David Mark Greaves
When a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? A tree fell across Black America in Geneva, Switzerland in April, and African Americans in the States would not have heard it were it not for the relentless ten year effort of the Brooklyn based December 12th Movement International Secretariat.
The International Secretariat has become a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) with consultative status at the United Nations. It was that achievement that allowed them to be present at the 54th session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights meeting in Geneva when the U.S. Delegation took their axe into the forest.
At an April press conference held at the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York, Secretariat member Amadi Ajamu, who was at the Geneva session, read the following release. AA particular resolution put forward by the African Group is being vehemently debated on the floor and is of grave concern for all African people on the Continent and in the Diaspora.
AThe African Group resolution demands an official apology and sets the framework for reparations from those nations that facilitated and prospered from the Trans-Atlantic African Slave Trade.
The resolution cites the precedents set by certain nations to rectify past atrocities and gross human rights abuses through apologies, compensation, and reparations. The United States delegation to the Commission on Human Rights led by Ambassador Bill Richardson, stated that >Chattel slavery was not a crime against humanity because it was legal in the US.'(Emphasis added) Further, the delegation has taken an opposing position on the question of reparations, and has demanded that >reparations’ be stricken from the resolution. In so doing, the US delegation does not represent the interests of the majority of Black people in America.
AThe December 12th Movement International Secretariat is actively mobilizing the Black community nationwide in support of this historic African Group Resolution… The United States and Western Europe must be held accountable for the long centuries of slavery and colonialism forced upon African people.
We’d like to repeat the stunning statement of a diplomatic representative of the U.S. government. AChattel slavery was not a crime against humanity because it was legal in the US. This is an impossible position for any civilized person to take. The text of this press conference should have been in the headline of every newspaper, news-magazine and media outlet across the country. When an official of the U.S. Government makes that kind of statement, there should be a spasmodic reaction by Black people and their political representatives.
If chattel slavery is not a crime against humanity, then what is?
Apparently we need constant reminders of what slavery was. For hundreds of years, African people, our forebears, our ancestors, were killed and tortured until the survivors worked as slaves. Then they were treated as livestock and bought and sold as any other livestock would be. Their labors made the emergence of the United States possible. And it=s the United States position that this was not a crime against humanity because it was legal at the time?
White-owned media are worse than useless as a source for information. They present us with Jesse Jackson talking about Trade not Aid, and warm and fuzzy photo-ops of Bill Clinton and Hillary looking at elephants, and holding African babies. Meanwhile their delegation to the Commission on Human Rights was continuing the rape of black people in America behind closed doors in Geneva. But this time we know about it because of the determination of the December 12 Movement International Secretariat to work in the international arena.
Omowale Clay, speaking for the Secretariat, said that what is critical now is that there be an outcry that Bill Richardson, by taking the position that slavery was not a gross violation of human rights because it was legal in the United States, cannot represent progressive and African people in this country. Mr. Clay went on to say that, AWhat the U.S. is really attempting to do is avoid the question of establishing the historical links between the slave trade and the benefits this country received. Benefits that continue up to this very day. On Monday, April 27, the International Secretariat of the December 12th Movement made a full report to the African Community at The House of the Lord Church, pastored by Reverend Herbert Daughtry in Brooklyn, NY.
When you first learn American history, people like Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and Patrick give me liberty or give me death, Henry, are called Founding Fathers, and held up as heroes. The Declaration of Independence, though written by slaveholders, is held as a statement of universal human rights.
Today, the December 12 Movement, representing the heirs of those slaveholder=s slaves, are among the heroes of today, and are carrying forward that human rights legacy in national and international arenas.
From the Declaration of Independence to Martin Luther King, Jr., the December 12 Movement rests firmly in the mainstream of the American human rights struggle.
Most people are very familiar with the opening of the second paragraph; AWe hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…. Lesser known is the listing of grievances against King George. If you substitute current American institutions, you find that many of these still resonate in the African-American community. For example, one complaint was, Afor transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offenses. This speaks directly to the actions taken against Abdul Haqq by the FBI Joint Terrorist Task Force. Mr. Haqq is a member of the December 12th Movement and an activist who had assisted in founding the Black Men’s Movement Against Crack and helped uncover police participation in drug-trafficking.
We have personally witnessed Mr. Haqq in the street talking with children about drugs and their future. Since there is ample evidence that the CIA was spending large sums of money in the 1980’s to bring drugs into the community, it is easy to see why the activities of people like Mr. Haqq would be questioned and responded to by those with the most to lose, the criminals working in the criminal justice system. Mr. Haqq was arrested in New York in March of 1997, transported to Ohio, and put on trial for the Apretended offense of murder. The trial ended in an acquittal on April 22, 1998, and it represented a tremendous triumph for the Movement, and for attorneys Roger S. Wareham and Terry Gilbert.
Mr. Wareham is also one of the counsels for the December 12th Movement International Secretariat and is the International General Secretary, for the International Association Against Torture.
Roger Wareham Reports to the Community
We got into the international work from the position that Malcolm X was correct when he said that if our struggle is to progress, we could not confine it to civil rights, we have to begin talking about human rights. That we had to take our struggle and put it in the international arena, on the international agenda. The arena for that is the United Nations. The year before he was assassinated he was trying to make those connections in terms of the United Nations.
