The Bush Administration has taken a strong line in its
opposition to the 2009 Durban Review Conference, commonly
referred to as "Durban II." Durban II is the follow-up meeting to
the disastrous United Nations World Conference Against Racism,
Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance held in
Durban, South Africa, in 2001. The 2001 conference fell victim
to nations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that were bent
on using it to criticize Israel and the United States. After
unsuccessfully trying to counter those efforts, the U.S.
delegation walked out of the conference.
organized by the gravely disappointing United Nations Human
Rights Council, is following in the footsteps of the 2001
conference. The U.S. has expressed its concerns explicitly and has
adopted a policy of voting against proposals for a follow-up to the
Durban conference, forgoing participation in the preparatory
meetings, and voting against the U.N. budget that included funding
for Durban II. The U.S. has also announced its intention to
boycott Durban II if it looks as if it will be a repeat of the 2001
Leaving open the
door to participation in Durban II-even if it appears to be
slightly better than Durban I-may appear to make sense in that
the threat of another walkout might help the U.S. to press its case
for change. But the best approach would be for the U.S. to come
out, as Canada has done, and simply say that it will not
participate in Durban II. It makes little sense for the U.S. to
consider participating when the expressed purpose of Durban II is
to review the implementation of the Durban Declaration, which the
U.S. walked away from in 2001.
conference will take place after the end of the current
Administration, the opportunity for the Bush Administration to
exert a positive influence on Durban II is limited. The U.S.
would strengthen the negotiating position of the next
Administration by unequivocally announcing an American boycott of
Durban II and working with Congress to withhold all U.S. funds that
would go to related activities.
The Shameful Legacy
In its 1997
Resolution 52/111, the United Nations General Assembly decided to
hold a World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination,
Xenophobia and Related Intolerance. The Third Committee of the
General Assembly decided in 1999 to hold the 2001 conference in
Durban, South Africa.
According to the
conference Web site, Durban I was intended to be "a landmark in the
struggle to eradicate all forms of racism…. The World
Conference is a unique opportunity to create a new world
vision for the fight against racism in the twenty-first century." What
started as a seemingly well-intentioned effort to focus the
international community on fighting racism quickly ran off the
rails as those bent on condemning Israel and America managed to
dominate the agenda, the drafting of documents, and the events
surrounding the conference.
drafts condemned Israel for allegedly pursuing a racist Zionist
agenda and committing crimes against humanity. An African-led
effort sought to include a demand for reparations from the West for
slavery. NGOs exerted enormous pressure on the conferees to
criticize the U.S. for a litany of perceived crimes, including
widespread racism, a foreign policy that was "responsible for
racial oppression around the world," denial of economic
"rights," and refusal to adopt U.N. treaties without
The last point is
particularly alarming, since many of America's treaty reservations
are intended to inform other countries that the U.S. will not
accept any treaty requirements that are incompatible with the
U.S. Constitution. As noted by Hudson Institute scholar John
The real purpose
of the Durban conference as conceived by its key players-the NGOs,
their ideological allies in the U.N. hierarchy (e.g., Mary
Robinson), and their Third World clients-is to chastise the United
States, and begin the long process of transforming our
constitutional democracy into something more to their liking.
Whether it's to the liking, or with the consent, of the
American people, seems not to rank high among NGO priorities.
The U.S. rejected
unjustified attempts to demonize Israel and rebuffed calls to
subjugate the U.S. Constitution to international treaties, which
would weaken the protections that have served America so well.
Likewise, the NGOs' accusations that racism "permeates every
institution at every level" in the U.S. were rightly dismissed as
ridiculous, considering how effectively the Constitution,
comprehensive civil rights laws, civil rights enforcement
agencies, and state and federal court rulings promote concrete
protections against racism. Indeed, the U.S. system is
appropriately held as a model by other nations.
resolve these disputes before and during the conference were
largely unsuccessful. In the end, the 2001 Durban conference
degenerated into a noxious series of speeches and statements
dominated by anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism. The United
States, Canada, and Israel condemned the conference as a
shameful example of everything that it was supposed to oppose.
