With the finish line almost there…
NGO Forum happenings
Although we are here with our team trying to give you all a concise overview of the NGO Forum with 24 Thematical Commissions(TC), 250 workshops and numerous side events, this proved to be somewhat impossible. I'm going to try anyway, but in a different format than you're used to from the PrepCom 2 & 3, this is bits and pieces me and other team members picked up, running around Kingsmead stadium.
After a hectic and muddled start of the Forum and the dominance of a very limited amount of issues (Middle East and Dalits), slowly things started to pull (more) together somewhere halve way through day two. TCs made their recommendations to the Drafting Committee(DC). The preamble which we publish today was made on August 27 and it has served more as a kind of guideline to the content and tone of the NGO Declaration and Program of Action(PoA).
As the DC is still franticly working to make a coherent document out of all contributions from the TCs it is not possible to give you a draft of it. Below this article you find the documents we could gather. Be aware though: their format and style may differ. Yesterday it was thought the DC would be able to complete their work in time for the documents to be copied and distributed by 6 p.m. Now it looks we'll be very fortunate if they can complete the task this evening. As soon as there is anything published we'll put it on line.
I CARE News team- Suzette Bronkhorst
While a queue of people from NGOs were trying to obtain a pass for access to the ICC building, the day started with a familiar sight: Laurie Wiseberg and Frej Fennish from the UN NGO secretaria,t and some others briefed the NGOs on proceedings for the day, and issues like how to make interventions during the Governmental Conference. Foremost on everybody’s mind was the matter of the entrance to the ICC. For day 1, 2 and the last day of the conference there are 760 passes available that have been distributed amongst the NGOs. For the other days an additional 700 passes are available. These will be distributed to each NGO that doesn’t have a pass yet. It there are passes left, they will be distributed on the basis of first come, first served. The limited access is due to fire hazards.
There are forty registered caucuses. One room has been assigned to them to hold their meetings. As you can imagine the scheduling for those forty Caucasus can become very hectic. Either they have to put up with a meeting for fifteen minutes, or some caucuses have to sacrifice valuable meeting time. Or, as a final recourse, find an alternative venue for their meeting.
NGO’s interventions in the WCAR meetings.
You can register to address the assembly. Priority will be given to representatives that speak on behalf of Caucasus or NGO’s. As it looks now each speaker has five minutes. You have to register as soon as possible to use this right. Each day a list will be published for the next day’s speakers in the plenary. The objective is to give each group or each individual NGO at least one opportunity make a statement.
Questions by the NGO’s.
The representative of the Roma addressed the matter of the distribution of the passes for the ICC. He gave the example of the Dalit-delegation that has to share one pass between two hundred people. Other delegations consist of one or two people, which seems a disparate distribution of fair access. This question/statement met with a lot of agreement from the rest of the audience.
Despite receiving accreditation in June, details about practicalities have been lacking. The procedure for picking up your pass, do’s and don’t about your stay in Durban, and other useful information have been given by others, while the UN kept silent.
Laurie Weissburg succeeded, as usual, to help most people with their problems. The effort showed, however. By the time she was ready she almost lost her voice, smoothing all these issues.
The ceremony opened was opened by a dance program by Ballet Theatre African, after which mr Koffi Anan took the floor. He opened by honoring the father of president Mbeki, who passed away yesterday, with a minute of silence.
Koffi Anan proceeded to talk about the importance of the conference. He said that it is truly a historical event to have a conference with this theme discussed at this time, in this place. ‘South-Africa in the past has been the paragon of racism, and today it’s the beacon of enlightenment. Where else could we have a conference, who else could teach us?’ He then referred to Nelson Mandela -who could not attend- the event by his name of honour ‘Madiba’ but is at this event in spirit. Mr Anan stated that although racism today is universally denounced, many people still face discrimination, often veiled, because they are refused housing and jobs. He then called poverty a form of racism.
The formalities of the opening continued and were closed after other wise words and music.
The real work can start now.
'Not one word at the WCAR about the shameful genocide in Chechnya!'
