Revised Durban II Text Does Not Meet Conditions for U.S. Participation, Critics Say
Crucially, the revised text still begins by reaffirming the Durban Declaration and Program of Action (DDPA), the document adopted at the U.N.’s first world racism conference in Durban, South Africa in 2001.
When the State Department announced late last month that the U.S. would not attend the Durban Review Conference (“Durban II”) in Geneva, it left the door open to reverse that decision.
For the U.S. to attend, it said, the 2009 document would have to meet specific criteria, including that it must “not reaffirm in toto the flawed 2001 Durban Declaration and Program of Action,” and that “it must not single out any one country or conflict.”
A key point of contention in the DDPA is its singling out of Israel: While references to other country-specific situations were avoided, the “Palestinian people under foreign occupation” were identified as “victims of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.”
The U.S. and Israel walked out of the 2001 conference in protest. In the run up to Durban II, Canada and Israel said they would not attend, and the U.S., Italy and Australia said they too would not take part unless the wording of the text was altered significantly.
This week the European Union was edging closer to taking a similar, unified stance when on Tuesday, in the most significant development yet in the long-running saga, organizers released a considerably shorter proposed document in a bid to avert a Western boycott.
A note attached to the draft explains that some text “remains to be negotiated” while other parts, which are highlighted, had now been adopted, ahead of formal endorsement by an intergovernmental working group.
The new version, cut to 17 pages from 45, removes all direct references to Israel, the Palestinians, occupation and defamation of religions. (The Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC)-led campaign at the U.N. to outlaw what it calls religious defamation has been widely condemned as an attempt to erode free speech and shield Islam and Islamic practices – including the treatment of women and “apostates”– from legitimate criticism.)
Critics say the amended Durban II text still contains problematic elements – some evident, others couched in “coded language.”
The DDPA reaffirmation is a key problem, Anne Bayefsky, editor of the Hudson Institute’s Eye on the U.N. project, said Tuesday.
Although the amended text “jettisons much of the extra baggage” piled on by Islamic states during the preparatory process, she said, the improvements “do not meet the minimal conditions which the Obama administration delineated for U.S. participation.”
Not only does the revised draft reaffirm the DDPA, but the reaffirmation is highlighted in the text – meaning it is not still up for negotiation.
“This ‘new and improved’ document, therefore, breaches President Obama’s key conditions,” Bayefsky said. It both reaffirms the DDPA and, by doing so, breaches the further criterion, that no country or conflict be singled out.
“It is time to end the equivocation and get out.”
Hillel Neuer, executive director of the Geneva-based body, UN Watch, agreed that the conditions for American participation in the conference had not been met.
“The new text breaches red lines by reaffirming the pernicious 2001 text – which singled out Israel as a racist state,” he said by phone from Geneva late Tuesday.
This clearly contravened the U.S. conditions.
Fixing gaps in international conventions
On the issue of religious defamation, although the specific terminology had been excised, “coded language and veiled references” still lent support to the OIC’s campaign, Neuer said. These include a reference to “negative stereotyping of religions.”
The draft also praises progress made by a U.N. body, set up as a result of the Durban process, known as the “ad hoc committee on the elaboration of complementary international standards.” The committee’s function is to update existing international human rights conventions, filling in “gaps” and ensuring that the conventions cover “all forms of contemporary racism, including incitement to racial and religious hatred.”
Remedying these gaps, said Neuer, “in U.N.-speak means a call for legislating a new international crime for ‘defamation of religion.’”
Religion also makes appearances elsewhere in the text. One article says states resolve “to fully and effectively enact and implement the prohibition of advocacy of … religious hatred … through all necessary legislative, policy and judicial measures.”
Neuer pointed out that the revised text refers to the “transatlantic” slave trade, while there is no mention of the Arab trade in African slaves. This, he said, reflected an “anti-Western agenda.”
In another article, Western counter-terror activities are targeted. States are called on “to ensure that any measures taken in the fight against terrorism are implemented in full respect of all human rights, in particular the principle of non-discrimination.”
The Netherlands, meanwhile, has drafted for consideration an alternative text for Durban II. Just two pages in length, the Dutch proposal significantly does not refer back to the DDPA.
It also includes a reference to discrimination based on sexual orientation, one of the Dutch conditions for participation in the conference.
And, taking aim at the OIC’s religious defamation drive, the Dutch document declares that “freedom of expression is a cornerstone of our fight against racism.”