Why the US will boycott global racism conference
A meeting to judge progress on racism is likely to be captive to Israeli-Palestinian and Islamic defamation issues.
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The second global meeting against racism, discrimination, and xenophobia, which starts Monday, is on shaky ground over the same question. Over the weekend, the United States and the Netherlands pulled their delegations. Australia, Israel, Canada, Sweden and Italy have said they also may boycott the UN forum in Geneva.
The week-long event is also in trouble over the issue of religious defamation, specifically the portrayal of Islam in Western nations.
The 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) is expected to accuse the West of Islamophobia and press to restrict criticism of Islam. If this happens, it may upstage discussion of all other topics.
At the 2001 conference, the fight over whether the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was racist often drowned out grievances from minorities such as the Roma of Europe, the "untouchables" of India, and the indigenous tribes of South America.
Ayca Ariyoruk, a senior associate at the United Nations Association, a pro-UN think tank, says it will be up to the OIC to "resist the temptation to bring up issues that have proven to be very divisive." A citizen of Turkey, as is the OIC secretary-general, she adds, "This conference needs to focus on what can unite countries, not divide them."
Dutch try to save the meeting
In March, with some European nations mulling over a boycott, the Dutch put forward a draft of the conference declaration that removed direct references to Israel. It also removed language condemning religious defamation, language that some saw as an imposition on free speech.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay welcomed the revisions, noting that despite "sustained and sometimes distorted criticisms" of the Durban process, states should "refrain from taking narrow politicized or polemical stances."
The OIC, for its part, has stated that the five-day Durban review conference "should not be a politically motivated process or an anti-Semitic exercise" but "an inclusive process, where all stakeholders should be free to address the real and serious challenges of racism, racial discrimination, and xenophobia."
Nevertheless, some observers expect the OIC to advance its own agenda.
"I don't think they'll be able to resist grandstanding in that type of spotlight, but whether they're successful in amending the final document is another story," says Brett Schaefer, an analyst with The Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington think tank.
The original conference in Durban is mostly remembered for the impassioned nongovernmental organization forum that preceded the diplomatic gathering. Some pro-Palestinian supporters passed out fliers containing a photograph of Hitler captioned, "What if I had won? There would be no Israel and no Palestinian bloodshed." Thousands of NGO delegates approved a document that branded Israel guilty of genocide, apartheid, and other war crimes.