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A Call for Reparations on the World Stage

Final Call.com, News Report, Ashahed M. Muhammad Posted: May 04, 2009

GENEVA, Switzerland (FinalCall.com) - Blacks in the Diaspora continued the mission initiated eight years ago at the World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, to demand the United Nations declare the trans-Atlantic slave trade a crime against humanity, opening the door for a continued push for reparations at the Durban Review Conference in Geneva, Switzerland, April 20-24.
Much of the discussion surrounding the weeklong conference and its activities focused on the non-involvement of several Western nations and reactions to the presence of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the conference.

Neither of which are the main issue, according to the executive director of the December 12th Movement, Viola Plummer, based in Brooklyn, New York.

The United States has neverprior to Barack Obama and probably succeeding Barack Obamawill never, put the issue of racism on the world stage. It is the responsibility of those of us in the United States to put it on the agenda, said the fiery long-time activist and organizer.

Ms. Plummer said those who came were still highly committed to the cause. She was not surprised that the U.S. chose to stay away.

You cannot ask criminals to come and debate their criminality. They won't come. They shouldn't come. We cannot ask the criminals to define their criminality. The people have established unequivocallycrimes against humanity. We have established that! So what do we expect the criminals to do?

Ms. Plummer, a key member of the Durban 400, a group of Black people from the Diaspora who traveled to Durban, South Africa in 2001 to participate in the WCAR, said Black people have to stop allowing others, who don't have their best interests in mind, frame the debate on the question of slavery and reparations.

Blacks also have to remember what President Obama can and cannot do, she added.

The highly regarded Obama administration has come under sharp criticism for the lack of attendance at the Durban Review Conference. With his influential position, many believed President Obama, whose father is from Kenya, should have been on the forefront of bringing forth the issue of reparations for the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Some human rights organizations said the president could have challenged the views of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose mere presence at the conference sparked protests from Zionist non-governmental organizations.

The nations who refused to participate in the Durban Review Conferencethe United States, Israel, Germany, Italy, Poland, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the Netherlandsbenefitted mightily from wealth generated by the slave trade and exploitation of Africa they refused to discuss.

In an April 23 column in The Guardian, Seumas Milne wrote, They are all either European or European-settler states. Mr. Milne referred to the protest by 23 additional European states during President Ahmadinejad's speech as a white-flight walkout.

A panel discussionone of several events at the Durban Review Conference dealing with slavery and reparationsfocused primarily on solutions, arguing the fact that slavery was a crime against humanity and is no longer up for debate.

The trans-Atlantic slave trade was a global economic enterprise that effectively laid the financial foundation for every modern Western nation.

It is necessary that we all recognize slavery and the trans-Atlantic trade of Africans as crimes committed against humanity and that descendents of victims of such criminal practices, as well as the victims of colonialism and the genocidal exploitation applied to Indigenous peoples shall receive the reparation and compensation they deserve, said Dr. Rafael Bernal Alemany, first deputy minister of culture of the Republic of Cuba.

The issue of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and reparations was raised at the World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa in 2001. Grassroots organizations, primarily consisting of Black organizations from the Diaspora, fought hard to get language referring to slavery as a crime against humanity in the final declaration document from that conference.

The ethnic and cultural aftermath of the trans-Atlantic slave trade involves 40-50 million descendants of enslaved Africans living in the Diaspora who lost the knowledge of their language, culture and specific origins. Even after chattel slavery ended, the United States' infamous Black Codes continued, which denied Blacks rights, as well as permitted outright physical abuse, rapes and lynching.

A variety of methods were employed by reparations advocates to represent the plight of displaced Africans in the Diaspora. Cikiah Thomas, co-chair of the Global Afrikan Congress, wrote a letter to UN High Commissioner Navi Pillay asking why more African NGOs were not given funding. Ms. Pillay admitted in an open session that funding came in late, however, she said they did their best to accommodate those in need of financial help, and were in fact successful in getting some African groups represented at the conference.

According to Atty. Roger Wareham of the International Association Against Torture, the excuses given by the U.S. for non-participation are smokescreens to avoid discussing the issue of reparations for the trans-Atlantic slave trade. He said the U.S. wants to rewrite history in order to reverse what took place in Durban, South Africa in 2001.

Reparations has always been the line in the sand as far as the West was concerned. They've used other issues to try to avoid it, said Atty. Wareham, who also participated in Durban 2001. Whatever excuse they have given, it is reparations that either led to their non-participation, their withdrawal or their obstructionist participation, he said.

Atty. Wareham also said the U.S. and the other Western nations are attempting to avoid historical responsibility for slavery, as well as facing criticism for their lack of action since WCAR in 2001. Reparations is a demand to repair the damage done by criminal activity, to make the victims whole and to implement their human right to development. The demand for reparations is also a call to eradicate economic exploitation and inequality, which are the roots of racism and a demand for the provision and direction of sufficient resources to allow the development of African descendants of the enslaved.

Atty. Wareham also pointed out the irony in the fact that slavery was a legal undertaking and a global system, yet efforts by groups seeking reparations through legal redress are prohibited by nations claiming sovereign immunity. The argument says if a municipality or a government is not sued within a certain amount of time, it cannot be sued unless the municipality or government gives its permission to be sued. This rarely happens, if ever, because the law was put in place to protect themselves, however, A crime against humanity has no statute of limitations, said Atty. Wareham.

Reparations advocates do not believe the trans-Atlantic slave trade can be compared to any other historical genocidal plan. They believe the slave trade, because of its duration, lasting over 310 plus years, stands alone as the worst crime against humanity, and to them, it defies logic that the topic has never been fully addressed on the world stage. Another error, according to reparations advocates, is the view that reparations can only take the form of monetary compensation.

