The UN World Conference Against Racism
An NPR Special Report
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan|
Photo: Julie McCarthy, NPR
If nothing else, the U.N. Conference Against Racism proved that the politics of race remain filled with acrimony and infused with nationalism and diplomatic gamesmanship. In that way, the conference justified its own existence: The event not only showed that racism is still an insidious problem throughout the world, but that race is often used as leverage to advance other interests that often are only peripherally related to interracial relations.
The animosity began before the first gavel, with several countries threatening to boycott the conference, or at least objecting to some of its agenda. The United States complained loudly about planned discussions of slave reparations, as well as proposed language in the conference declaration equating Zionism with racism. That language was smoothed over a bit, with the word "Zionism" taken out; nevertheless, just a few days into the conference, the United States and Israel pulled their delegations from Durban, South Africa, where the event was held.
Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade|
Photo: Julie McCarthy, NPR
That left Europe to defend Western interests. The European Union at first refused to countenance the issue of reparations for historic Transatlantic slavery and colonialism, as several African states had demanded. In a flurry of negotiations at the end of the conference, Europe agreed to a carefully crafted statement that owned up to slavery -- calling it a "crime against humanity" -- but which included language intended to forestall legal action seeking reparations. Instead, the statement calls for greater development efforts and debt relief for African states.
Another last-minute effort by Syria and backed by other Arab and Islamic states hoping to add language condemning Israel by name was turned back by a roll call vote. In the end, the declaration expressed "concern about the plight of the Palestinian people under foreign occupation."
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat|
Photo: Julie McCarthy, NPR
In a statement at the close of the conference, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan admitted that "not all problems in the world can be resolved at United Nations conferences. And when member states do decide to hold such conferences, we need to be conscious that, on some issues, they will reflect areas of real disagreement dividing the international community.
"It is regrettable that the useful work of the conference was overshadowed by disagreements on one or two highly emotional issues, especially the Middle East. Many hurtful things were said... which tended to inflame the atmosphere rather than to encourage rational and constructive discussion."
In that way, the conference wasn't so unlike how race is approached day to day around the world.
National Public Radio dispatched reporters around the world to examine the many issues the conference addressed.
The complex and wide-ranging nature of the conference gave rise to its rather unwieldy full name: The World Conference on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance.
Throughout two weeks of NPR News coverage, reporters, correspondents, and guest commentators addressed topics including modern-day slavery in Africa, racism in Japan, the Indian caste system, and the psychology of racism.
Monday, Aug. 27
NPR's Julie McCarthy reports on All Things Considered that escalating violence in the Middle East has made it more difficult to resolve the dispute over the agenda at the U.N. Conference Against Racism. Arab countries are demanding a discussion of Israel's treatment of the Palestinians be included in the discussion. They equate Israeli policies with racism.
The controversial and perennial topic of slave reparations is a focus of the conference, and of NPR's coverage. Cheryl Corley introduces the subject on Morning Edition with a look at the arguments for and against compensating African-Americans for slavery. Learn more about the reparations controversy.
Tuesday, Aug. 28
Correspondent Margot Adler hosted a debate last year over whether the U.S. government owes reparations to African-Americans for slavery and the discrimination that followed it. Listen as activist Adjoa Aiyetoro and law professor Robert Sedler debate the issue on Morning Edition. Learn more about the reparations controversy.
Slavery remains a fact of life in some isolated parts of Africa. As Ivan Watson reports for All Things Considered, the Saharan state of Mauritania is a case in point. Read more on Mauritania.
Wednesday, Aug. 29
The Indian government fought hard to keep the country's caste system off the conference agenda, arguing that caste is not the same as race. Activists contend that the government was splitting hairs, as NPR's Michael Sullivan reports for Morning Edition. Learn more about the caste system.
Correspondent Christopher Joyce reports on the psychology of race. What do scientists know about the human reactions to individuals and groups who are different in appearance?