When it became
obvious that the conference would not be a useful venue for
combating racism, discrimination, xenophobia, or intolerance, the
U.S. and Israeli delegations walked out. As explained by former
Secretary of State Colin Powell:
I have instructed
our representatives at the World Conference Against Racism to
return home. I have taken this decision with regret, because of the
importance of the international fight against racism and the
contribution that the Conference could have made to it. But,
following discussions today by our team in Durban and others who
are working for a successful conference, I am convinced that will
not be possible. I know that you do not combat racism by
conferences that produce declarations containing hateful
language, some of which is a throwback to the days of "Zionism
equals racism;" or supports the idea that we have made too much of
the Holocaust; or suggests that apartheid exists in Israel; or that
singles out only one country in the world-Israel-for censure and
final conference declaration was made more moderate than early
drafts in an effort to keep other delegations from walking
out-references to Zionism, for instance, were deleted-it
clearly went far beyond what was acceptable to the U.S. The
experience of the 2001 Durban conference led the Bush
Administration to adopt a policy of voting against proposals for a
follow-up conference and forgoing participation in the preparatory
meetings for such a conference.
Travesty in the Making
Despite the black
mark left by its predecessor, the U.N. is busy setting the stage
for Durban II in 2009. In its 61st session, the U.N. General
Assembly passed a resolution calling for a "Durban Review
Conference" to be funded through the U.N. regular budget, of which
the U.S. is expected to pay 22 percent. The resolution passed
despite the concerns of Australia, Canada, Israel, members of
the European Union, the U.S., and other prominent member states.
The location of
the 2009 review conference is supposed to be finalized at an April
2008 meeting of the conference's planning committee. However, South
African President Thabo Mbeki recently announced before his
country's parliament that, "Next year, South Africa will play host
to the Review Conference to evaluate the implementation of the
decisions of the World Conference Against Racism which was held in
our country." With backing from the Group of 77 and the
African and Islamic country blocs, South Africa is likely to
fulfill this claim. While a return to Durban is hardly a
guarantee that the review conference will be a repeat of 2001,
there are numerous troubling signs that make such an outcome
A major concern
is that the General Assembly placed responsibility for organizing
Durban II with the Human Rights Council. The council has been a
grave disappointment in fulfilling its role as the premier
U.N. human rights body. Since its creation in 2006 to replace the
discredited U.N. Commission on Human Rights, the Human Rights
Council has failed to address ongoing repression in Belarus, China,
Cuba, North Korea, Zimbabwe, and many other places around the
world. This is hardly surprising, since its members include
Cuba, China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and other noted human rights
abusers. These countries use their influence to undermine efforts
by the council to carry out its mandate. While the council has
passed relatively mild condemnations of Sudan and Burma, it has
saved its strongest criticism for Israel, condemning it 15 times in
decided that it will act as the Preparatory Committee for
Durban II and elected 20 countries to serve on the bureau for the
Preparatory Committee. It also decided that "the Preparatory
Committee shall decide on all the relevant modalities for the
Conference…including deciding on the objectives of the
Review Conference." Consistent with its terrible record since
2006, the council elected Libya to serve as chair of the
Preparatory Committee. Among the 19 vice-chairs are Cuba, Iran,
Pakistan, Russia, and South Africa, none of which has
distinguished itself as a champion of equality or human rights
during its tenure on the Human Rights Council.
Libya is the chair and Iran is a vice-chair, it is hardly
surprising that "Islamophobia" reportedly is high on the proposed
agenda for Durban II. Based on efforts of the Organization of the
Islamic Conference (OIC) in the Human Rights Council, this agenda
item is likely to be a platform for criticizing America's
anti-terrorism efforts and for seeking to curb free speech that
Libya and Iran
are particularly ill suited to overseeing preparations for
Durban II. Both countries are strong supporters of the OIC, which
has historically been hostile to Israel. Libya is a member of the
League of Arab States, whose Arab Charter on Human Rights calls for
the elimination of "Zionism." This violates General Assembly
Resolution 46/86, which rejects the position that Zionism is racism
or a form of racial discrimination. Of course, Iranian
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has infamously stated that Israel
"must be wiped off the map" and that "Zionists are the true
manifestation of Satan."
to Durban II
Out of concern
that the 2009 conference will be a repeat of the disastrous 2001
Durban conference, Jason Kenney, Canada's Multiculturalism
Secretary of State, announced in January that Canada will not
attend. In February, Israeli Foreign Affairs Minister Tzipi Livni
announced that Israel will follow Canada's example and boycott
Durban II, stating that "Israel will not participate…unless
it is proven that the conference will not be used as a platform for
further anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic behaviour."
