DURBAN I step forward DURBAN II steps backward?


If the recommendations and resolutions contained in the most recent version of the “technically reviewed text” (A/CONF.211/PC/WG.2/CRP.2 of 17 March 2009), submitted for discussion at the Durban II meeting, are being implemented practically everywhere, this represents, surely, a considerable step forward in regard to the daily practices experienced in particular by hundreds of thousands of migrants in the “civilized and democratic” countries that claim to be the cradle of human rights.
In this regard, one might wish that, in addition to the formulations from journalistic sources, the discussions from the Durban I and Durban II process might be compiled, by UNESCO for example. The demands emanating from them could be thus discussed in schools, compared by the students to the reality of their environment, then they could exchange their observations among each other on the international level.

But the current version, purged of most of its references to concrete reality on the pretext of achieving consensus, marks a definite step backward with regard to Durban I. To reach this goal, most of the diplomats and Western media have spared no effort.

During the entire preparation period leading up to Durban II, the disinformation propagated by the majority of the Western media about what is really at stake in these controversies and the crass duplicity of certain heads of state have reached a point such that one might have naively wondered if any of them had actually read the various versions of the final amended text.
All this fog, plus threats of a boycott, was obviously intended to avoid confronting the systematic roots of the racism of a world fashioned by five centuries of capitalist expansion. With its origin in Europe, this expansion has always been imperialist, and its racist character is not only a matter of the past. If there is no end to imperialist domination and inequality, this racist character will endure. A form of apartheid on a global level threatens, an unacceptable future whose profile was already well sketched out by the course of globalization as imposed by the financial oligarchies, the transnational corporations with planetary ambitions and the great powers. It is a future that is, fortunately, not inevitable if one attacks the roots of the problem.

Durban I began the necessary reflection. The delegations and persons representing the peoples of the South, whatever the inevitable problems posed by delegations of all sorts, were perfectly right to insist that the slave trade and colonialism, unspeakable horrors, have not left only unhealed scars, but that the consequences of these monstrous enterprises of the past centuries are still felt to a great extent. Although proclaimed, equality among all peoples and the sovereignty and independence of every country still must be defended and made concrete.

The claim that references to concrete situations have no place in the document adopted at that time – as is said regarding the mention of the Near East, whereas the crux of the matter is conditions experienced by those of African or Asian origin, by the Roma and the gypsies or even the holocaust – cannot be treated as a valid argument: it is a matter of situations that constitute a system and that deserve to be denounced as such.

The claim that the countries of the current centers of power cannot be held responsible for their colonial past or for slavery is nonsense. Don’t these same countries invoke the principle of the continuity of the state when opposing every request to cancel the odious foreign debt contracted by dictators who, more often than not, have been imposed on the victims of that same debt? Such reasoning is diametrically opposed to elementary justice. Further, if one must talk of continuity, there is, first of all, continuity of the dominant classes and oppressors; then, there is continuity of victims and oppressed. Invoking the continuity of the state in the case of odious debt is thus outright scandalous. On the other hand, the idea of reparations due to peoples who have been victims of slavery or colonialism – the means of providing such reparations remaining to be worked out – makes perfect sense.

Claiming that Zionism, in its historical realization, colonial and discriminatory in all its aspects, does not represent any form of racism is contrary to all honest intellectual observation of the developments in the region for over sixty years.

World Apartheid

This being said, racism, in such forms as one sees it evolving today, cannot be summed up in the evil practices and attitudes of individuals or groups or in bad practices of states, of employers and others even if these murderous and degrading aspects of daily life are not only deplorable but also contrary to the minimum respect of human rights and thus to be condemned for this simple reason. But in fact and moreover, all while perpetuating itself, racism has changed the color of its skin, if one may say so. More accurately, it no longer refers only to the color of the skin, even if this remains a dominant aspect of discrimination. It goes beyond. In the context of current polarizing globalization, the victims are not only the peoples and the people “of color”, although they sill constitute the majority. This racism is added to and results from a much broader social inequality, an inequality among peoples as among individuals living in the same country. This racism has become systemic, a part of the system of exploitation and domination prevailing at the global level. It targets the poor, the producer who is not sufficiently profitable to earn enough to live well, the insolvent because they are non-consumers, the elderly because they are “wards of society”, the marginalized, the non-productive, the disqualified according to whatever criteria, the informal workers, the slum dwellers, the small farmers – those who are the vast majority of the people of the world. Thus the small white farmer of Arizona can be part of this whereas the highly qualified professional, “even” when of African of Asian origin, can escape from it, if not from the petty annoyances that he will continue to suffer painfully. The effectiveness of the neo-Nazi groups and the extreme right as well as of other fundamentalist currents lies precisely their ability to divide those who are excluded from the “benefits of globalization”, those populations that have become “superfluous”, to make them affront each other and hate each other in the name of so-called cultural particularities or of inconciliable “races” rather than their joining together in opposition to the policies that are at the origin of their marginalization, exclusion, precariousness, ostracism.

The Durban I discussion allowed the beginning of critical reflection and the necessary controversies about precisely this racism, this apartheid at the global level. These reflections and controversies are necessary and urgent, for the future of humanity depends upon them. It is appropriate to pursue them, even if it means groaning and momentary ruptures. No durable solution to the problem of racism can be found if the systemic roots are not at least acknowledged and discussed. Once such a process is set in motion, no strategy can be devised nor can other challenges confronting all humanity be tackled, such as those of the environment, if these issues are not addressed.

Geneva, 2 April 2009

Categories Campaigns Economic, Social and Cultural Rights HUMAN RIGHTS Statements
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