Activists Want Slavery Called African 'Holocaust'

June 1, 2001
By Richard Waddington

GENEVA (Reuters) - African rights activists said on Thursday they would press a world conference against racism to declare slavery and colonialism "a double Holocaust" and would call for compensation from former colonial powers.

Compensation from countries active in the then legal slave trade of the 17th and 19th centuries, such as France, Britain, Portugal and the United States, could take the form of aid for development, they said.

Speaking for African non-governmental organizations, Alioune Tine of Senegal, said the impact of colonialism was one of the prime causes of Africa's economic backwardness today.

He told a news conference: "We invite the world conference to declare without hesitation that slavery and colonialism are a double Holocaust and crimes against the humanity of African peoples."

International non-governmental organizations (NGO) are meeting in Geneva to prepare a common position to take to a United Nations (news - web sites) "World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance" to be held in Durban, South Africa from August 31-September 7.

Activist Moshe More, also a member of an NGO steering committee set up for Durban, said compensation would not necessarily mean cash handouts to countries that suffered most from the slave trade.

A key element of any reparation was recognition by slave states of the evils of the trade when millions of Africans were shipped across the Atlantic in miserable conditions to work in the United States, the Caribbean and South America.


Rather than cash payments, compensation could take the form of aid for development, but without the usual strings and conditions attached when the International Monetary Fund (IMF) or the World Bank lent money, More said.

But he declined to be drawn on how much money African states should seek. "We are talking principles, not figures," he said.

At the same time in Geneva, representatives of U.N. member states are also seeking to hammer out a draft text for Durban where the aim is to agree measures to stamp out racism around the world.

Earlier this week, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson said recent race riots in the English town of Oldham gave a warning of what happens when racism is left to fester.

Robinson, who will chair the Durban conference, has herself called for slavery to be labeled a crime against humanity and the French parliament recently passed a bill condemning the practice in similar terms.

But diplomats said other developed countries were unwilling yet to say the same, for fear that they could be exposed to lawsuits similar to those brought in the name of Jewish victims of Nazi oppression before and during World War Two.

"We are prepared for a form of words that acknowledges great wrongs of the past. But compensation could be impossible in practice and could open up a legal can of worms," said one European diplomat.

Former President Bill Clinton admitted the U.S. role in slavery was wrong during an African tour last year but he stopped short of offering an apology.

Negotiations on the draft text were due to finish on Friday, but diplomats said they looked like running into next week.

--Geneva newsroom, 41-22-733-3831)

Raymond A. Winbush, Ph.D.
Director, Race Relations Institute
Benjamin Hooks Professor of Social Justice
Fisk University
Nashville TN 37208

Slavery "a crime against humanity"

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