NGOs, Civil Society set to contribute at WCAR

Dakar- Senegal (PANA) -- The success of the World Conference against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance will hinge on the involvement of NGOs and civil society organisations in its preparation.
This world forum on a universal issue, to be held from 31 August to 7 September in Durban, South Africa, was recently clouded by uncertainty following threats by the US to boycott it.
The US government insisted that there be no demand for compensation (financial or otherwise) for the slave trade, and that no participant should equate Zionism with racism.
Supporting the US position, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer asked in Washington: "how can it be called a conference against racism when it borders on anti-Semitism?".
"While it is important that this conference be a success, it is equally important to tell the freedom loving nations of the world that we will not be with them if they try to describe Zionism as racism.
This is as false as one can get," Fleischer added.
Washington also threatened to boycott the conference if organisers put on the agenda the issue of an official apology and compensation for slavery and colonialism.
The US position, tacitly shared by some European nations -since they did not distance themselves from it and did not condemn it - was voiced following the request by several Arab countries that the Palestinian issue be discussed in Durban, under the angle of "racial discrimination" against Palestinians in the territories occupied by Israel.
At the African Regional Conference held last January in Dakar to prepare for the Durban forum and enable Africa to adopt a common position, participants explicitly stressed the need for financial compensation by the Western States involved in slavery and/or colonialism.
The Dakar Declaration that was then adopted in the presence of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson cited that the major objectives of two decades of struggle against racism and racial discrimination "have not been achieved" despite efforts by the international community.
"Millions of people are still subjected to various, new and sophisticated forms of racism and racial discrimination, particularly nationals of different origins, migrant workers, asylum seekers, refugees and foreigners," the document points out.
The African meeting, which preceded a similar meeting for the Asian region, came after those held in Latin America and Europe, and was attended by several NGOs and civil society organisations, whose contribution was instrumental in the formulation of ideas to be presented in Durban.
The Dakar meeting narrowly escaped a diplomatic incident as Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade called on Africans to "look to the future" during his opening speech.
"The major global problem in the 21st century is not racism, but lack of expertise and excellence in all fields.
As I speak to you, I can say that a Burkinabe is suffering in Cote d'Ivoire what a black man does not endure in Europe," Wade said, adding that Africa's problem was violence and ethnic conflicts.
The statement sparked hostile reactions among participants, including Senegalese delegates and human rights NGOs which have been advocating compensation for slavery for several years.
As a result of Wade's statement, Senegalese residing in Cote d'Ivoire went through difficulties because Ivorians regarded them as citizens of a hostile country.
But the dust quickly settled and relations returned to normal between both nations and Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo has since paid working visit to Senegal.
Things also improved since the US decided not to boycott the Durban conference, despite the NGOs and civil society organisations' resolve to stand by their principles.

18 august 2001 19:52:00




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