Ladies and Gentlemen,
is with great pleasure as well as a sincere sadness that I am here today to
speak to you on the demise of the European Caucus of NGOs during the third
World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related
Intolerance. The WCAR was to be a forum
where integrity, candor and democratic principles would aid in the promotion of
justice for all victims of racism and discrimination. However, as you will now hear, the very opposite of this occurred
- dishonesty, manipulation and a blindness to an ability to be discriminatory
and bigoted were rampant - thus enabling the dismantling of one of the
strongest and most productive caucuses in Durban - the European Caucus.
History of the European Caucus
The European Caucus of NGOs
was created in May of 2001 during the Second Prep. Com for the WCAR. The caucus was diverse - politically,
culturally and racially- and consisted of national and international NGOs from
all regions of Europe.
caucus’ original mandate was to develop a set of post-Durban guidelines for
National Action Plans. These action
plans were designed primarily to aid European States in implementing the
measures adopted in the Governmental Declaration and Programme of Action for
the WCAR. Although in many ways the
guidelines were specific to Europe and European issues, they were also drafted
so that States outside of Europe would have an initial framework to begin
effective post-Durban follow-up.
a founding member of the caucus, I am proud to say that the input gathered from
the various members of European NGOs helped to develop a focused and articulate
document that recognized and addressed a broad range of direct and
intersectional issues concerning race and discrimination. Language concerning legislative actions, the
media, education as well as the protection of women, the Roma, migrant workers,
reparations, youth and children were all present in the guidelines. In addition, the issue of governmental
follow-up on all levels - international, regional and national- were addressed
as was the necessity of providing a budget to insure adequate follow-up.
In the areas of our document
where the European Caucus felt there was not adequate member representation, we
sought input from other caucuses to properly address those needs. For example, during Prep. Com II, we gave a
copy of our guidelines to every caucus and asked for input and corrections. The
suggestions were discussed among the caucus and voted upon for inclusion. Therefore, a greater emphasis was placed on
immigration, gender issues, children and youth in our final document. Additionally, during Prep Com II, the High
Commissioner for Human Rights, Mrs. Mary Robinson, reviewed the document and stated
that she believed the document was well-drafted and contained solid proposals
for governments, both European and non-European, to use when implementing
During Prep. Com III, an alliance
was formed between the European Caucus and the African and African Descendants
Caucus to support the call for reparations for slavery and colonialism and
recognition of slavery as a crime against humanity. A joint statement was drafted and presented to the plenary on
behalf of both Caucuses.
Throughout Prep. Com II and III,
many members of the European Caucus dedicated hours of their time drafting and
re-drafting language to produce a document that our caucus could be proud
of. Each new development to the
document was e-mailed to all listed members.
And so it was through this process that the final European Caucus
document was produced leaving only our work in Durban.
Durban, South Africa
months and numerous e-mails later, the members of the European Caucus from both
Prep Coms met again in Durban to promote the previously drafted Action Plans as
well as to update new members of the
caucus who had not been able to attend meetings prior to Durban. During the NGO Forum, the caucus met
daily in the tent provided for European NGO’s.
The meetings were well attended and a solid rapport was established
among all members - new and old. It
should be noted that the caucus meetings were never formally chaired until
later in the NGO Forum, when former Prep. Com caucus members were asked to
facilitate the discussions to maximize time as well as to provide an
informational framework for the meetings. The meetings ran smoothly and a
larger and more representative caucus emerged.
Combining our various perspectives and opinions, the caucus facilitated
the Thematic Commission on Legal Measures, Policies and Procedures and was
integral in getting language for Legal measures into the NGO Final Programme of
our solidarity was not to last. Until
the “adoption” of the NGO documents, the European Caucus was a well-organized
and democratic unit. A noticeably
smaller group met the morning after the adoption (most likely due to members
staying home to recover from the horrible experience the evening before). The International press began to ask
questions – “Do you support the NGO documents?” - “Do you believe the document is “Anti-Semitic?” “Will you renounce the Document?” The press wanted statements from a European
perspective and thus we had decisions to make.
discussed the approach that the caucus should take – Should we should support
the NGO documents or renounce them, as other caucuses had already done. A
majority of the members wanted to renounce the document, citing the
undemocratic process involved (adoption by only 14 of 41 caucuses) as well as
the language used. After approximately
an hour of debate, it was decided that the document did contain good language
and that as a caucus we could support that language, But that the process was
undemocratic and that there was language present which could be deemed
inciteful and discriminatory.
