Thu 19 Feb, 2009
Tags: Barack Obama, Durban, Islam, Israel, Racism, Reparations, United Nations
President Barack Obama has taken a key step to reverse the Bush administration’s long-standing boycott of the United Nations Conference Against Racism.
This move is an early result of the Obama administration’s determination to engage more fully with the U.N. and other multilateral organizations. It is also a sign that the new U.S. administration has changed, but not entirely different, attitudes on such issues as human rights, Israel, and the Muslim world.
The Obama administration sent a high-level delegation to informal talks in Geneva this week, but its delegation stated at the preparatory meeting that the U.S. would have to see a “change in direction” before it would agree to fully participate in the April 20-24 review conference.
The Bush administration walked out of the original World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in Durban, South Africa in 2001. U.S. diplomats cited the tone of a draft text which would have criticized Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, and the U.S. had declined to participate in preparatory meetings last year.
The U.S. delegation announced in Geneva that it has “strong reservations” about the draft text under consideration, singling out several objectionable provisions in the document, including: its criticism of discriminatory Israeli policies towards Palestinians; an Islamic proposal against the “defamation of religion” which Western nations argue would curb freedom of speech; and calls for the payment of reparations for slavery. All of these provisions, in the U.S. view, interfere with the conference’s main mission of opposing racism and discrimination.
Other related, early moves by the Obama administration include lifting a ban on U.S. aid for a U.N. agency which offers advice on family planning; weighing membership in the U.N. Human Rights Council; and indicating support for the International Criminal Court.