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1 June 2001

WCC delegation critical of slow progress and NGO shut-out from preparations for UN World Conference Against Racism

cf. WCC Press Update, Up-01-16, of 31 May 2001
cf. WCC Press Update, Up-01-14, of 30 May 2001
cf. WCC Press Update, Up-01-13, of 18 May 2001
cf. WCC Press Feature, Feat-01-04, of 18 April 2001

"I come from a country where our daily bread is racism. My impression of the countries here is that either they do not want the conference to take place or, if it does, they want it to ridicule those suffering under racism, because it will come to nothing," Chabo Pilusa said today. Pilusa, from South Africa, is a member of the World Council of Churches (WCC) delegation to the preparatory committee (prepcom) for the United Nations (UN) World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance to be held in Durban, South Africa, in September.

"After two weeks of laborious debate the prepcom will go into an unscheduled third week and yet another meeting in July. Government delegates became entrenched in debates about how to proceed with their work, severely limiting the time they had to consider the draft texts of the declaration and programme of action to be adopted at the Durban conference," said WCC programme executive for combatting racism Marilia Schüller.

The WCC delegation is also critical of the prepcom's decision not even to consider issues such as reparation for the victims of the slave trade, slavery and colonialism as crimes against humanity and therefore deserving compensation for the economic, political and cultural damage done to communities of Africans and African descendants.

"Governments' hardline positions to exclude issues related to reparation, the situation of Dalits and discrimination against Palestinians, is itself a racist position," said Rev. Lawrence Burnley of the United Church of Christ in the USA. "All this calls into question the seriousness of the member states to combat racism", he said.

Despite the fact that UN rules allow accredited non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to address the plenary session of such UN conferences, few have been permitted to do so thus far. This is seen by the WCC delegation as a reversal of assurances given earlier in the conference planning process for the full participation of NGOs.

The additional meetings needed to complete work before the Durban conference will almost certainly reduce the number of NGOs who can afford to attend. This includes the WCC delegation, which leaves today. This is another point of criticism by the WCC delegation, whose members are drawn from a number of WCC member churches.

"However, the frustrating results of the prepcom merely propel us forward, as churches, with even more energy and renewed conviction, to continue the struggle against racism," said Rev. Dr Sirirat Pusurinkham of the Church of Christ in Thailand. "We also call for a renewed commitment from UN member states in the coming months. Without such commitment the conference in Durban will merely build on antagonisms between governments and victims of racism and racial discrimination instead of being a united front against racism, which was the original intention for the conference."

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The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 337, in more than 100 countries in all continents from virtually all Christian traditions. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member church but works cooperatively with the WCC. The highest governing body is the assembly, which meets approximately every seven years. The WCC was formally inaugurated in 1948 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Its staff is headed by general secretary Konrad Raiser from the Evangelical Church in Germany.