment of the UN to really addressing the problem the conference is to confront.  Access to the International Conference Center, where the World Conference is being held, is very limited because of its relatively small capacity.

Yesterday, the third day of the NGO forum, featured an impassioned and wonderful presentation from Angela Davis that elicited a standing ovation.   She spoke of the development of the prison-industrial complex, in the US and around the world, as a means of enriching corporations without dealing with the root causes of crime - poverty, jobs, housing and people's basic needs being met.  

The drafting process for the NGO Forum documents promises to be quite difficult.  There are fairly large and well-organized contingents of Dalits, Roma and Palestinians, as well as many smaller, but equally vocal, groups fighting for recognition of their own particular struggles and forms of oppression.  The problem is developing documents that address those concerns without naming each and every oppressed group.  Doing so would be unwieldy and, in all likelihood, would exclude someone.  

The commission meetings where suggestions for changes in language are to be made have been uneven and, often, chaotic.  Again, there are many statements about the need to address one or another specific problem, but not very many suggestions for more generalized language.

The International Association of Democratic Lawyers presented a roundtable addressing racist aspects of globalization and the legal basis for reparations.  John Conyers attended for a part of it and suggested an international meeting to discuss building the reparations movement.  This is clearly an issue that is not going away, regardless of whether or not the US is willing to recognize it.  Indeed, the fact that the US will not even agree to discuss it is particularly telling.

Kofi Annan spoke to the NGO Forum yesterday and proved his skill as a diplomat.  He acknowledged that the Forum could discuss issues that were too dicey, given the quest for consensus, to be dealt with at the conference itself.  He then took questions, which came from the various caucuses and were, therefore, quite pointed and managed to respond to each without really answering any.  He did say that reparations would be discussed, for example, but nothing more about how they would be dealt with.  

As usual, I am short of time and there are all sorts of things going on.  The Congressional Black Caucus is holding a press conference today, presumably to address the insultingly low-level delegation being sent.  We hope that they will decide to act as the US delegation.  I have missed this morning's demonstration, because there was a networking meeting I had to attend, but hope to make the COSATU demo tomorrow.  More when I have the chance.

David

International Committee home page

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NLG Report from Durban South Africa - Part V