Thursday, 19 March 2009

Defamation of religion dropped from Durban II draft declaration

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The working group preparing for Durban II, the UN's anti-racism conference set to take place in Geneva next month, have removed references to both defamation of religion and the Middle East from the draft declaration, a move which may encourage the United States and EU member states, who had threatened to boycott the conference, to resume their involvement.

Israel and Canada have already pulled out, believing Arab states would use the conference to attack Israel (the US and Israel walked out of the first attempt, actually in Durban in 2001, for similar reasons), and the US and EU had threatened to join them unless the declaration was amended. Politicians from the EU, including French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, have welcomed the changes, with Kouchner telling the French parliament "it would seem that precise improvements have been made." However, as this report shows, it is as yet unclear how the US will respond to the amendments.

Veteran UN-watcher Ian Williams writes about Durban II in our current issue (it was written before the US threatened to pull out earlier this month, so events have moved on slightly), and he argues that boycotts are not the way forward. The attempts to prevent defamation of religion are indeed worrying, he says, but it is essential that the UN remains the forum for debate on such issues – "it is as wrong to debar discussion of the proposals as it would be to accept them". Have a read and see if you agree with him.