There is the
possibility that more nations will join the boycott. The United
Kingdom and Germany are rumored to be considering pulling out
of the planning process if Durban II appears to be following
in the footsteps of the first conference. French President Nicolas
Sarkozy recently gave the following warning:
France will not
allow a repetition of the excesses and abuses of 2001. Our
European partners share France's concerns. France will chair
the EU in the final months preceding the review conference. I say
to you: if ever our legitimate demands are not taken into
account, we will disengage from the process.
approach indicates that support for Durban II is weak even
among Europeans who typically support U.N. initiatives.
The United States
has also expressed deep concerns about Durban II. In December
2007, it was the only country to vote against the U.N. biennial
budget for 2008-2009. In addition to its objection to unprecedented
increases in the size of the projected budget, the U.S.
delegation objected to specific provisions in the budget,
including $6.8 million in funding for Durban II. As explained by
Ambassador Mark D. Wallace:
Chairman, we could not support this budget resolution because this
budget today contains funding to what we refer colloquially to
as the "Durban 2 Conference." Our political sentiments have been
clearly expressed on this revisiting of an event that was noxious
to my country and a disgrace in the International
Community…. [T]he straw that broke the camel's back [was]
Durban 2-we cannot support this budget.
from the U.S. State Department, however, gave the impression
that the Administration would not boycott Durban II out of concern
that to do so might constrain policy for the next Administration.
"There has not been a formal decision made to [boycott Durban II],"
State Department envoy Gregg Rickman told the U.S. Helsinki
Commission. "And in essence, because this conference will take
place in 2009, it will be left to the decision of the succeeding
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice used somewhat stronger
language: "We've not tried to make a final decision on this, but
let me just state very clearly we don't have any interest in
participating in something that deteriorates into the kind of
conference that Durban I was."
Holding open the
possibility of participating in Durban II is raising concerns among
conservatives, including legislators on Capitol Hill. For instance,
a press release on a letter from Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN),
co-signed by 25 Republican Senators and Independent Senator Joe
Lieberman (I-CT), stated the following:
The first Durban
Conference was nothing more than a platform for rogue nations to
make anti-Semit[ic] declarations, demonize Israel and promote
anti-democratic values under the guise of "human rights." Durban II
promises to be just as much of a sham as the first
Conference…. [T]he Executive Committee of the
Preparatory Committee for Durban II is chaired by Libya, and one of
its Vice-Chairman is Iran. Ironically, Iran has engaged in one of
the most pernicious forms of racism-Holocaust-denial. In the end, I
believe that State will recognize that attending Durban II
would legitimize the hateful propaganda it seeks to spread.
The Department of
State provided a welcome clarification in a February 27 letter to
Senator Coleman that laid out the steps that the U.S. has
taken to oppose Durban II:
As Secretary Rice
made clear in her recent testimony, we believe it would be
inappropriate to participate in Durban II without confidence
that it will avoid the problems of Durban I. At this point, we have
no reason to believe Durban II will be an improvement over its
predecessor. Consistent with this view, since last August we have
declined to participate in meetings to prepare for Durban II,
which is scheduled to start in the later half of 2009, and will
continue to oppose funding for the assessed budget.
It did not,
however, state unequivocally that the U.S. would boycott Durban
What the U.S.
Administration has wisely taken strong steps to avoid giving
support to Durban II, including a policy of voting against
proposals for a follow-up to the Durban conference, forgoing
participation in the preparatory meetings for the Durban Review
Conference, and voting against the U.N. budget that included
funding for Durban II. The U.S. has also announced its intention to
boycott a conference that resembles Durban I.
the decision to walk away from Durban II is unlikely to achieve
what the U.S. wants. The 2001 Durban Declaration contains
positions and provisions with which the U.S. strongly
disagrees. Since the stated purpose of Durban II is to further the
implementation of the Durban Declaration, it makes little
sense for the U.S. to participate in a process that would expand on
an outcome that is incompatible with American interests.
