For Immediate Release: February 16, 2009
New York, NY – Human Rights First and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, leading U.S. rights organizations, welcome the Obama administration’s decision to engage in the Durban Review Conference in order to try to change the direction in which the conference is heading. We urge the administration to work to ensure that the conference advances rather than undermines the protection of fundamental rights, and to engage with others to press for that outcome.
Governments are gathering February 16-19 in Geneva to continue negotiations on the wording of the “outcome document” that will be issued at the end of the conference. This session provides an opportunity for the United States to lead efforts to address problems with language proposed for the current draft of the outcome document.
These problems include:
- Specific references to limit freedom of expression;
- Consideration of provisions on “defamation of religions”, which threaten freedom of speech and freedom of religion or belief.
- Singling out Israel as the only country-specific situation mentioned with the apparent intent to make political action regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict the overwhelming focus of some states’ participation in the conference, to the detriment of its overall agenda.
- Attempts to expand existing international norms on incitement to racial and religious hatred, an overbroad formulation which also raises concerns about the protection of freedom of expression.
The United States should also encourage states to review the implementation of their international commitments to combat racism. Although this is the stated purpose of the conference, states have put in very little effort so far to engage in any meaningful review.
The UN Durban Review Conference, scheduled to be held this April in Geneva, is intended to review the steps that have been taken to combat racism and discrimination since the controversial 2001 World Conference Against Racism (WCAR) held in Durban, South Africa. Human Rights First and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights participated in the WCAR and were deeply disturbed by the hateful, anti-Semitic atmosphere that plagued the conference and especially the NGO forum that preceded it. Nevertheless, governments were able to produce a Program of Action there that included important and timely recommendations for states to combat racism and discrimination.