The Obama Administration has announced that, unless the draft
outcome document is fundamentally changed, it will not participate
in the 2009 Durban Review Conference. Nor will it participate in
further negotiations on the document. Both decisions are correct:
The draft document promised nothing but a repeat of the disastrous
2001 United Nations World Conference Against Racism, Racial
Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, held in Durban,
South Africa. Recognizing this, both Canada and Israel withdrew
from the conference many months ago.
Now it is Europe's turn to act. So far, the European states have
condemned the prospect of a repeat of 2001 but have not withdrawn.
The United Kingdom must take the lead. Acting in concert with the
U.S. and Canada, its other close friend in North America, the U.K.
should immediately and unconditionally withdraw from the
conference. By doing so, the U.K. will not only deal an additional
blow to the conference's anti-Semitic, racist, and anti-free speech
agenda, but it will also encourage other European states to stand
with it in opposing the subversion of democratic liberties and the
international system by authoritarian and oppressive states.
Background to the 2009 Conference
The 2001 United Nations World Conference Against Racism, Racial
Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance is an enduring
embarrassment to the United Nations. The pre-conference drafts
condemned Israel for committing crimes against humanity, while a
host of non-governmental organizations urged conferees to condemn
the U.S. for 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 conference itself was so dominated by anti-Semitism and
anti-Americanism that the U.S. and Israeli delegations walked
Secretary of State Colin Powell regretted the necessity of this
action, noting in his statement of September 3, 2001 that:
I know that you do not combat racism by conferences that produce
declarations containing hateful language ... [that] 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 abuse.
In spite of the U.S. and Israeli withdrawal, the Durban
Conference resulted in the adoption by consensus--a consensus that
included the U.K. and all the nations of the EU--of the Durban
Declaration and Programme of Action (DDPA). Five years later, in
December 2006, the U.N. General Assembly passed a resolution
calling for a "Durban Review Conference," commonly known as "Durban
II," to "assess and accelerate progress on implementation of
measures adopted at the 2001 World Conference against Racism." This
conference will be held in Geneva on April 20-24, 2009.
Canada, citing the 2001 conference's "open and divisive
expressions of intolerance and anti-Semitism" and the ongoing
failings of preparations for Durban II, withdrew from it in January
2008. Israel followed in November 2008. The
Bush Administration announced it would "not participate [in Durban
II] unless it is proven that the conference will not be used as a
platform for anti-Semitic behavior." But though the U.S., in
December 2007, voted against the entire U.N. budget because it
included funding for Durban II, the Administration ultimately left
the decision about whether to participate to its successor.
The Obama Administration's Decision
On February 27, the Obama Administration announced that "the
[preparatory] document being negotiated has gone from bad to worse,
and the current text of the draft outcome document is not
salvageable." The draft outcome document reaffirms the
2001 DDPA and singles out Israel with harsh, repeated, and entirely
one-sided criticism. The Administration rightly rejected both of
these aspects of the document as unacceptable.
In the name of "defamation of religions," a concept being
advanced by Islamic countries to justify censorship of any
criticism of Islamic radicalism, the document also calls on states
"to develop, and where appropriate to incorporate, permissible
limitations on the exercise of the right to freedom of expression
into national legislation." In the U.S., such limitations would
violate the First Amendment. The draft also urges states to pay
reparations for "the massive human suffering caused by slavery, the
slave trade, the transatlantic slave trade, apartheid, colonialism
and genocide." This too is obviously unacceptable, as the
Administration has noted.
In short, the 2009 preparatory document is even more biased and
unworkable than the 2001 DDPA. This is no surprise: The Preparatory
Committee is chaired by the dictatorial state of Libya. Among its
vice-chairs are Cuba, Iran, Pakistan, and Russia, all of whom are
responsible for gross and repeated violations of human rights.
Final responsibility for organizing the 2009 conference rests with
the U.N.'s Human Rights Council, which includes Cuba, Pakistan,
China, Saudi Arabia, and Russia and has condemned Israel 21
separate times. As the entire structure of human rights
at the U.N. has been subverted to shield the guilty, the failure of
the 2009 process comes as no surprise.
What the United Kingdom Must Do
The European position on Durban II is clear. In February 2008,
French President Nicolas Sarkozy stated that:
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. I think my answer is
The implication of Sarkozy's statement was that the European
states would decide whether to participate by the end of 2008, when
France left the chair of the EU. But 2009 came with no European
decision. Britain too has stated that it will "play no part in an
international conference that exhibits the degree of anti-Semitism
that was disgracefully on view on the previous occasion." The
Netherlands and Denmark have made similarly unequivocal
The conditions for European withdrawal have been met. Both
Canada and the United States agree: The draft outcome document for
the 2009 conference is disgracefully anti-Semitic. It not only
repeats the excesses and abuses of 2001; it builds on and
exaggerates them. The 2009 conference is now only seven weeks away.
If they participate in Durban II, the states of Europe--and
especially Great Britain, with its proud tradition of the defense
of liberty, free speech, and tolerance--would betray their previous
pledges and avowed principles.
What is lacking in Europe is not a clear position; it is
leadership. This is the role the United Kingdom must assume. The
only honorable course open to Europe is to fulfill its promises.
The alternative of participation is unacceptable. On the grounds of
conscience, it would be wrong. For those who genuinely believe in
human freedoms, it would be a betrayal. For defenders of the
international system, it would represent a partnership with those
states that seek to subvert and twist that system into an alliance
The United Kingdom cannot be party to a conference that renders
it an accomplice of and an apologist for repressive and
anti-Semitic regimes. It must withdraw from Durban II immediately
and unconditionally and supply the leadership in action that has so
far been lacking in Europe.
Ted R. Bromund, Ph.D., is Senior Research
Fellow, and Steven Groves is Bernard and Barbara Lomas
Fellow, in the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, a division of
the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International
Studies, at The Heritage Foundation.