DURBAN -- Although Europe and Africa are minimizing it in public, a wide gulf separates the two continents on the slavery issue at the World Conference against Racism (WACR), according to several inside sources.
Oulai Siene of the Ivory Coast said the Africans are "working closely with the Europeans on this important issue," and Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi of South Africa denied published reports that the Africans were sticking to a "hard line." But the differences exist.
The African draft text calls for reparations to be paid to the victims of slavery and their descendents. The European draft doesn't even have the word reparations in it.
The African text calls for specific apologies, from specific countries, for slavery. The European draft suggests an apology to be issued in the name of all of humanity.
The African version of reparations would be in the form of debt forgiveness or development aid, but some North American and Caribbean Nongovernmental organization (NGO) members, are reportedly favoring a system of payments, and at least one Caribbean delegation is looking for repatriation.
"Apologies from individual countries are very important. It is the essence of what this conference is about," said Fraser-Moleketi, South Africa's minister of Public Administration. "We seek reparations as a pledge of intention, as remedial measure, as a pledge of a developmental nature. It is important for our relationship with the developed world. We are talking of a partnership, not simply looking for handouts."
Although European diplomats were reluctant to go on the record, sources close to the negotiations said that the European objections are based on the claim that slavery was too far in the past, and that all states, not just colonial countries in some way committed the crime or benefited by the institution.
The inside sources said the European tack would be to attempt to settle the apology issue at the Durban conference and leave the reparations issue for another venue.
The objection to individual apologies from individual nations stems from an attempt to diminish exposure to future law suits, observers said, especially in a climate where European countries are accepting liability for 20th century genocide and paying reparations.
A document produced by the NGO forum last week calls for the establishment, within one year, of an international organization to deal with reparations. The Europeans are unlikely to adopt that language, the sources said.
Barbara Blake Hannah of the Jamaican Rasta Information Service she had been lobbying the official Jamaican delegation to push the Rastafarian position calling for repatriation of the descendants of slaves to Africa.
"I am the first person in my family in 350 years to set foot on African soil," she told Conference News Daily. "I cried when I arrived."
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