Many caucus members felt
that a statement should be released addressing these issues. I was given a mandate to prepare a “draft”
press release to address these concerns. We scheduled a meeting later that
evening so that more caucus members could attend and to discuss any further
actions the caucus should take. In
addition, we told caucus members who had already been approached by the press,
to inform the press that the European Caucus had not yet come to a consensus.
that evening, we re-convened at the Durban Exhibition center. Approximately 20 members came. Our usual attendance was 35 or 40, however,
considering that several NGO’s had already left Durban, twenty did not seem
particularly low. I brought with me
the copy of the “draft” statement.
I emphasize the word “draft”, because several members of the European
caucus were later accused of having circulated the document to the press. The statement read in part:
“The European Caucus supports the
rights of victims to define themselves, but cannot endorse language that
incites hatred, racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia or related
intolerances. Despite our objections to
the process, we want to stress that the adopted documents contain strong
language which the European caucus fully supports...”
We then listed various areas of the
documents that had strong and useful language – such as the language on migrant
workers and legal justice, and once again re-iterated our support for the
African and African Descendants paragraphs on slavery and colonialism.
read the statement and then it was translated into French. More members arrived and I was asked to
re-read the statement. I did, and we
translated the document again. I then
handed the statement out for others to review.
At this point, several new members of the caucus, who had not yet
attended any caucus meetings while in Durban, began to get agitated and
demanded that no actions be taken until they could take the draft statement to
their NGO’s. We agreed, noting that the statement was only a draft and that we wanted to get consensus from the
caucus as to the decision we needed to make.
However, we did stress that time was of the essence and that we needed
to make some sort of statement (be it that we had one or didn’t) soon. This did not appease these members, who then
demanded that a copy of the draft be made for all caucus members (at my own
monetary expense), and while looking directly at me demanded proof that
everyone in the caucus was European or lived in Europe.
I could not help but to take this
personally. I am an American, who has
lived in Europe but currently resides in the U.S. I joined the European caucus due to my interest in Roma
discrimination. As a founding member of
the caucus, I put in numerous hours drafting, held meetings and integrated
various viewpoints into our action plans.
Although I was not able to attend Prep. Com III, I communicated via
e-mail daily and contributed language on the Roma as well as helped edit the
document for final approval. My status
as a non-European had not really been of issue to this point, so I was quite
taken aback at the need to make it an issue now.
several members of the caucus came to my defense, and stated that the issue at
hand was not a member’s citizenship, but whether as a caucus we needed to make
a statement regarding the NGO documents.
To eliminate the growing hostility, I agreed to make copies of the
statement and to hand them out to members of the caucus the next morning so
that they could review the statement before the caucus meeting the next day.
The day of the
meeting, I posted several signs with the meeting location and time. In
addition, I stood outside the exhibition hall to let caucus members know where
to go for the meeting. When I went to
the atrium where the meeting was being held, I was shocked. At no time had any European Caucus meeting
had more than 40 people in attendance, however at this meeting there were at
least 80 people present. Faces that had
never been seen and voices that had never been heard in the caucus - at the Prep. Coms or the NGO forum -
appeared out of nowhere. The new individuals starting yelling, stating that the
use of English as the language of our meetings was discriminatory and that they
wanted a French speaker. Suggestions were then taken from the audience, for a
French speaking facilitator, but certain members of the caucus continuously
vetoed those individuals. Finally, with
the noise levels rising, it was agreed that I would chair the meeting, and that
Malka would bravely translate between the French and English speakers.
immediately, the new members began throwing out accusations. - The European
Caucus only represented the voice of white Europeans! The European Caucus did not support the NGO document because it
was run by the Jews or had been paid by the Jews! The European Caucus did not represent issues concerning
Blacks! New members then began to
criticize Malka’s translation – stating that she was only translating what she
wanted to. Now my French is not the
best, but even I could tell that Malka was doing her best to translate the
paragraphs of sentences being thrown at her at once. The meeting became chaotic.
Individuals began screaming at each other and not once did we get to
address what actions to take regarding our support of the documents. The meeting was finally broken up when a
member of the High Commissioner’s office made us disband, due to the noise from
our meeting interrupting a scheduled seminar in a room below. The room emptied and within minutes several
of the black members of the caucus – members who had never been involved until
that very day – decided to secede and create a Black-European Caucus.
devastating! Before my very eyes, I saw
my caucus, split along the worst lines possible – racial lines. What happened? Who were these people and what was their agenda? I went to speak to several of the “Black
caucus” members and got them to agree to meet the next morning, to decide on what
actions we should take to 1) heal the European caucus and 2) to address the
issue of the NGO documents.
We met the next
day and the tension in the room was unbelievable. People actually made a point of segregating themselves, sitting
with members of their own “race. With
45 members present (the numbers had noticeably dropped), we began our meeting.