Interview with Svetlana Ganushkina
"The most horrible form of racism is the State one, declared Svetlana Ganushkina (Memorial Human Rights Center, Moscow), and its most disgusting face is the war with its own population". According to Svetlana, "Russia, with a complicity of accorded silence of the whole world since 1994 is committing a crime against humanity, crime against it's own Republic of Chechnya and all Chechens, which marks the East-European history on the border of two centuries." Chechens say that Russia needs Chechnya without Chechens; the bitter facts, collected by Memorial Human Rights Center, prove it more and more every day. "The rebel republic happens to be a center of a concentric circles of nowadays racism in Russia, Svetlana says. Chechen civilians, bombed and tortured by the Russian army and authorities, are kept in the inflamed area. Once they manage to flee, they are often forced to go back, to their more than probable death. This is explained by the necessity to catch "terrorists". But it is strange; the real bandits committing kidnappings and murders sometimes don't face a real danger of the arrest, since their freedom and crimes are helpful to justify terrifying violations of all basic rights of innocent civilians, including the one to live."
Till November 1999 the refugees didn't have a right to move out of bombed area at all. The columns of refugees were bombed causing hundreds of deaths. Now the check-point leaves them the chance (if they have money for the road) to join refugee tent-camps in the neighbor republic of Ingushetiya.
What is the situation there like?
Ingushetiya became a second concentric circle of this State racism: only Chechen refugees stay there. Russian refugees from Chechnya have the right to come to Russia and ask for a refugee status and some basic support of the State. But innocent Chechen civilians are condemned to a real hell where psychologically traumatized people have to live months and years in thin tents during frosty winters, suffering from all kind of diseases including wide spread tuberculosis. They survive only thanks to the efforts of foreign Humanitarian organizations and some volunteers almost with no help from Russian Government. People live under a permanent danger of being removed back to Chechnya as the "situation there is improving". Meanwhile, the war in Chechnya is going only worse, measures against civilians led in purpose to terrify the population becoming more and more severe, making the headlines of Amnesty International reports on tortures.
What is the situation out of Chechnya and Ingushetiya?
The last concentric circle we can simply call Russia. All around Russia Chechen refugees are not considered as refugees. People of Chechen origin get no registration and no work in Russian cities, their children can't go to schools, and only periodically get medical help.
During the so-called "first war" (1994-1996) 70 % of Russian citizens were against the war. Then the 'mediatically' prepared "second war" (which started in 1999 and is ongoing) made the absolute majority of Russian population change their mind. Hatred and harassment, now spread on all people from the Caucasus takes its place everywhere in nowadays society.
It's not the only form of racism practiced in Russia, indeed. But being present at the WCAR, which documents and commissions simply ignore an open genocide of a whole ethnic group happening in the biggest country of Europe, is a shock of all participants of East-European delegation.
What have we been doing here?
With the process going as it does, some people are still hopeful that a good draft will be produced. The DC (Drafting Committee) has been working real hard to incorporate all the material from the TCs (Thematical Commissions) and they may come up with a draft that is acceptable for most, if not for all. But we still have to wait if the ISC will succeed in disseminating the draft as soon as possible amongst the thousands of people. It is certain that tomorrow will be the big day that will answer the question ' what have we been doing here'. There will have to be a final vote over the draft and already there is talk of an attached list for NGOs that want to sign it, just in case a lot of NGOs don't agree.
Comments from the UN-Discussion list
I would appreciate it if you could explain whether or not SANGOCO supports
the calls of Mary Robinson and Kofi Annan for the Conference to avoid
self-destructing over the issue of Zionism and the Middle East.
If you do support this call, why on earth are the only two pictures on the
SANGOCO Conference homepage one of President Mbeki and another of a fringe
anti-zionist declaring that "authentic rabbis have always opposed Zionism".
Besides the utter nonsense of this quotation, what is the unifying and
anti-racist message SANGOCO intends to drive home with this highlighted
'People who see racist crimes and keep silence are passive racists'
The workshop "The role of white people in ending racism" presented by United
to End Racism gathered a lot of people. It was started at 9h00 but people
came earlier to communicate with each other, discuss the NGO Forum issues
and share their information. The workshop had of two parts. In the
beginning the organizers made a presentation of valuable experiences and tools
for white people to use in ending racism. They have 25-years practice in
this field. The second part of the workshop included sharing the stories of racism
facing and experience amongst the participants.
