The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release
Contact: Brenda Bowser Soder,,O -202/370-3323, C - 301/906-4460

Rights Groups Welcome US Engagement in Durban Review Process


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:

  1. Specific references to limit freedom of expression;
  1. Consideration of provisions on "defamation of religions", which threaten freedom of speech and freedom of religion or belief.
  1. 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
  1. 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.

Human Rights First is a non-profit, nonpartisan international human rights organization based in New York and Washington D.C. Human Rights First believes that building respect for human rights and the rule of law will help ensure the dignity to which every individual is entitled and will stem tyranny, extremism, intolerance, and violence.