As noted by the
State Department, the conference will take place after the
current Administration leaves office. Any attempt to use its
leverage and influence to improve Durban II is being
undermined by the expectation that a new Administration will
be far less stringent in its opposition. For this reason, there is
very little incentive for other nations and NGOs that are bent on
making Durban II a repeat of the 2001 conference to make
concessions before the upcoming U.S. elections.
behooves the United States to place the next Administration in the
strongest possible negotiating position by announcing America's
intention to boycott Durban II and work with Congress to
withhold the proportional U.S. share of the U.N. regular budget
that is being used to support Durban II. Such a policy would allow
the next Administration to require significant improvements in
Durban II's agenda in order to justify changing that policy and to
withstand the scrutiny that such a policy change would elicit.
Both Canada and
Israel have announced that they will not attend Durban II because
they have determined that it will likely be a repeat of the
2001 disaster. The U.S. has also expressed its concern that
Durban II will devolve into yet another platform for anti-Israel,
anti-America rhetoric, violating the very purpose of the
conference. The Administration's statements clearly indicate that
it does not see Durban II as either beneficial or benign.
To its credit,
the Bush Administration has steadfastly refused to attend
preparatory meetings on Durban II and has voted against U.N.
resolutions supporting the conference. The Administration should
expand on its current policy by announcing an American boycott of
Administration should also work with Congress to withhold the
proportional U.S. share of the U.N. regular budget that is being
used to support Durban II. This will strengthen the hand of the
next Administration in its negotiations with other nations because
the U.N. will have to provide evidence of specific improvements for
Washington to convince the American people that Durban II will not
replicate the 2001 conference and that the U.S. would benefit by
supporting and participating in Durban II.
At the very
least, if Durban II proves to be unworthy of support, as so
many expect, then the U.S. will have taken the correct approach by
distancing itself from the conference from the beginning.
Brett D. Schaefer is Jay
Kingham Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs in the
Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, a division of the Kathryn and
Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The
World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia
and Related Intolerance, "Basic Information," at www.un.org/WCAR/e-kit/backgrounder1.htm.
a narrative, see John Fonte, "Durban vs. America: NGOs Take on
Racism, Poverty, and the First Amendment," Hudson Institute, August
21, 2001, at
John Fonte, "Boycott Durban," Hudson Institute, August 31,
and Tom Lantos, "The Durban Debacle: An Insider's View of the UN
World Conference Against Racism," Tufts University, Fletcher School
of Law and Diplomacy, Fletcher Forum of World Affairs, Vol.
26, No. 1 (Winter/Spring 2002), at /static/reportimages/63CEA29B967FA9F00C6E15ACCC32A76E.pdf.
 Fonte, "Boycott Durban."
Mark Klusener, "Accusations Fly As US, Israel Walk Out of 'Bizarre'
UN Conference," CNSNews.com, September 04, 2001, at www.cnsnews.com./ForeignBureaus%5Carchive%5C200109%5CFor20010904a.html.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, "World Conference Against
Racism," U.S. Department of State, September 3, 2001, at
United Nations Department of Public Information, "General Assembly
Adopts 46 Third Committee Texts on Human Rights Issues, Refugees,
Self-Determination, Racism, Social Development," General Assembly
Document GA/10562, December 19, 2006, at www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2006/ga10562.doc.htm;
United Nations, "Official Records," General Assembly Document
A/61/PV.81, 81st Plenary Meeting, December 19, 2006, at /static/reportimages/70FF640D090A5FF5B0DF6ED4AA8737CC.pdf.
President Thabo Mbeki, "State of the Nation Address of the
President of South Africa," February 8, 2008, at www.polity.org.za/attachment.php?aa_id=11258.
Tovah Lazaroff, "UNHRC Slams Israel's Actions in Gaza,"
Jerusalem Post, January 24, 2008, at www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1201070783680&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull.
