World Conference against Racism: New Avenues for Slavery Reparations?

Article excerpt


The reparations movement has had a long and tumultuous history, as past attempts to obtain equitable relief have failed through common law, international law, legislation, and constitutional law. However, recent developments in these areas have pushed the reparations movement to the forefront. For example, Farmer-Paellmann v. Fleetboston Financial Corp. and similar suits have renewed the common law claim for reparations by identifying corporations that have kept record of their involvement in slavery and naming the corporations as concrete defendants. By naming corporate defendants, as compared to governmental or individual defendants, the suits have eliminated an enormous weakness in past efforts, namely the lack of an identifiable and culpable defendant. The World Conference Against Racism and passage of the International Criminal Court have propelled reparations debate among many countries and have demonstrated the growing intolerance for ongoing slavery, adding force to the reparations movement on the international law front. Legislatively, Representative John Conyers continues to endorse H.R. 40, and both the state of California and the city of Chicago, Illinois have passed legislation forcing firms to report their past involvement in slavery, undoubtedly aiding the common-law class-action claims. These developments evidence that the reparations movement is becoming more widespread. Although past claims may have failed for lack of coordination, the current litigation, pending legislation, and international developments show that the world is increasingly united in its demand for a reparations resolution.


The World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance (WCAR or Conference) took place in Durban, South Africa from August 30, 2001 to September 7, 2001 pursuant to U.N. General Assembly resolution 52/111. (1) Prior to the actual discussion, the WCAR boasted five "themes," or issues, to serve as the basis for the Conference. (2) First, the WCAR wished to address the sources, causes, forms, and contemporary manifestations of racism, racial discrimination, and related intolerance. (3) Second, the WCAR aimed to discuss the treatment of victims of racism, racial discrimination, and related intolerance. (4) Third, the Conference wished to consider and implement measures of prevention, education, and protection, thereby eradicating racism, racial discrimination, and related intolerance at the national, regional, and international levels. (5) Fourth, in response to the discussion and acknowledgment of the sources, victims, and prevention of racial discrimination, the Conference aimed to create a provision for effective remedies, recourses, redress, and other measures at the national, regional, and international levels. (6) Finally, the WCAR wished to explore strategies to achieve full and effective equality, including international cooperation and enhancement of the United Nations and other international mechanisms in combating racism, racial discrimination, and xenophobia. (7)

The WCAR, which included representatives from 166 nations, (8) adopted a non-binding "Declaration and Programme of Action that commits Member States to undertake a wide range of measures to combat racism and discrimination at the international, regional and national levels." (9) Slavery was one of the key issues addressed through the Conference. (10) The WCAR acknowledged that slavery and the slave trade constituted a crime against humanity, and urged "concerned States" to participate in compensation for its victims. (11) Of the 166 nations in attendance, only 163 adopted the Declaration. (12) The United States and Israel were among the dissenting nations. (13)

The debate regarding reparations for slavery started, however, long before the opening of the Conference in Durban. (14) Prior to the WCAR, U. …