The deaths suffered by European Jews at the hands of Adolph Hitler and his henchmen lasted less than 4 years, costing an estimated 6 million lives. The descendants of those who were lost have, however, received compensation in many different forms. There were also tribunals set up to bring those responsible for crimes against them to justice and monetary awards from corporations run by individuals who were not directly involved in the events or killings. Additionally, they were given a homeland in an area that previously belonged to others.

Japanese Americans have also received compensation for the period of time when many were placed into internment camps during WWII.

In Indian culture, there is the caste system in which millions of people and several generations are affected. After India gained its independence from British rule in 1947, the new government of India attempted to rectify some of the past wrongs by officially banning the caste system and establishing scholarships and programs similar to affirmative action. Despite that, hard times continued. Possibly driven by jealous resentment, they were often attacked and assaulted by the members of the upper caste society, even after the laws were changed.

The Native Americans, the indigenous people of North America, lost untold numbers. Estimates say their population was reduced by 90 percent from an estimated 125 million largely by White explorers and settlers. There has been a move for financial compensation and land redistribution as well as a 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. UN figures say there are around 370 million indigenous persons living in the world today, comprised of more than 5,000 distinct groups in more than 70 countries. Although close to 5 percent of the population, they represent 15 percent of the world's poorest, according to the UN.

Advocates say Western nations, led by the United States and Israel, by their non-participation are actually denying these facts, and their responsibility for some of the current issues across the globe.

Reparations advocates say ignoring the fact that it was the trans-Atlantic slave trade that built the modern world is an act of holocaust denial.

Holocaust denial is a crime in most countries, said U.K.-based activist Glenroy Watson, general secretary of the Global Afrikan Congress. Mr. Watson said the Western nations who boycotted the Durban Review Conference were in effect denying the Maafa and ignoring the millions of lives lost during the Middle Passage of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and its tragic aftermath. Mr. Watson told The Final Call that the Dutch government is opposed to any language even mentioning the slave trade.

This denial must be addressed very strongly and urgently, said Jan Lnn of the World Against Racism Network, based in Switzerland. We cannot come out of this without taking this very seriously.

The trans-Atlantic slave trade was a joint and common European project. It can be considered as the first joint European project, a kind of forerunner to the European Union, noted Mr. Lnn.

Despite some efforts to bring awareness to the global impact of slavery, however, those actions are under constant threat of reversal.

There is a need for further research and combating the exceptional disinformation that is coming out now, especially the disinformation that says actually the Africans themselves were basically responsible for the trans-Atlantic slave trade' which is one of the most evil things that is being projected now, Mr. Lnn noted.

In the final analysis, the outcome document of the Durban Review Conference included specific mention of the slave trade in Section 62 through 65 which reads:

62. Recalls that slavery and the slave trade, including the trans-atlantic slave trade, apartheid, colonialism and genocide must never be forgotten and in this regard welcomes actions undertaken to honour the memory of victims;

63. Notes actions of those countries that have, in the context of these past tragedies, expressed remorse, offered apologies, initiated institutionalized mechanisms such as truth and reconciliation commissions and/or restituted cultural artifacts since the adoption of the Durban Declaration and Program of Action, and calls on those who have not yet contributed to restoring the dignity of the victims to find appropriate ways to do so;

64. Urges all States to implement General Assembly resolutions 61/19, 62/122 and 63/5 on the trans-atlantic slave trade;

65. Urges States to combat impunity for crimes of genocide in accordance with international law, in particular the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, and in this context urges States to cooperate with international criminal tribunals as stipulated in paragraph 82 of the DDPA.

Several nations were very outspoken in favor of reparations, most notably, Barbados, Bolivia, Cuba and Tanzania. Ambassadors from several nations such as the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya and Sudan clearly stood in favor. In general, a majority of the member nations, judging by the round of applause generated each time the concept reparations was mentioned by a speaker, were in favor.

Israel pressed successfully and appropriately pressed to have the Holocaust declared a crime against humanity for which, there is no statute of limitations, said Diana Ralph, coordinator for the Independent Jewish Voices of Canada. Slavery is also a crime against humanity, with devastating and ongoing consequences both for the people of Africa and descendents of slavery in the Diaspora, Ms. Ralph added.

As it is well documented, we in the Caribbean have had a history characterized by slavery. Our societies have been plagued by the negative effects of that crime against humanity, said Steven Blackett, minister of development and culture of Barbados. But we have emerged from that cruel and inhumane part of our history with the conviction that it is our shared responsibility to ensure that such a tragedy, in any permutation, never occurs again, he added.

We Africans have firsthand experience of the pernicious and the egregious impact of slavery, the slave trade, colonialism, apartheid and genocide, said Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, minister of foreign affairs for South Africa.

Ambassador of Sri Lanka to the United Nations in Geneva, Dayan Jayatilleka, told The Final Call that he and his wife attended the Millions More Movement gathering in Washington, D.C. in 2005. He said despite the protests, walkouts and attempts to exert undue influence by outside lobbying groups, the Durban Review was a success.

It's not a good idea that the U.S. chose to stay out, but the conference was a success, said Amb. Jayatilleka, because there were some very powerful people who did not want this.

Now, after this victory in the battle, the reparations fight continues, with a move to establish a Permanent United Nations Forum for People of African Descent and preparation for the next conference Durban plus 10.

The authority of the 183 countries which approved the outcome document far outweighs the impact of the futile attempt to discredit the DDPA and this review conference by the cowardly withdrawal of a handful of countries, said Atty. Wareham.

Related Articles:

Obama Boycott of U.N. Racism Conference Disappoints African Diaspora

The U.S./U.K. Roles In Congo's Blood Diamonds Industry

Black Unemployment Grows Past 11 Percent




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