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Participate or Not, Obama Must Administration Must Meet Its Obligations Under International Law to Eliminate Racism
Press Statement on U.S. and Durban Review Conference
WASHINGTON - April 17 - The US Human Rights Network (USHRN) represents over 300 non-governmental organizations that are calling on the Obama administration to participate in The Durban Review Conference (DRC). The summit will be held in Geneva, Switzerland, April 20-24, 2009, as a follow-up to the 2001 UN World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance
The USHRN Executive Director, Ajamu Baraka, issued the following statement:
“We are concerned and saddened that the Obama Administration appears to be taking plays directly from the Bush Administration’s playbook by employing hard-line tactics to coerce concessions from the international community before it would even consider attending the Durban Review Conference (DRC). There is no doubt that the DRC process presents difficult policy issues. Yet, instead of honoring its policy of engagement, the Obama Administration issued numerous conditions for its participation, and additional demands once those were met, setting an uncooperative tone for the talks.
The DRC is part of a bigger picture; it’s a means to evaluate the progress of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD). This international treaty, to which the U.S. is a signatory, holds the U.S. to a much higher standard than the domestic laws against racial discrimination, which have proven to be inadequate. Domestic laws have failed to protect Arab and Muslim men who have been rendered to countries to be tortured as terrorist suspects. They have not brought restitution for communities of color who must live in the shadow of industrial facilities that pollute their air and water. They have done little for Katrina victims who continue to suffer from the consequences of a government that did not meet its obligations to protect its citizens.
While we cannot deny the historic implications of the election of an African-American President, that fact in and of itself does not close the chapter on racism in the U.S. Moreover, it doesn't end the U.S. obligation to challenge racism globally. On the contrary, the world is looking to the Obama Administration to take a leading role in this struggle for racial justice and human rights. The DRC presents a unique opportunity for the Obama administration not only to prove its commitment to ending discrimination but also a true departure from the arrogant unilateralism of its predecessor.
We call on the Obama Administration to re-engage with the international community by reintroducing language to the final DRC outcomes document, which acknowledges the crimes against humanity that the transatlantic slave trade represented, and calls for reparations for European colonialism. This administration must push for resolutions that protect the rights of indigenous people and the restoration of sovereignty. Most importantly, it needs to demonstrate a commitment to a program of action, which ensures that all federal agencies, departments and States move to bring their laws and practices in line with U.S. obligations under ICERD and all other human rights treaties. In this way, the Durban Review Conference can be a turning point in the ongoing struggle to eliminate racism from our shores.”
The Durban Review Conference seeks to promote the implementation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD). The ICERD is an international treaty ratified by the U.S. in 1994, which carries the force of law in the United States. The USHRN has led the movement advocating for U.S. compliance with the ICERD, as a vehicle for battling racism domestically. Last year, the USHRN produced a 700-page Shadow Report on racial discrimination in response to the U.S. non-compliance with ICERD. They coordinated a delegation of over 100 U.S.-based human rights advocates to attend the February 2008 ICERD hearing in Geneva, where they critiqued Bush Administration officials for violating the terms of the treaty.