What is Durban IV, and why should countries refuse to attend?

Durban IV: September 2021 UN High-Level Meeting

In September 2021, pursuant to a UN General Assembly resolution adopted on December 31, 2020, the United Nations will convene a one-day high-level meeting — at the level of heads of state and government — to mark the 20th anniversary of the Durban Declaration, which was adopted at the UN’s notorious 20o1 World Conference Against Racism, held in Durban, South Africa.

Contrary to its stated purpose. the 2001 Durban Conference was marked by ugly displays of intolerance, antisemitism, and baseless claims against the Jewish state. Israel was singled out in the conference’s concluding declaration, and at the NGO Forum held in parallel. In 2001 and thereafter, the Durban process has been used to promote racism, intolerance, antisemitism and Holocaust denial, and to erode freedom of speech and Israel’s right to exist.

Durban IV will endorse this perversion of the principles of anti-racism. As world leaders gather for the General Assembly’s annual opening, this one-day event plans to adopt a “political declaration” calling for the “full and effective implementation” of the Durban Declaration.

Durban IV will take place on the second day of the UNGA’s 76th session general debate, the dates of which have not yet been announced. According to the resolution, the meeting’s official theme will be “Reparations, racial justice and equality for people of African descent”, which is an important topic, but regrettably the process has been tainted with antisemitism at the 2001 event and its progeny.  According to the resolution, the event will consist of an opening plenary meeting, consecutive round tables and/or thematic panels, and a closing plenary meeting.

Durban I: The 2001 “World  Conference Against Racism”

In 2001, one week before the September 11 terrorist attacks, the UN hosted the “World Conference on Racism, Discrimination, Xenophobia and Intolerance,” in Durban, South Africa. 

Instead of combating racism, however, the conference actually incited it. Durban became the worst international manifestation of antisemitism in the post-war period.

In preparation of the Durban Declaration, Asian nations met in Tehran in February 2001. Their outcome text demonized Israel, accusing it of committing “a new kind of apartheid,” “a crime against humanity” and “a form of genocide.” 

• This proposed language was at the last minute excised from the Durban Declaration under pressure from members of the European Union, who threatened to follow the US and Israel and pull out of the conference. Nevertheless, the final text targeted Israel as an alleged perpetrator of racism by singling out “the plight of Palestinians under foreign occupation.” 

Inflammatory speeches against Israel were ubiquitous. PLO chairman Yasser Arafat told conference delegates of the “ugliness” of “Israeli racist policies and practices against the Palestinian people.” Cuban dictator Fidel Castro spoke of “the dreadful genocide perpetrated, at this very moment, against our Palestinian brothers.”

The UN sponsored a parallel “NGO Forum” where non-governmental organizations formally declared Israel a “racist apartheid state” guilty of “genocide.” 

In a Palestinian-led march with thousands of participants, one placard read “Hitler Should Have Finished the Job.” Nearby, some were selling the most notorious of anti-Jewish tracts, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” 

At the NGO Forum, the Arab Lawyers Union distributed caricatures of Jews with hooked noses, fangs dripping with blood, and clutching money. Jewish human rights activists at Durban were physically intimidated and threatened, with mobs screaming at them: “You don’t belong to the human race!” 

• Jewish students who came to the conference to promote human rights and equality left Durban traumatized.

Durban II & Durban III

In April 2009, the UN held a follow-up entitled the Durban Review Conference, which became known as Durban II. Before it began, however, 10 countries pulled out: Canada, Israel, Italy, the United States, Germany, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Poland, Australia and New Zealand. 

The representative of Col. Qaddafi’s Libya regime was made chair of the 2007-2009 planning committee. At the conference, on Monday, April 20, 2009, Iranian President Ahmadinejad, the world’s most famous Holocaust denier at the time, was the opening speaker.  “World Zionism personifies racism,” he said. It “falsely resorts to religion and abuses religious sentiments to hide its hatred and ugly face.” After World War II, said Ahmadinejad, “a totally racist government in occupied Palestine” was established, “under the pretext of Jewish suffering.” Diplomats from the remaining EU countries in the conference stood up and walked out in a powerful protest. 

In September 2o11, heads of state gathered at the UN General Assembly to mark the 10th anniversary of the Durban Declaration, which became known as Durban III. Fifteen countries refused to attend: Australia, Austria, Bulgaria, Canada, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Latvia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Countries Rejecting Durban IV

UN Watch commends the  countries below for refusing to participate in any Durban IV events, and calls on other countries to follow. Because UN Watch is fully committed to combating discrimination, intolerance, and bigotry, and to promoting human rights for all, we urge all nations that support human rights to oppose the attempts by dictators and bigots to use the Durban process to hijack this noble cause.

• United States —  “The United States will not attend or participate in any events commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Durban Declaration and Program of Action or the World Conference on Racism, which preceded it,” the State Department spokesperson stated on Monday. “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.” (Jerusalem Post, May 3, 2021)

• Australia —  “We will not associate Australia with one-sided and contentious language that singles out Israel or an event that champions such language,” Morrison said at an event of the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce in Melbourne. “This is entirely consistent with my government’s very strong voting position on UN General Assembly resolutions, in the Human Rights Council and elsewhere. We will continue that same approach to Durban IV later this year.” (Jerusalem Post, May 6, 2021)

• Canada —  “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.” (CBC, May 6, 2021)

• Israel — “I hope others soon realize that an anti-racism conference commemorating an antisemitic, anti-Israel hatefest is not how to fight racism.” (Ambassador Gilad Erdan, May 6, 2021).  “Another country has joined us! Thank you Canada for deciding to boycott the UN event marking 20 years since the despicable antisemitic Durban conference. The U.S. and Australia will also boycott this so-called anti-racism event and I call on others to follow!” (Ambassador Gilad Erdan, May 6, 2021)

We note that several major democracies voted against the December 2020 resolution that called for Durban IV, including not only Canada, Australia, United States and Israel, but also the UK, France, Germany, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic and Slovenia. At a minimum, these countries should announce that they will not attend the event that they rightly opposed.

