Yesterday's closing ceremony could not have been more symbolic for this conference. A candle was to be lit that should have lit other, smaller candles held by children. But it was too windy, and the candle was blown out a couple of times. So, some of the children had candles that were not burning. Then the organizing committee spoke words in which the many mistakes were mentioned once again. Finally Fidel Castro was given the floor. For 2,5 hours he spoke, but in the end many had already left. He had used too much rhetoric's.
Looking back on the NGO Forum, probably the most striking thing was the high unclearity on procedures and time tables that could not be met. And of course the misery that a number of delegates went trough as they were housed in shabby hotels or places very far away from the conference.
It was difficult to get a general overview of what was going on. It was difficult to find out what the actual developments were. And it was difficult to find out who was responsible for what. Several press meetings were used to explain organizational matters, personal problems from people that interfered with the organization etc.
In between, the Palestinian and Jewish caucuses made themselves heard at every possible occasion, overshadowing other serious issues and taking away much of the media attention. In that respect, being very loud sometimes pays of.
On the other hand. During the Forum there were many excellent meetings and workshops. Important progress was made on a great number of issues, and for many this conference will inspire them for years to come.
In contrast to the, sometimes, heavy -oral- fighting in the Forum Arena was the easy way of Durban and the Durban people. Wherever you go, you're treated friendly in a relaxed atmosphere. People do not loose patience and are of good will. In this respect the decision to organize an anti racism conference in South Africa was a well choosen one.
Ralph du Long
NGO Forum, Kingsmead stadium
The plenary on the NGO Draft and the Program of Action on 1 September, was announced to start first at nine in the morning, then at 9:30 AM or at 10 AM. There was a lot of confusion, people running around asking if anybody knew when and where. Finally it became clear that the drafters had worked until 4 at night to finish the English version and that copying had already started. A while later the English version was spread around in four parts, A to D. It was announced that the plenary meeting would be postponed until 5.50 PM, this to give the translators the time to finalize the Spanish and French versions.
Walking around in the Kingsmead stadium you could see frantic meetings of caucuses and
NGOs scattered over several tents, browsing to the available Draft parts, trying to decide if points of view and agreements on voting had to be changed or adjusted.
In the afternoon the (Cultural) closing took place with a very long speech by Fidel Castro and also some words from Mary Robinson. The majority of NGO delegates went to this and were handed little Cuban flags to wave with. Only a small number of people stayed outside, at the caucuses and info tents; many of them did not agree with the fact that Fidel Castro, a dictator closed the NGO Forum. Mary Robinson expressed her hope that Castro would also take into account more the Human Rights situation in Cuba, but this did not have the approval of the crowd.
Because Castro wouldn't stop talking, finally at 18:30 the meeting started. Some 400 people showed up (mostly caucus representatives), the rest just went to their hotels or to the concert with Miriam Makeba that was scheduled for the evening. The ISC and Sangoco had brought in an independent chairman, a South African Professor of Law, to ensure a good and unbiased process. This chairman started the meeting on a light tone, making jokes and trying to ease the already tense atmosphere. Unfortunately he only succeeded for a very short time.
The ISC explained the Procedure for the meeting. The first indication of annoyance started when the ISC asked for a Spanish translator. It was unclear if one was found but 15 minutes later shouting broke out from a part of the audience, 'SPANISH!! SPANISH!!' . The Chair told them to calm down and waited because there was a technical problem with the sound system.
When everybody had calmed down somewhat (all through the meeting there was noise in various stages of loudness) a speaker asked for the recognition of a Sikh caucus and demanded the right to vote. This created a lot of noise and the chairman created a precedent by voting over this. The Sikh caucus was allowed as an official caucus with voting rights, they were asked to go to the Secretariat office to get the paperwork done in 15 minutes. Immediately after this 50 or 60 people went to the corner of the tent and were frantically trying to create new caucuses also. They had to come up with caucus names and purposes on the spot, which led to amusing situations. Not everybody was happy with the idea of creating a long list of new caucuses to influence the voting process and the ISC stated that the rule was that groups who created caucuses no longer than 2 days ago could be accepted. This was a totally new rule for those who had been in the preparation process.
The chair asked the people if they would allow any new caucuses to go out for the official papers and wait for them, but this was voted down with a big majority, so finally the official part of the meeting could begin. The chairman immediately asked for a 30-minute break to cool down but since the purpose of that was very obvious (giving people time to get caucus papers after all) people laughed in his face and shouted down this proposal.
Voting over amendments and paragraphs finally started but it went slow, with lots of confusion, shouting and screaming, insults and people breaking out in tears. Paragraph 14 of the draft was voted out, ('We are concerned with the prevalence of antizionism and attempts to delegitimize the State of Israel through wildly inaccurate charges of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing and apartheid', etc.) after which the Jewish caucus left, shouting 'Shame! Shame!'
There was a proposal for adding a paragraph to the preamble, saying ' this document represents the voices of all victims etc.' This one did not make it. A proposal was made to incorporate an amendment listing 10 African countries that were also guilty of slavetrade. This created some controversy but was adopted. Overall, it was very chaotic and sketchy. Clear is that all other paragraphs and amendments were adopted, including 160 - 168, the so-called anti-Israel and Anti-Zionism paragraphs.
The later it got, the more stressed and angry people became. There was some shouting and calling names at the spokesperson of the European Caucus, who left in tears. The meeting only came to a conclusion at 01:00. There was no final voting over the draft itself, it was stated that since there had been voting over all the paragraphs and amendments the draft had been adopted. So this Draft and PoA will be handed to Mary Robinson.
Making a few phone calls in the middle of the night made it clear that a number of caucuses already stated that although they have adopted the draft as such, they would disclaim certain paragraphs, which incite to hatred or racism, probably through a press release. "Totally out of control" said a caucus spokesperson later that night and added "I'm completely disgusted by the whole process and the lack of democracy".