High-level UNGA event commemorating the 10th anniversary was boycotted by over a dozen nations in 2011 - World Jewish Congress

Countering anti-Israel bias at the Durban Conference  

In 1997, the United Nations General Assembly initiated the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, which met in Durban, South Africa from August 31 to September 8, 2001. While the conference - also known as the Durban conference or Durban I - aimed to become “a landmark in the struggle to eradicate all forms of racism,” it degenerated into a hallmark of antisemitism and anti-Zionism. Despite its troubled past, the Durban process is still alive at the UN today, consisting of its main anti-racism strategy, with follow-up high-level sessions, yearly committee meetings and regular discussions as part of a permanent agenda Item at the UN Human Rights Council.  The Durban process has become very politicized and does not deal with all forms of racism as it should. The bias against Israel and the antisemitic declarations marked a lost opportunity to create a strong international mechanism against racism.

Testimonies

"Durban will go down in history as a missed opportunity to advance a noble agenda and as a serious breakdown in United Nations diplomacy...The official NGO Forum at the UN World Conference on Racism was stacked with anti-American, antisemitic and anti-Israeli activists."

Person

Tom Lantos

Former United States Representative

"The United States stands with Israel and has always shared its concerns over the Durban process’s anti-Israel sentiment, use as a forum for antisemitism and freedom of expression issues.”

Person

Spokesman

State Department

"Instead of achieving a consensus document that could be embraced by all states — the kind of consensus document befitting such an important cause as fighting racism — the World Conference Against Racism, and the subsequent Durban Review Conference, were misused by a handful of states to serve an anti-Israel agenda. The Durban Declaration is tainted by this unconscionable bias."

Person

Sally Mansfield

Permanent Representative of Australia to the United Nations in Geneva

“Canada is concerned that the Durban Process has and continues to be used to push for anti-Israel sentiment and as a forum for antisemitism. That is why we do not plan to attend or participate in events surrounding the 20th anniversary of the Durban Declaration and Program of Action.”

Person

Grantly Franklin

Global Affairs Canada

"This decision was taken due to the history of the Durban-process, the risk that this platform will once again be misused for antisemitic expressions and because of the conference’ disproportionate, one-sided focus on Israel, as exemplified in the original Durban declaration."

Person

Steph Blok

Dutch Foreign Minister

“The Hungarian government declared a zero-tolerance policy against antisemitism and is fully committed to guarantee the safety of the Jewish people that we also consistently represent in the international fora. In this spirit, Hungary does not support the Durban process and voted against the resolution adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 31 December 2020 deciding on the convening of a high-level meeting on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of the adoption of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action."

Person

Peter Szijjártó

Hungarian Foreign Minister

‘If 9/11 was the Kristallnacht of terror then Durban was the Mein Kampf.”

Person

Prof. Irwin Cotler

Canadaian Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism News

“[We] will not associate Australia with one-sided and contentious language that singles out Israel or an event that champions such language.”

Person

Scott Morrison

Australian Prime Minister

1. Main backers of the conference included some of the world’s worst human right abusers

Most UN members were involved in the preparation of the Durban conference. However, many countries, with dubious human rights records had an important role, for example, the drafting committee was chaired by Iran.

2. The conference attempted to declare Zionism a form of racism

In the preparatory meetings prior to Durban that took place in the five regions, some countries tried to add in the concluding texts references that Zionism equaled racism and thus mark Israel as a racist State. This language was finally removed after the US threatened to withdraw from the conference (which they ended up doing). This showed that one of the main goals of the conference was to single out Israel.  It has become the symbol of the campaign to delegitimize Israel, which continue to this day.

3. The proceeding NGO forum was marred with antisemitism and anti-Israel bigotry

The NGO forum that was held before the Durban conference issued a declaration as well. It included language equating Zionism with racism, and accusations of racial discrimination based on ethnic origin by Israel as the occupying power. The NGO forum was also marred with visible manifestations of anti-Israel and antisemitic bigotry, including the distribution of a pro-Hitler, antisemitic flyer “What if [Hitler] had won?”

4. The biased declaration declared the Palestinians as victims of racism

In the conference’s final declaration, the Durban Declaration and Program of Action (DDPA), the “Palestinian people under foreign occupation” are listed as victims of racism. The US and Israel left the conference and have since boycotted any follow-up mechanisms.

5. The 2009 review conference was led by human right abuser Mu'ammar Al-Qadhdhāfī’s of Libya

In April 2009, the Durban Review Conference (DRC) was held at the UN in Geneva to review the implementation of the DDPA. Gaddafi’s Libya, a persistent human rights violator, was chairing the preparatory committee, which also created controversy.

6. Nearly a dozen countries boycotted the conference in 2009

Ten countries boycotted the DRC as they felt it would be used to promote antisemitism, stand against forms of free speech and would not deal with discrimination of the LGBT community: Australia, Canada, the Czech Republic, Germany, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland and the United States.

7. The platform was used by Iranian Leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to deny the Holocaust

The only head of state who participated at the DRC was Iranian Leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. During his speech, he called Israel a racist state and denied the Holocaust, and several delegations walked out publicly during his speech.

8. Islamic Group’s “defamation of religions” campaign

Durban follow-up mechanisms were utilized to promote the Islamic Group’s “defamation of religions” campaign, which argued that religions, in particular Islam, should be protected from criticism under human rights law, as well as to consider blasphemy a human rights issue. This would, however, mean the elimination of the possibility of criticism of religion at all and thus is very problematic. Their goal was to draft an additional protocol to the Convention for the Elimination on Racial Discrimination on this topic.

9. High-level UNGA event commemorating the 10th anniversary was boycotted by over a dozen nations in 2011

A UN General Assembly high-level event in September 2011 to commemorate the ten years of Durban was boycotted by 14 governments, under fears that it promoted, rather than combatted, racism: Australia, Austria, Bulgaria, Canada, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, the United Kingdom and the United States of America. 

10. High-level UNGA event commemorating the 20th anniversary

The high-level conference, in the framework of the September 2021 General Assembly session was boycotted by Albania, Australia, Austria, Bulgaria, Canada, Colombia, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Estonia, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Honduras, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Montenegro, Moldova, Netherlands, New Zealand, North Macedonia, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Ukraine, UK, US and Uruguay. The European Union also did not participate or speak at the commemoration.