Preparatory Committee for the Durban Review Conference, Geneva,
August 27 to 31, 2007, "Highlights," at www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/racism/groups/
Preparatory Committee for the Durban Review Conference, Preparatory
Committee Organizational Session, First Session, General Assembly
Document A/CONF.211/PC.1/L.3, August 31, 2007, at www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/racism/groups/
UN Watch, "Dawn of a New Era?" at www.unwatch.org/site/c.bdKKISNqEmG/b.3624385/.
Led by the OIC, the Human Rights Council passed a resolution in
March 2007 that expressed "deep concern at attempts to identify
Islam with terrorism, violence and human rights violations" and
urged states to "to take all possible measures to promote tolerance
and respect for all religions and their value systems and to
complement legal systems with intellectual and moral strategies to
combat religious hatred and intolerance." The resolution also made
the disturbing assertion that the right to freedom of expression
may be limited out of "respect for religions and beliefs." See
Brett D. Schaefer, "The United Nations Human Rights Council: A
Disastrous First Year," Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No.
2038, June 1, 2007, at www.heritage.org/Research/WorldwideFreedom/bg2038.cfm.
Moreover, when other members of the council succeeded in broadening
a December resolution to include "anti-Semitism and
Christianophobia" in addition to Islamophobia, South Africa and
most members of the OIC on the council abstained rather than
support a resolution that expressed concern about anti-Semitism or
Christianophobia. See Human Rights Council, "Elimination of All
Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or
Belief," Resolution 6/37, December 14, 2007, at http://ap.ohchr.org/documents/E/HRC/
Article 2 of the Charter states, "All forms of racism, Zionism and
foreign occupation and domination constitute an impediment to human
dignity and a major barrier to the exercise of the fundamental
rights of peoples; all such practices must be condemned and efforts
must be deployed for their elimination." See League of Arab States,
"Revised Arab Charter on Human Rights," May 22, 2004, at
and United Nations, "Statement by UN High Commissioner for
Human Rights on the Entry into Force of the Arab Charter on Human
Rights," press release, January 30, 2008, at www.unhchr.ch/huricane/huricane.nsf/view01/
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, speech at "The World Without Zionism"
Conference, Tehran, October 26, 2005, at www.nytimes.com/2005/10/30/weekinreview/30iran.html,
and "Ahmadinejad in Sudan: 'Zionists Are the True
Manifestation of Satan,'" Haaretz, March 1, 2007, at www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/832229.html.
Steven Edwards, "'Canada's Courage' Sets Pace; UN Conference;
Israel Follows Ottawa Boycott of Anti-racism Forum," National
Post (Canada), February 25, 2008, p. A4.
UN Watch, "President Sarkozy: France to 'Disengage' from UN's
Durban II Racism Conference If Abuses Recur," press release,
February 14, 2008, at www.unwatch.org/site/apps/nlnet/content2.aspx?c=bdKKISNqEmG&b=1316871&ct=5030767.
Claudia Rosett, "Destination: Durban II," National Review
Online, December 21, 2007, at http://article.nationalreview.com/?q=OGE3NGMyOWEwNDA3MzMyNjM3MjAzMDM3NzllNThmMDU.
Ambassador Mark Wallace, "Explanation of Vote on Agenda Item 128:
Questions Relating to the Proposed Program Budget for the Biennium
2008-2009, in the Fifth Committee of the General Assembly," United
States Mission to the United Nations, USUN Press Release #387(07),
December 22, 2007, at www.un.int/usa/press_releases/20071222_387.html.
United States Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
(Helsinki Commission), "Taking Stock: Combating Anti-Semitism in
the OSCE Region," Hearing on Anti-Semitism in the OSCE
Region, Part Two, Unofficial Transcript, at www.csce.gov/index.cfm?Fuseaction=ContentRecords.ViewDetail&
"US Could Boycott SA Racism Summit," The Times, February 14,
2008, at www.thetimes.co.za/News/Article.aspx?id=706210.
Press release, "Coleman Continues to Urge State to Not Participate
in the Durban II Conference," updated February
8, 2008, at http://coleman.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=PressReleases.
Letter to Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN) from Assistant Secretary of
State for Legislative Affairs Jeffrey T. Bergner, February 27,
2008. Copy provided by the office of Senator Coleman.