AWe (the December 12th Movement), were a part of a Freedom Now’ delegation that went to the United Nations in 1989, to bring to them the issue of political prisoners inside the United States. What we found when we got there is that there was a real misconception on the international arena around the condition of Black folks…. The view they had of Black folks was really more influenced by the Dream Team, Michael Jackson and Michael Jordan. They thought all of us here were living like that. That we were all living good.
It became clear we had to go to square one, because there was so much information and misinformation being spread about our situation that people thought that racism was over inside the United States.
One of the things that happened when we got there was that there were people from progressive countries who were allies of our struggle, and who took us under their wings and shared their experience so that we did not have to start from scratch. One of the things they told us was that the United Nations is a forum. It is a forum for public perceptions and public propaganda. People don’t free themselves inside the United Nations, but what they do is change international perceptions about their struggle and bring legitimacy to it. And they said that in order to do that, you have to keep coming. You can’t come one year and don’t come for another two or three years. You have to come to the point where when you walk in the hall, people know who you are and they know what you’re there for. Which means that you’ve got to keep coming. This was a commitment that we as an organization made, and which was a greater commitment than we had imagined, in terms of the sacrifice of going to Geneva Switzerland twice a year, which is an incredibly expensive place. But we made that commitment because we were convinced that that was what Malcolm was talking about, and to uphold his legacy we had to do that. So we started going in 1989 and continued through to today.
In order to participate inside the United Nations, as a nongovernmental organization (NGO), you have to be accredited. You have to have a track record, etcetera, etcetera.
So originally as the December 12 Movement, we participated as part of an NGO called the International Association Against Torture. And it was in that organization that we began to make our impact inside the United Nations. We did it in terms of the presentations we made at the Commission on Human Rights and the Sub-Commission as well. We participated in the Third Committee of the General Assembly at the World Conferences on Human Rights, on Development, and on Women.
We had a strategic goal of winning the international community over to the fact that we were an oppressed nation and that we have a national liberation struggle, that we have a right to self-determination, that we were not simply a minority inside the United States.
In order to push that question, tactically we had to begin by discussing the question of racism. Because as Viola (Plummer) was saying, that’s the language they understand. Malcolm was a master of that. He said when you go into an arena, you have to speak the language that the people speak, and they understood racism. In presenting the facts of racism, in presenting our situation by the statistics that the United States government itself provides, it became clear that on every level we were no different in our relationship to the United States than Jamaica was to the United States, or Trinidad is to Great Britain, or any other colony is to a colonizer.
We entered in 1989, when the whole world geopolitical situation was changing. The Soviet Union was disintegrating, there was no longer a socialist block that would take up the interests of national liberation struggles. The United States had assumed the role of being the only superpower and assumed a real dominance inside the United Nations. So we were pushing a rock up a hill. Some people said that it was hopeless, that we=d never get the United Nations to investigate the United States in this period of time. We took the position that no one could tell us what we couldn=t do.
Our whole existence in the United States is proof positive that we shouldn’t even be here if we listen to what other people say. We went there with the position that the United States was the major human rights violator in the world, and that the United Nations needed to investigate that. From that struggle, from those meetings, from the interventions we made, from the discussions we had with different countries and folks, from the information we presented, and the way we presented it, in 1993 the United Nations appointed a Special Rapporteur on the theme of racism and racial discrimination. They said that wasn’t going to happen. Then we pushed for him to go to the United States first. They said that wasn’t going to happen. He came to the United States first, he issued a report, and to this day the United States is still upset about the report. They say he distorted stuff, he was shallow, but it’s on the record, his findings of continued racism in the United States.
Last year we were successful in having the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial and summary executions come to the United States. He did a scathing report around the question of the death penalty and around the questions of police killings in the United States. His report was presented a few weeks ago…(as a result) the United States was forced to ratify an international covenant on international and civil rights where one of the things they talk about was eliminating the death penalty and the United States wasn=t going to give that up, and another was executing juveniles, and the United States wasn=t going to give that up. So they signed it with the reservations that the U.S. could still execute juveniles and others. So this report exposed the hypocrisy of the United States. That=s an example of what we can accomplish in terms of perceptions in the international arena.
Last year the December 12 Movement got its own status as an NGO, so we can now participate as a full NGO with consultative status before the United Nations.
It is apparent that the December 12th Movement is becoming more and more effective, and pose a threat to very dangerous people and their interests. As they continue to work and succeed, it is easy to see that the way society allocates its resources could change, changing fortunes and the direction of the nation. There are people who don=t want this to happen, and they are capable of doing absolutely anything. You need only look at what they have already done.
As the civil rights struggle shifted from civil rights to human rights, these people, in and out of government, killed Martin Luther King and began the heavy importation of drugs and arms into Black communities. The loss of lives and the human potential is meaningless to them. This is evident as whole industries spring up around the desire to subjugate, imprison, and kill Black and Brown people. To destroy their families, to mis-educate and under-educate, in short, to restrict and constrict the human spirit of Black and Brown people by using any means necessary.
This is why it is important that the African-American community know as much about the work of the December 12 Movement as possible. In the same way the forces of the state came for Abdul Haqq, they are capable of coming for others. In the warning words of an 1851 poster addressed to the AColored People of Boston, AKeep a Sharp Look Out for Kidnappers, and have TOP EYE open.