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NGO Forum to Be Organized Before, During Racism Conference - 2001-08-16

Hundreds of non-governmental organizations are preparing a forum to discuss racism, discrimination, and xenophobia. The NGO forum will be held in the days before and during the World Conference against Racism later this month (8/31) in Durban, South Africa.

Organizers and delegates to the World Conference against Racism NGO forum are working on a declaration to be issued at the meeting. A draft of the declaration recognizes what it calls "inherent human dignity and equal and inalienable rights as the cornerstones of freedom, justice, and peace."

Moshe More director of the forum says, "The NGO forum is important because it is basically a platform where civil society organizations, as well as ordinary citizens of the world, have an opportunity to input into debates that are going to shape policies around the world."

Mr. More says, as at many U.N. sponsored conferences, there is expected to be friction between non-governmental organizations and government delegations. "The tension is inevitable," he says. "There will be some level of tension. But in this particular instance the nature and level of tension will be different. I think it will be different because some level of trust has been developed between NGO's and government as part of the process leading to the World Conference against Racism."

Some issues have already triggered controversy leading up to the World Conference against Racism. For example, the call by some parties for reparations for slavery and colonialism, and a statement equating Zionism to racism.

But Mr. More says it is unlikely that the issue of Zionism being equated to racism will be discussed at the NGO forum. "If you look at the draft declaration of the NGO forum," he says, "it does not contain anything related to Zionism and racism. But it basically contains issues around occupied territories, issues around violence in the Middle East, policies of the Palestinians toward Israel as well as Israel toward Palestine."

But he says slavery reparations will be discussed and debated among the non-governmental organizations.

The forum's guiding principles say racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related forms of intolerance are the most serious violation of human dignity in the contemporary world. The World Conference against Racism NGO forum runs from August 28 through September 1.