World Council of Churches Office of Communication
Press Update
150 route de Ferney, P.O. Box 2100, 1211 Geneva 2, Switzerland
E-mail: media

3 September 2001

From the panel to the writing desk
The World Conference Against Racism: no longer a matter of lively and direct encounter but of polishing sentences and paragraphs

cf. WCC Press Update, Up-01-28, of 31 August 2001
cf. WCC Press Release, PR-01-29, of 27 August 200

When the conference of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) ended yesterday and the United Nations (UN) governmental conference began, there was a change not only in tone, clothing and general atmosphere. The colourful, vivacious NGO gathering of those directly affected gave way to the almost ceremonial arrival of heads of state and officials who now communicate in the halls of the conference centre only with the help of loudspeakers. No more panel debates, group discussions and spontaneous, often emotional encounters; now the agenda comprises ready-made statements, declarations and written action programmes of the UN.

The NGO Forum is working day and night to get the results and demands of the one- week NGO conference down on paper so they can be submitted to the UN governmental conference. It is not just a matter of words, but of carefully drafted sentences and paragraphs. And still more important is what is not said - or what is deleted.

The delegation from the World Council of Churches (WCC) has joined an "Ecumenical Caucus" for the lobbying work now underway. Daily meetings coordinate activities to ensure that the voice of the churches will be heard clearly and specifically on the various subjects in the NGO declaration, to be submitted to the governmental conference on Tuesday, September 4.

The Palestinian question occupied more time at the World Conference than some had expected. "At this conference, Palestine became what apartheid in South Africa was for the world in the past. Palestine has become an issue that unites the different human rights groups," says Marwan Bishara, the Palestinian member of the WCC delegation. "But it is important to emphasize that criticism of Israel does not signal any kind of anti-Semitism. We firmly maintain all our statements against anti-Semitism. The holocaust must not be equated with Palestine. But our attitude to Palestine signifies an important moral decision which includes us among the voices of the NGO families in the world."

The Palestinian question is only one of the many issues to which the WCC has contributed in the different interest groups. In the caucus of the Indian Dalits and in the caucuses on religious intolerance and women's issues as well, the WCC hopes its voice will strengthen the demands for human rights in practice.

Photos of the Conference are available on the WCC website

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the Media Relations Office
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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.