Thursday, Aug. 30
Race can't be defined in terms of genes, scientists say; there are no genes unique to one race versus another. However, people from different parts of the world do have some differences in genetic patterns. On Morning Edition, NPR's Richard Harris visits Genaissance, a company that's cataloging genetic differences among people from around the world.
On All Things Considered, Julie McCarthy reports on the threat of a U.S. boycott to the conference.
Michael Sullivan reports on the plight of the Dalits, India's lowest caste. Learn more about the caste system.
Friday, Aug. 31
NPR begins gavel-to-gavel coverage of the conference in Durban with a report from Kenneth Walker for Morning Edition on opening day speeches.
Also on Morning Edition, Renee Montagne discusses conference issues with Mary Robinson, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights; and David Harris of the American Jewish Committee defends the U.S. decision not to send Secretary of State Colin Powell to Durban.
On All Things Considered, Margot Adler examines the role of governments in combatting racism.
Saturday, Sept. 1
Weekend Edition Saturday's Scott Simon talks with writer Octavia Butler about what the world might be like if there were no racism. She's also written an essay exclusively for NPR online.
On Weekend All Things Considered, correspondent Phillip Martin reports on the status in the United States of the movement to obtain reparations for slavery. Learn more about the reparations controversy.
Sunday, Sept. 2
On Weekend Edition Sunday, correspondent Duncan Moon looks at how religion has been used throughout history to justify the persecution of different races.
On Weekend All Things Considered NPR's Kenneth Walker reports on African states that are arguing in favor of reparations for slavery. Learn more about the reparations controversy.
Monday, Sept. 3
On All Things Considered, Kenneth Walker reports that racism still exists in South Africa -- and that it cuts two ways seven years after the end of apartheid.
Tuesday, Sept. 4
NPR's Julie McCarthy in Durban reports on the aftermath of the U.S. and Israeli pullout from the world conference against racism.
While some of the countries represented at the conference have ethnically diverse populations, others have much more homogenous ones. That is the case with Japan, where foreigners and minorities account for a small percentage of the population. But as NPR's Eric Weiner reports for Morning Edition the numbers of foreigners living in Japan is growing - and so is the number of complaints of discrimination against them. Read Weiner's first-person essay on what it's like to be a foreigner in Japan today.
Also on Morning Edition, a commentary by Louise Mushikiwabo, a Rwandan Tutsi, about her experience with the most extreme form of racism -- genocide.
On Talk of the Nation, guest host Steve Inskeep gets the latest news from Durban, and leads a discussion of reparations.
Wednesday, Sept. 5
On Morning Edition, commentator Marie Lily Cerat, a native of Haiti, talks about how in the years that she has lived in this country, she has never gotten used to Americans' obsession with race.
On All Things Considered, Sylvia Poggioli examines the plight of the Roma, otherwise known as the gypsies.
Thursday, Sept. 6
The U. S. media has a history of exporting racist images abroad, critics say. What are those images, and what impact have they had on the rest of the world? Lynn Neary reports for Morning Edition. Learn more about Hollywood's exportation of racist images.
Also on Morning Edition commentator Akida Rouzi, of the Uigher ethnic minority in China, recounts the discrimination she faced as a child.
Friday, Sept. 7
Host Noah Adams talks with NPR's Julie McCarthy in Durban, South Africa, where the World Conference against Racism is drawing to a close. Delegates from some 170 nations have still not resolved differences over two key issues: how to address the historic wrongs of slavery and colonialism, and how to deal with the current conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
Saturday, Sept. 8
African bureau chief Kenneth Walker reports from Durban, where the United Nations World Conference on Racism wrapped up a day later than scheduled with a compromise document addressing racism, slavery and colonialism.
Weekend Edition Saturday host Scott Simon talks with NPR's Julie McCarthy in Durban, South Africa, following the conclusion of the United Nations' Conference on Racism.