Ken Connor

Since racial hatred has animated some of the worst atrocities in history, one would think that an opportunity for nations to come together and seek solutions to racial tensions would be welcomed.

Think again.

The upcoming United Nations Durban Review Conference in Durban, South Africa—billed as an international effort to achieve racial reconciliation—is likely to make a mockery of any bona fide attempt to overcome racial discrimination.

The Conference, scheduled for 2009, will review the international progress made in response to the "Durban Declaration and Programme of Action" released by the first Durban conference in 2001. This earlier conference was initially billed as an attempt to bring together representatives from fifty-three nations in order to proclaim the equality of all men and to condemn racial hatred and discrimination around the world. Rather than producing a clear statement against racism, however, the conference crumbled under the weight of the racist impulses of the countries involved.

Among those countries attending the 2001 conference were China, Columbia, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, and Syria. Two of these countries (Syria and Cuba) are on the U.S. State Department's top ten list of worst human rights violators, and China was only just dropped from the list in 2008. It became clear early on that the first Durban conference would not achieve any great leap forward in racial equality. The United States and Israel quickly saw that they were going to be the scapegoats of the conference, as delegates from the Middle East sought to condemn Zionism and the Western slave trade as the prime examples of racism in human history. Not surprisingly, the United States and Israel withdrew their delegations a few days into the conference.

Then Secretary of State Colin Powell explained the withdrawal of the U.S. delegation: "I know that you do not combat racism by conferences that produce declarations containing hateful language, some of which is a throwback to the days of 'Zionism equals racism'; or supports the idea that we have made too much of the Holocaust; or suggests that apartheid exists in Israel; or that singles out only one country in the world, Israel, for censure and abuse." The lofty goals of the conference were quickly reduced to unilateral finger-pointing and name calling.


Ken Connor

Ken Connor is Chairman of the Center for a Just Society in Washington, DC.