The Conference that Wasn’t

The Fight Over Zionism-Equals-Racism Pushed Aside Many Issues

African governments and civil society groups believed the conference could go further and make concrete attempts at remedy. Recommendations made by the conference toward helping victims of both slavery and colonialism are primarily directed at developing countries and include: debt relief, poverty eradication, building or strengthening democratic institutions, promotion of foreign investment, transfer of technology, and investment in health infrastructures, education, and training, among others.

It would seem that the complex issues raised in Durban call for thoughtful and reasoned debate over causes and remedies. But the opportunity has been lost in the cacophony over two—Zionism as racism and reparations for slavery—which polarized the conference. Even if the formal outcome of the conference is mired in denial and defensiveness, it marks an important start in the discussion. As Robinson told the plenary, "The issues we are grappling with are among the most sensitive and difficult which the international community and the United Nations have to face."

Some groups believe valuable alliances and networks begun here will help them pressure their governments at home and shape an international movement against racial discrimination. "If we want to create a world network of coalition politics, this is the best environment in which to do it," said Luke Charles Harris of the African American Policy Forum in Poughkeepsie. The process of clarifying issues that civil-society groups have gone through here has "real potential for an antiracism movement," added George of Isis International. Durban 2001 could then well signal for the human rights movement what Seattle 1999 did for anti-globalization.


Related Stories

"A Summit of Their Own: Youth Demand Action Outside the World Conference Against Racism" by Rachel Neumann

"Durban Diary" by Rachel Neumann

"Toxic Tour: A Visit to Waste-Dumping Sites Shows UN Conference to Be Ignoring Environmental Racism" by Deepa Fernandes

"Compensation Counts: An Activist Speaks on Reparations and the UN Conference Against Racism" by Chisun Lee

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