NEW YORK (FinalCall.com) – The December 12th Movement, a Brooklyn-based advocacy group, spearheaded a March 21 national grassroots day of protest against a decision by the Obama administration not to attend the Durban Review Conference in Geneva, Switzerland April 20-24. The meeting is a follow up to a major international conference on race eight years ago.
Standing in front of the Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. State Office Building in Harlem, attorney Roger Wareham of the December 12th Movement declared: “We demand the full and unconditional participation of the U.S. in the conference. The U.S. was built on brutal racism and the exploitation of enslaved African peoples’ labor.”
According to the December 12th Movement, protests were held in Philadelphia, Houston, Chicago, Atlanta, St. Louis, Memphis, Washington, D.C., Fort Lauderdale and Dayton.
U.S. State Department spokesperson Robert Wood announcedFeb. 27 America’s intentions to stay away from the review conference known as Durban II. The sticking point is concern about language in the conference’s draft declaration that referred to Israel’s occupation of Palestine and treatment of the Palestinian people.
Mr. Wood added that “the U.S. remains open to a positive result in Geneva based on a document that takes a constructive approach to tackling the challenges of racism and discrimination.”
The Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council sent a draft of the declaration to the media March 17 without mention of Israel or any other nation. Still President Obama has yet to signal his final decision on sending a delegation to Durban II.
On March 21, a representative of the State Dept.’s division of International Organization Affairs told reporters that department lawyers were reviewing the document. The U.S. would participate “when we are confident that Durban is going to address real issues of racism,” said the representative.
The draft document opens by saying it “reaffirms the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (DDPA) as it was adopted at the World Conference Against Racism, Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance of 2001.”
If the document’s opening paragraph were taken literally, the conference would review findings on progress and challenges to obtain justice, compensation and reconciliation for the victims of racism in general and the trans-Atlantic slave trade, said Mr. Wareham. “But, the document does not mention the trans-Atlantic slave trade, nor does the word reparations appear anywhere in the text,” Mr. Wareham told The Final Call.
The Durban Review Committee, chaired by Russia, Iran and Libya, eliminated language that relates to reparations, removed the proposed paragraph relating to the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and removed proposed paragraphs designed to strengthen the Working Group of Experts of African Descent, the only UN body that deals exclusively with the African Diaspora.
Activists have argued the real reason U.S. and other western nations want to boycott the meeting is because of a refusal to deal with reparations.
While many would like to make the references to Israel the primary problem, “a look at U.S. history leads me to believe that it does not want to address racism,” said Dr. Vernellia R. Randall, professor of law at the University of Dayton, during a March 21 press conference. “The U.S. has failed to fully participate in every world conference on racism including 1978, 1983 and 2001; now they decide not to participate in the Durban Review Conference,” she noted.
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell and his delegation walked out of the World Conference Against Racism in 2001, complaining that the conference had turned into an Israel-bashing circus.
“The momentum that came out of Durban 2001 was wiped out by 9-11. We did get reparations back on the front burner with our Millions for Reparation March in 2002 in Washington, D.C.; and now thanks to the administration’s position on Durban II, reparations is back in the limelight,” Mr. Wareham said.
According to Mr. Wareham, Blacks in the U.S. must call and petition congressional officials and all elected officials to pressure the administration to go to Geneva in April. “There also must be pressure to assure that the language be included that maps out the steps outlined in the [document and an] unequivocal declaration that the trans-Atlantic slave trade was a crime against humanity,” Mr. Wareham said.
Mr. Wareham is also worried about document language that refers to having a judiciary to determine “effective remedies and adequate redress for the victims.” The text is unacceptable and he expects the African Group to challenge the language during the Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva. Mr. Wareham attended the African Region Prep-Com for Durban II last spring in Nairobi, Kenya.
Instead of outrage over document language, where is Black outrage against the Bush administration and Sec. Powell for walking out of the 2001 World Conference Against Racism? asked blogger Sadiki Kambon of the Nubian Leadership Circle.
Prof. Raymond Winbush, of Morgan State University, told The Final Call that the Zionist lobby is behind pressure against the U.S. administration’s participation in Durban II. “The biggest challenge the Obama administration faces is to resist the powerful Zionists lobby and to tell them ‘I am not going to listen to you–I am going to talk to all groups that you may disagree with,’” said Prof. Winbush.
He was disturbed by the “attempt to retroactively change” the language adopted at the World Conference Against Racism in regards to reparations. Prof. Winbush worked on the original position paper presented in 2001 from the African Diaspora.
According to reports, the consensus of some American Jewish groups is the change in the language of the draft document is not nearly enough. While explicit negative references to Israel have been eliminated, the text’s reaffirmation of the document agreed upon in 2001 makes the new document unacceptable, they say.
The New York-based International Action Center launched a web page calling on the Obama administration to support and participate in Durban II. It is an “embarrassment for the administration to continue the Bush administration practice of refusing dialogue with others,” said the group. The petition is signed by people such as Ramsey Clark, co-founder of the IAC, the General Federation of Iraqi Women and the Union of Arab Jurists.