After only seconds I realized the futility of this effort. One of the facilitators began to recite a
version of how the draft statement came into being – a version that was so
dishonest and self-serving, that I could not sit there and let her
continue. I went to the microphone and
explained that the statement was a draft – as was conspicuously printed in
large dark letters across the front of the document. I then explained, contrary
to her statements, that we never distributed the draft to the press and that we
as a caucus had always included people of all races, ethnicities, religions and
other classifications - unlike many other caucuses which were almost
discriminatory in their qualifications for membership. I did notice that some faces seem to take
in the information I was giving, but that overall, many Black members of the
caucus seemed skeptical, if not indifferent to my words.
The “members” voted
(by consensus no less) not release any statements without the full-approval of
the caucus. This was ridiculous. We were the only caucus that now needed full
approval instead of the customary consensus to do anything in the caucus
name. I can tell you this, that there
is not an organization in existence where full unanimity occurs with a
controversial issue. For example , recently, in my own country, one lone
African-American member of Congress, Rep. Barbara Lee, stood up to George Bush
and the entire Congress to vote against giving full war powers our
president. Our caucus never stood a
chance after that decision was made.
We demanded a
list of all European Caucus members, so that we could at least have an idea of
who we were comprised of – considering our new growth in membership. Our demand was rejected by the new caucus
without a vote. We demanded to know the
number of members that needed to be present for any vote. This was also rejected. I left the meeting
out of frustration.
By this time the
international furor over the NGO documents was huge. Newspapers were stating that the NGOs had produced an
Anti-Semitic document and that that we as NGO’s had allowed our conference to
be “hijacked” by one cause. Various
caucuses had made press statements rejecting the document and a member of one
those Caucuses received threatening phone calls due to his caucuses
denouncement of the documents.
Many members of
the original European Caucus (from the Prep. Coms and NGO Forum) decided to
release statements from their individual NGOs – even though they realized such
statements would not carry the same weight as a caucus statement. Our caucus was left with no voice. We could
not issue any statements – in support of the documents or against -unless we
had the full approval of an unknown
number of unknown members of our caucus.
meetings of our caucus never had attendance above 15 people. Suddenly all of the angry and interested
caucus members had no interest in solidarity among European NGOs. But then
again, why should they? They succeeded
in what the came to do – silence the European Caucus.
I do not know
why this happened, but I have my theories.
First, there were so many personal agendas at work at the WCAR that
people could not separate their own goals from the goals of their NGO’s or
their caucuses. Getting media coverage
was key, and having to share it with a caucus was unacceptable for many.
believe that personal bias, discrimination and bigotry played a huge part. I
was appalled at the level of Anti-Semitism by the NGO community, and was even
more appalled by the fact that the individuals most critical of Zionism and
Judaism , never recognized their own Anti-Semitism. Accusations of the caucus being controlled by Jewish members were
rampant. I was even asked – to my face-
whether I had been paid to be a member of the caucus.
In addition to
Anti-Semitism, I believe that so many people were drawn into the “I am a
victim” mentality that the conference produced – that a large distrust and even
hatred began to develop against white Europeans and North Americans. I saw people who had been working together
diligently until Durban – suddenly disassociate themselves from their white
colleagues, and racialize situations that they themselves had been integral in
What lesson is
to be learned? I did not disagree with
everything said by the “new” members of the European Caucus. I realize that the number of Black and Asian
members was not as large as it could have been through the process. However, one cannot fault those members who
were present at Prep.Com II or III for establishing a caucus. In addition to Prep. Com. membership, many
new members – both black, white and Asian- joined the caucus at our first
meeting in Durban. The caucus and its
pre-Durban membership cannot be condemned for continuing their work while
others chose to attend other caucus meetings.
With 41 caucuses, it was impossible to have all members present at our
meetings. But those meetings were
scheduled and posted -and we refuse to
take the blame for the lack of attendance of those who voluntarily chose to
take part in other meetings. It is
unfair and unprofessional.
I want to
believe that Durban was an anomaly.
That under other circumstances, our differences – be they racial, ethnic
or religious – would make us stronger and more aware. Durban created an atmosphere of confrontation, which was key in
the demise of our caucus. If
individuals had just stated that they felt their voices were not truly
represented, instead of yelling, intimidating, and manipulating the process,
then I believe much more could have been accomplished.
chose to play the “race card”, and as always when that is done - there are no
winners. Everyone lost from these
actions. We lost our dignity, integrity
and sadly, our largest asset – our compassion.
This speech was read during a Day of Reflection on Durban and Beyond in
Paris, organized by CL.E.F. and MAPP
On December 7, 2001.