US to stay out of 'ugly, intolerant' Durban follow-up

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand

The Obama administration has given official confirmation that it will not take part in the follow-up to the controversial Durban conference, set to take place at the United Nations headquarters in September.

In a letter to New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, the acting US Assistant Secretary of State for legislative affairs, Joseph Macmanus, said the US did not want to take part in an event which commemorated "ugly displays of intolerance and antisemitism".

The UN World Conference Against Racism took place in Durban, South Africa, in 2001.

The event was criticised for descending into a forum to attack Israel, with Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat denouncing Israel in a speech and an attempt to reintroduce the "Zionism equals racism" UN resolution of 1975.

A review conference in Geneva in 2009 caused a similar outcry after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was invited to make the opening-day address. In his speech he accused Israel of being racist.

The United States, Israel and several other nations chose not to attend the event. The UK delegation walked out of Ahmadinejad's speech, but senior UN figures, including the UN Human Rights Commissioner, remained there.

Mr Macmanus pointed out that in December, the US voted against the resolution establishing the follow-up event because the original had "unfairly singled out Israel and included language inconsistent with US traditions of robust free speech."

He said: "We share your concern about the Durban commemoration's timing and venue as just days earlier, we will have held solemn ten-year memorials for those murdered in the September 11 terrorist attacks."

"The United States is fully committed to upholding the human rights of all people and to combating racial discrimination, xenophobia, intolerance, and bigotry."

Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, praised the US's "determination to not participate in nor lend legitimacy to another international event that politicises and undermines the battle against racism and discrimination by promoting anti-Israel canards".

He added: "We call upon the other member states of the UN to join the US and Canada in not attending."

Abraham Foxman, National Director of the Ant-Defamation League, said the decision was "appropriate".

"It is appropriate and important for the United Nations to examine racism and intolerance," he said. "However, doing so through the tainted Durban process only serves to perpetuate the very bias it purports to work against.

"We would welcome the opportunity to work with the U.S. and other governments to advance the fight against racism through other constructive forums."

Last updated: 9:23am, June 3 2011