Ladies and Gentlemen,

            It 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.

            The 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.

            As 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 Durban follow-up. 

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

            Four 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 Action.

            However 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.

            We 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.

            Later 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. 

            I 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. 

Fortunately, 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. 

Almost 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.

This was 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.

The subsequent 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.

Second, I 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 creating.

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.

Certain people 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. 

 

Thank you.

 

 

 

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.

 

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