Democracies Urged to Vote Against U.N. Plan to Hold Racism Event in NYC

By Patrick Goodenough | December 17, 2010 | 6:31 AM EST

Israel and Italy were among 10 Western countries boycotting the Durban II racism conference in Geneva. (AP Photo)

( – The United Nations General Assembly will vote Monday on whether to hold a controversial anti-racism event in New York next September, when America will mark the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks.

The conference planned for September 21 is intended to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the U.N. racism conference held in Durban, South Africa. That event was mired by controversy over attempts to label Israel an “apartheid” state, prompting the U.S. and Israel to withdraw their delegations in protest.

Given its strong support in an earlier committee vote, where it passed 121-19 with 35 abstentions, the measure is bound to pass on Monday. But those opposed are urging democracies to send a strong message by making the “no” vote as big as possible.

Targeted in particular are the European states that chose to abstain in the committee vote on November 23 rather than join the 19 countries – the U.S., Canada, Israel, Australia, the Marshall Islands and 14 European nations – in voting against the resolution.

Most of the 35 abstainers were Europe countries, along with Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Samoa.

Last year, the U.N.’s Human Rights Council (HRC) held a conference in Geneva to review progress made since Durban. That meeting, too, became politically-charged, as Islamic states and their allies used the preparatory process to focus once again on Israel and to promote their campaign against “defamation of religion.”

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called Israel the “most cruel and racist regime” on the opening day of the Durban II conference in Geneva April 20, 2009. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon looks on. (AP Photo)

The 2009 event, dubbed “Durban II,” was boycotted by the U.S. and nine other Western countries. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was a keynote speaker in Geneva and used the platform to charge that the Holocaust was a “pretext” for the establishment of Israel, sparking a walkout by European delegates but applause from others.

Next September’s conference – inevitably being called “Durban III” – will comprise a high-level plenary in the General Assembly chamber under the theme “Victims of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance: recognition, justice and development,” as well as thematic panel discussions.

It aims to adopt “a short and concise political declaration aimed at mobilizing political will at the national, regional and international levels for the full and effective implementation of the Durban Declaration and Program of Action [DDPA],” according to the resolution language.

The DDPA is the outcome document of the original Durban event. It provocatively identified “Palestinian people under foreign occupation” as victims of racism, and the U.S. based its decision to stay away from Durban II on the fact that it embraced the “flawed” DDPA.

In explaining his decision to vote “no” in the Nov. 23 committee vote, U.S. envoy John Sammis questioned the timing and the choice of venue for the conference – in New York City, just days after the U.S. would mark the 10th anniversary of al-Qaeda’s terrorist attack.

“It will be an especially sensitive time for the people of New York, and a repeat of the vitriol sadly experienced at past Durban-related events risks undermining the relationship we have worked hard to strengthen over the past few years between the United States and the U.N.,” he told the committee.

Beyond the venue and date issue, Sammis said that while the U.S. was “deeply concerned about speech that advocates national, racial, or religious hatred,” it also remained “convinced that the best antidote to offensive speech is not bans and punishments but a combination of three key elements: robust legal protections against discrimination and hate crimes, proactive government outreach to racial and religious groups, and the vigorous defense of freedom of expression.”

Ahead of Monday’s General Assembly vote, U.N. Watch, a Geneva-based organization that monitors the HRC and was a leading critic of Durban II, urged European Union states to vote no, saying that every vote against the resolution would help to “strip away the mask of moral authority” from Durban III.

“The truth is that the 2001 Durban conference is the last thing anyone should be celebrating,” U.N. Watch said in a statement.

“Tyrants and supporters of terrorism like Fidel Castro and PLO leader Yasser Arafat used the event to fan the flames of hatred against America, the West, and Israel, who were all scapegoated as racist,” it said. “Thousands of demonstrators chanted anti-Semitic slogans. The NGO Forum [an associated event held alongside the conference] formally declared Israel a ‘racist apartheid state’ guilty of ‘genocide.’”

‘Announce boycott now’

Canada was the first country to state publicly that it would not attend Durban II in Geneva, making the announcement back in January 2008.

The Obama administration, which made engagement with the U.N. a foreign policy priority, held off on its decision to stay away until just weeks before the April 2009 event (although it did refuse to fund the preparatory process or participate in most of the planning meetings.)

This time, Canada has again been first to announce it would boycott Durban III.

Two days after the Nov. 23 U.N. committee vote, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said that Canada had “lost faith” in the Durban process: “Canada is clearly committed to the fight against racism, but the Durban process commemorates an agenda that actually promotes racism rather than combats it.”

Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, incoming chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is among those urging the administration to make its position clear now.

“The U.S. was right to walk out of Durban I and to not participate in Durban II, precisely because we sought to avoid legitimizing such intolerance,” she said in a Nov. 23 statement.

“We should announce publicly, right now, that we will stay away from Durban III, deny it U.S. taxpayer dollars, and oppose all measures that seek to facilitate it,” she said. “And we should encourage other responsible nations to do the same.”

Also critical of the Durban III plans is Joseph A. Klein, author of books including Lethal Engagement: Barack Hussein Obama, the United Nations and Radical Islam and Global Deception: The U.N.’s Stealth Assault on America’s Freedom.

“The United States and other democracies should follow Canada’s example and announce immediately that we will boycott the conference next September,” he told CNSNews Thursday.

“Given the disgraceful record of the first two Durban conferences, Ambassador Susan Rice should state unequivocally that the United States will not take part in yet another hatefest, particularly one to be held in New York during the same month as the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks,” he added.

Klein said the U.S. should also subtract from its funding towards the U.N. budget for next year an amount “in proportion to what would be our share of the U.N.’s expenditures on the planning and running of Durban III.”

According to U.N. documents next September’s events will require an estimated $231,800 for costs including six-language interpretation services, documentation, conference support, travel costs for participating experts, media coverage, outreach, exhibits and promotional activities.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow