World Council of Churches Office of Communication
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7 September 2001

Statement by the World Council of Churches delegation at the UN World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, Durban, South Africa

cf. WCC Press Update, Up-01-30, of 5 September 2001

"The sin of racism has been a central concern for the ecumenical movement since the beginning of the last century, and at the heart of the life of the World Council of Churches (WCC) since 1948. Out of this commitment, the WCC offered strong support to the UN Conference from its early planning stages onwards and itself contributed to the process by convening a number of regional ecumenical consultations. In August 2000, the WCC submitted a detailed submission to the High Commissioner for Human Rights, which was subsequently revised after the regional meetings. The final submission was delivered to the Durban Conference.

The NGO Forum was perhaps the largest civil society gathering devoted to racism that has ever assembled and certainly the most representative of those victimized by racism and racial discrimination. It provided the victims of racism with a place to speak of their experience and their pain and to make proposals for change. The WCC delegation celebrates that such a forum was held, because it falls within the WCC's long-cherished tradition of giving space, and supporting victims to speak publicly.

The WCC delegation considered the process adopted by the NGO Forum to be vitally important, worthy of affirmation and respect, and recognized that the NGO Forum document contains the aspirations and recommendations of many communities of marginalized peoples.

Many ideas and recommendations from the NGO Forum were incorporated into the document. The debate on that text was long and, at times, complex because of the huge numbers of people involved. The methodology used was to ask specific caucuses within the Forum to react, provide amendments and then vote. Members of the WCC delegation were part of the Ecumenical and other caucuses and did not vote as the WCC itself.

The focus of the NGO Forum and the World Conference was profoundly affected by current world affairs. The Durban meetings convened at a time when the situation in the Middle East was in the forefront of people's minds, and the issues this highlighted quickly gained prominence in the NGO Forum. The WCC delegation was greatly helped by the sensitive explanations and support of its Palestinian members.

During the NGO Forum, in keeping with WCC policy, the WCC delegation supported the right of self-determination for Palestinians, the right of return and the establishment of a Palestinian state. It also affirmed the right of the State of Israel to exist, and condemned anti-Semitism. There are some statements in the NGO Forum document which are outside the WCC's policy framework, and which the WCC cannot support, such as: equating Zionism with racism, describing Israel as an apartheid state, and the call for a general boycott of Israeli goods.

This does not detract from the WCC's support for the document as a whole.

The WCC delegation believes that to focus only on some sections of the NGO Forum document is disrespectful to all other sections, which cover a vast number of issues significant to the victims of racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia. Those wide concerns are represented within the membership of the WCC delegation and cannot be ignored.

Durban, 7 September 2001"

The WCC submission to the WCAR is available on both the WCAR and WCC websites

Photos of the Conference are available on the WCC website

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the Media Relations Office
tel.: (+41 22) 791 6153 (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.