The main idea circulated during the workshop, was that racism is contrary to
the fundamental nature of every human being and everyone who came to this
world is not racist, but people can receive racist messages and practices
from their families, friends, acquaintances, schools, the media, and many
other institutions. It is not enough for white people to be tolerate, they should take
responsibility to change this world and end racism. People who see the
racist crimes and keep silence are passive racists.
Katy from the USA, white, still remembers this from
her childhood, the first time when she was confronted with racism for. "I was seven
years old, and our family visited Georgia where my grandmother was
living. I went to the bathroom in a public area and I was asked to
follow to the bathroom for whites, because it is stipulated by law. I was
surprised, because it was contrary to everything I learned until then."
Roma & Travellers together, but distinct
Discussion that took place so far in the TC (thematical commission) on "Roma" dealt with issues like: education, health, reparations for the deported Roma people, gender, and so on.
At the moment, like in any other commission, they work on the final declaration. In the Roma caucus that took place today, a new subject has been approached: the Travelers.
Delia Grigore, the rapporteur for the Roma TC; "Travelers are a racial discriminated group, like many other worldwide and they have a lot of difficulties because of this. In the struggle against racism and discrimination, Roma people show solidarity with them, as well as with the other groups - Dalits, Jews, African descendants, Indigenous people, etc. Therefore, the 'Travelers' group is invited to contribute, inside the declaration and action plan of Roma people group, with their own paragraphs. What we want very specifically is to avoid confusion between Roma people and Travelers. They are not the same. The identity and the visibility of victims is the most important problem, as far as we are concerned in connection with other discriminated groups. But we are pleased to open the pages of our declaration for Travelers, to add their concerns in the document. They have already worked on this, and today we will sit together in order to finalize the document and adopt it tomorrow."
Participation with a price
Already from the beginning of the NGO Forum there is a group of women in the surroundings of the Cricket Stadium (the main place for the events so far). They are not allowed to get in, so they move up-and-down the main entrance, sometimes singing, sometimes shouting slogans, sometimes just sitting on the grass all together.
Today, during the "Globalization" panel (one of the working sessions), they managed to gain entrance, entered the tent and interfered into the discussion.
Entering with anger and enthusiasm in the same time, they immediately took the microphone and started to talk, explaining their strange situation.
Ms. Mercy Markhalemele, representing Community Development and Training Center (South Africa), explained to us their background.
They are a group of 350 South African women called GOWIPA - Group Of Women In Partnership against AIDS. All of them are coming from different kind of organizations and institutions, or are individuals and they came together to find a solution for their participation in the NGO Forum and the WCAR. They were promised fully participation by the organizers, accommodation and boarding, on the base of the financial support from sponsors. Unfortunately, this never happened. There was a train organized to bring them in Durban and that's it! They are living now in the train (already for five days) and no food and other basic facilities are provided.
They tried to register for the NGO Forum, but had no money to pay the fee, so they have been refused. Everyday they picketed the Stadium with the hope that a solution will be found.
"…people have the right to participate. If you invite people to participate, you have to provide accommodation and food. There has been a meeting between the organizers and the funders about how the money for us have been used. We are think that the money has not been used properly", says Ms. Markhalemele. "We had an invitation for the entire group. They did not let us to get in. We have all the rights, we have freedom of expression - this is our constitutional right. South Africans have that right but we are dismissed now from expressing what we legally or socially feel that is the right thing to do. We are tired to be discriminated because of our condition [HIV infected], we are tired of the continuous push of the capitalism on of our lives. We want to say to the international community that when they talk about globalization, we should be part of the discussion, we had to participate in. They come here, stay in expensive hotels, eating healthy food and they talk about racism, oppression and exploitation. Our struggle against Apartheid has just begun. They changed the rules in this government, but not the way this government operates. Therefore this struggle against racism is a continuous one, against a whole system of ideas."