Durban and World Conference Against Racism: Reparations now!

AMADI AJAMU Special to the AmNews | 6/2/2011, 10:17 p.m.

This year we commemorate the 10th anniversary of the United Nations World Conference Against Racism (WCAR), held in Durban, South Africa in September 2001, and the passage of the historic "Durban Declaration."

African states, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and their allies from around the world converged on Durban ready to work. The largest delegation from the United States was the "Durban 400," led by the December 12th Movement International Secretariat and the National Black United Front (NBUF). The fighting spirit of Pan-African unity was phenomenal. Delegates huddled, strategizing and fine-tuning their united approach to real political redress.

The Durban 400 were on a mission to establish three specific points:

  1. The basis of racism is economic
  2. The transatlantic slave trade was a crime against humanity;
  3. Reparations (compensation) are due. They lobbied nations, focusing on Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America, which would be voting on the declaration. On the final day and into the night, the struggle over the wording of the declaration and program of action that ensued. In the end, the transatlantic slave trade was declared a "crime against humanity" and the issue of reparations was included.

The African peoples' plan of action after the WCAR was to take the fight to the people of their respective nations. The Durban 400 organized the first national rally for reparations on the Mall of the U.S. capital in Washington, D.C., on August 17, 2002, the anniversary of the birth of Marcus Garvey. Over 50,000 people from across the United States attended.

The perpetrators of the racist crimes against humanity are doing all they can to negate the victory in the WCAR. Western national and international media outlets glossed over the Durban Declaration Program of Action (DDPA) or distorted or outright lied about the final agreements and outcome.

From the outset, the United States led the Western nations in their efforts to derail the WCAR, feigning offense on the issue of equating Zionism with racism. The United States sent a mid-level delegation to the conference with orders to direct the dialogue toward defending Israel and ignoring their own centuries-old racist oppression and exploitation

of Africans. Israel has learned much from their U.S.-European kindred-their benefactors during their consistent, brutal, neo-colonialist occupation of Palestine.

United Nations follow-up meetings to implement the Durban Declaration have been deliberately slow-tracked. There are usually fiveand 10year reviews of the progress of implementation-the WCAR took eight years for its first review. The Africa Group and the Working Group for People of African Descent continue to fight the Western European and Others Group (WEOG) with vigor. More work needs to be done on the ground to expose the process and mobilize people.

One of the few ideas from the DDPA that was actually implemented was the formation of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent. However, it has been hamstrung by a lack of funding, and only within the past year and a quarter has it be-gun to actually visit countries where PAD (People of African Descent) reside. This group, the only mechanism exclusively devoted to PAD, has great potential. As it develops, it can hopefully serve as the eventual basis for a permanent Forumon People of African Descent.

Durban has been treated like no other U.N. World Conference. After realizing their demands would not be met in the WCAR, the United States delegation staged a dramatic walkout "in protest." Prior U.N.

World Conferences have held five-year reviews. Durban made no provision for it. It was eight years later that are view conference was held in April 2009. The United States and several WEO countries boycotted it, once again using the alleged "DDPA attack on Israel" as a reason. Note that there is no negative mention of Israel or Judaism any where in the DDPA.

The essence of the 2009 review was not on the progress made since Durban. Rather, it was a battle to maintain the actual, original language of the DDPA (see Paragraph 1of the "Durban Review Conference Outcome Document"). The signal victory of April2009 was blocking the WEOG's attempt to "disappear" the DDPA. In addition, at the be-hest of NGOs like ours, a demand was put for there to be a"Durban+10 Review."

Another victory in the 10years since Durban has been the U.N.'s declaration of 2011as the International Year for People of African Descent. The WGPAD took the lead in suggesting a theme, "Recognition, Justice and Development," and a focus on Haiti as the centerpiece. It also developed a program of activities. The Human Rights Council supported it with a resolution. But at the General Assembly, an unlikely coalition led by the unseen hand of the United States stripped it of its theme and meaningful activities.

We are six months into the year and there have been few official UN activities, and even fewer member state events, to highlight the year. The activities that have occurred have mostly been initiated by civil society. We, along with other Diasporan NGOs, have formed an Inter-national Secretariat to Implement the IYPAD. A brochure of activities is on the table.

Since 2001, the situation of PAD around the world has worsened. Quality of life indicators in almost every category have declined. As the global economic crisis has deepened, racism, as a time-proven tool to cover the causes of such crises, has heightened. PAD remain the default target of racism.

Finally, there is still a tremendous opportunity to restart the energy that was generated during and immediately following Durban. That energy was significant-ly dissipated and diverted by the attacks on the United States three days after the WCAR ended. The NGO community has done what it can on our end to organize and keep the spirit of Durban alive.

But, in the final analysis, the United Nations is a body of nations, and it is these nations that will have to implement the DDPA if we are to wage a serious battle against racism and racial discrimination. In order to succeed, the African Group must take the lead.

Following are the key is sues we believe should be addressed:

  • The United Nations should declare a "Decade for People of African Descent." The theme should remain, as before, "Recognition, Justice, Development."
  • Haiti must be at the forefront.* Reparations should be a subset of the theme.* We suggest that the United Nations create a Permanent Forum for People of African Descent.
  • Funding must be made available to ensure meaningful and consistent participation of grassroots NGOs at these various meetings, etc.

The General Assembly will hold a high-level segment to address Durban +10 in September. Presently, the WEO is attempting to keep this high-level segment as low-key and secretive as possible. We have met with and lobbied with our counterparts in Geneva on the importance of having an open, well-attended and well-publicized meeting. There must be an all-out effort to have all countries involved at their highest levels. Most importantly, the demand for reparations and Durban +10 must be made in the streets!

This year has been declared the International Year of the People of African Descent, and we must revitalize the demand for reparations in the United States. In the New York City metropolitan area, the December12th Movement International Secretariat is organizing several upcoming political forums regarding independent Black foreign policy-focus-ing on Africa with a critical emphasis on the political and economic sovereignty of Libya, Zimbabwe and the African people of Haiti-as well as domestic policy regarding national, state and city issues affecting African people in the United States. For more information, call(718) 398-1766.