Image via WikipediaThe US government, the Obama administration that sparked such hope (and fear, possibly!) in the Middle East is boycotting the United Nations’ 2009 Durban Review Conference, being held in Geneva from the 20th-24th April because the document that is to form the basis of the conference debate, the Draft Outcome Document, reaffirms the 2001 Durban Declaration. The US together with Israel, is being joined in its boycott by a 'coalition of the willing' that includes Canada and Australia.
The Draft Outcome Document was the result of preparatory committees, meetings and conference proceedings involving the entire United Nations – including the US, which had already negotiated major changes to the DOD before it walked. It is based on the 2001 Declaration which resulted from the 2001 World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, that took place in Durban, South Africa. The US and Israel walked out of that conference, although an overwhelming consensus of world governments and NGOs remained and ratified the Declaration.
The 2009 Conference has the enthusiastic backing of the UN, as does the 2001 Declaration: “The outcome document of the 2001 World Conference, the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (DDPA), which was adopted by consensus, is the most comprehensive and valuable framework for addressing racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.”
Many people, including Barbara Lee, who heads the black caucus in Congress, have huge reservations about the Obama administration’s decision. Lee has been widely quoted by media as being deeply dismayed: "This decision is inconsistent with the administration's policy of engaging with those we agree with and those we disagree with… The US is making it more difficult for it to play a leadership role on the UN Human Rights Council as it states it plans to do. This is a missed opportunity, plain and simple."
The offending text from the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, 2001, is not being quoted in any of the news coverage I’ve seen of the US government decision, particularly not outlets such as CNN. So I thought it might be worth finding out what it actually says that is so objectionable that it would spark a walk-out from a major UN conference. The two extracts below neatly sum it up:
Relevant Extracts from the 2001 Durban Declaration
62. We are conscious that humanity’s history is replete with terrible wrongs inflicted through lack of respect for the equality of human beings and note with alarm the increase of such practices in various parts of the world, and we urge people, particularly in conflict situations, to desist from racist incitement, derogatory language and negative stereotyping;
63. We are concerned about the plight of the Palestinian people under foreign occupation. We recognize the inalienable right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and to the establishment of an independent State and we recognize the right to security for all States in the region, including Israel, and call upon all States to support the peace process and bring it to an early conclusion;
64. We call for a just, comprehensive and lasting peace in the region in which all peoples shall co-exist and enjoy equality, justice and internationally recognized human rights, and security;
65. We recognize the right of refugees to return voluntarily to their homes and properties in dignity and safety, and urge all States to facilitate such return;
150. Calls upon States, in opposing all forms of racism, to recognize the need to counter anti-Semitism, anti-Arabism and Islamophobia world-wide, and urges all States to take effective measures to prevent the emergence of movements based on racism and discriminatory ideas concerning these communities;
151. As for the situation in the Middle East, calls for the end of violence and the swift resumption of negotiations, respect for international human rights and humanitarian law, respect for the principle of self-determination and the end of all suffering, thus allowing Israel and the Palestinians to resume the peace process, and to develop and prosper in security and freedom;
The DOD is the document negotiated in preliminary committees and meetings that will set the agenda for the UN Durban Review Conference debate. It’s perhaps interesting that the Obama administration is sending the clear signal that this stuff is not only considered to be alien to its policies and views, but that it’s not even up for debate.