Volumne 5 No. 2
all could talk, but not all were heard
By Mama S. Diouf
Radhika Balakrishnan, Chair of the Board of Directors
of the Consultation, represented the Consultation at the World Conference
Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerances,
commonly known as the World Conference Against Racism (WCAR). Radhika
reports that the conference was both fulfilling and frustrating.WCAR
addressed racial discrimination, reparation for slavery and colonialism,
and discrimination based on work and gender, origin, and economic status
as it relates to economic globalization.
The importance of the Durban conference was that,
for the first time, a conference on racism tried to link several outcomes
to see how they influence each other. The two racism conferences of
the past two decades mostly addressed the Apartheid in South Africa.
The WCAR is the first United Nations conference that
looked at the many forms of discrimination, its victims, and the compensation
or changes needed to ensure that such discrimination will not continue.
Two groups in particular were at the forefront of the conference: the
Dalits and the Roma.
A delegation of over two hundred Dalits, otherwise
known as the Untouchables in India, came to Durban to shed light on
the discrimination against them by the Indian government and the upper
castes.However, the Indian government refused to discuss the issue of
caste in Durban, because it was an internal matter - and could be handled
Yet even after the Prevention of Atrocities Act of
1989, which ended the caste system in India, 260,000,000 Dalits are
still kept out of the mainstream of the economic and social life of
their country and subjected to atrocities daily. Dalits went to South
Africa to let the world know.
Many other groups face such discriminatory treatments:
* The Roma, or Gypsies, in Europe.
* The indigenous peoples of Latin America and Asia.
* The castes in Nigeria and Senegal.
Much like the Apartheid in South Africa or segregation
in the US, discrimination based on work or origin is not an internal
matter when governments refuse to put into place mechanisms to address
these issues.Where local and national institutions fail, it is the responsibility
of the international community to act.
Another major issue discussed in Durban was reparation
for the transatlantic slave trade and colonialism.After fierce arguments
and long negotiations, the US and the European Union finally admitted
in writing that slavery was a crime against humanity. Still to be determined:
who is entitled to reparations and what those reparations should be.
However, the consensus among people of African origin
is that for reparation to be effective, the structure of the system
responsible for such inequities must change.Without structural change,
no amount of financial reimbursement will make much difference.As a
start, equal opportunities must be available to all, regardless of origin
and nationality. Moreover, efforts must be made to ensure that communities
who have been objects of discrimination get access to additional resources.
How useful the WCAR will be depends on governments
living up to their commitments, how far the civil society is willing
to push for changes, and how much of the world will hold their governments