Country Statements on UN Durban Conferences

United States

Letter from Senator Kirsten Gillibrand to UN Ambassador Susan Rise (June 1, 2011)
“Unfortunately last year the 2009 U.N. Durban Review Conference Against Racism (Durban II) proved to be a repeat of the 2001 controversial summit as extreme anti-Semitic voices took over Durban II, and the United States and our allies were forced to pull out. The United States had likewise withdrawn from participating in Durban I primarily because the conference was viewed as disproportionately focused on Israel and the United States. It is important that the United States send a strong signal that another anti-Semitic and anti-American Durban Conference particularly held so close to the tenth anniversary and location of the worst terrorist attack in American history is unacceptable.”

Statement by the Obama Press Secretary on the 10th Anniversary of the Durban Conference (September 22, 2011)
“Since its inception at the 2001 World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, the Durban process has included ugly displays of intolerance and anti-Semitism. In 2009, after working to try to achieve a positive, constructive outcome in the Durban Review Conference that would get past the deep flaws of the Durban process to date to focus on the critical issues of racism, the United States withdrew from participating because the review conference’s outcome document reaffirmed, in its entirety, the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (DDPA) from 2001, which unfairly and unacceptably singled out Israel.”

U.S. Statement on the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (September 27, 2011)
“Our concerns about the 2001 Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (DDPA) are well-known, including its unfair and unacceptable singling out of Israel and its endorsement of overbroad restrictions on freedom of expression that run counter to the U.S. commitment to robust free speech.  But we will always stand ready to work with others in the effort to combat racism, bigotry, and racial discrimination.”

US Statement at the Working Group on the Durban Declaration and Program of Action (April 7, 2014)
“As you know, the United States normally does not participate in this working group because of our significant and well-known concerns about the Durban Declaration and Program of Action.”

US EOV on the Mandate of the Intergovernmental Working Group on the Effective Implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (March 24, 2017
“We regret that we cannot support this resolution on such an important topic due to our concerns about the Durban Declaration and Program of Action (DDPA) and the outcome of the Durban review conference, which are well-known. We believe this resolution serves as a vehicle to prolong the divisions caused by the Durban conference and its follow-up rather than providing a comprehensive and inclusive way forward for the international community to combat the scourge of racism and racial discrimination.”

United Kingdom

Prime Minister David Cameron on Durban III, via BBC (September 15, 2011)
“Ten years ago, the World Conference on Racism saw open displays of unpleasant and deplorable anti-Semitism. It would be wrong to commemorate those displays. Indeed, they should be condemned. And that’s why the UK will play no part in this conference.”

Canada

Minister Jason Kenny on Durban III, via AP (November 25, 2010)
“Canada is clearly committed to the fight against racism, but the Durban process commemorates an agenda that actually promotes racism rather than combats it.”

Statement by Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff on Durban III (November 25, 2010)
“The first Durban conference, which the proposed Durban III conference seeks to commemorate, turned into a festival of racism against Israel and the Jewish people that Canada was right to condemn. Sadly, while a decade has passed, the Durban conferences remain a staging ground for anti-Semitic and anti-Israel statements. Canada should absolutely not participate in the Durban III conference or countenance in any way these hateful views.”

France

President Nicolas Sarkozy on Durban II, via JTA (February 14, 2008)
“The Durban conference in 2001 led to intolerable excesses from certain states and numerous NGOs that turned the conference into a forum against Israel, and no one has forgotten. France will not allow a repetition of the excesses and abuses of 2001. Our European partners share France’s concerns. France will chair the EU in the final months preceding the review conference. I say to you: if ever our legitimate demands are not taken into account, we will disengage from the process.”

Germany

Federal Government will not participate in Anti-Racism Conference in Geneva (April 19, 2009)
I have decided today that Germany will not participate in the Durban Review Conference due to begin tomorrow. This is not a decision we have taken lightly. But despite intensive efforts notably by the EU in the run-up to the conference, the Federal Government believes there is still a risk the conference will be used as a platform for the pursuit of other interests, just as its predecessor in 2001 was. That is something we cannot accept.”

Australia

Declaration by Foreign Minister Stephen Smith (April 19, 2009)
“Australia has decided not to participate in the Durban Review Conference. The 2001 Declaration singled out Israel and the Middle East. Australia expressed strong concerns about this at the time. Regrettably, we cannot be confident that the Review Conference will not again be used as a platform to air offensive views, including anti-Semitic views.”

Italy

Declaration by Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini (July 22, 2011)
“For some time now we have had some reservations over the exercise known in the UN sphere as the “Durban Process”, because over the years it has been instrumentalized in political terms. The Process has been transformed from a forum for debate on and coordination of international action against racism, discrimination and xenophobia, into a tribunal for accusations against Israel.”

The Netherlands

The Netherlands, Italy and the Czech Republic: no confidence in UN anti-racism meeting (July 22, 2011)
“In the intervening years, a number of countries have repeatedly used discussions on combating racism, xenophobia and discrimination to draw attention to the peace process in the Middle East and denounce Israel’s right to exist…the three countries now feel they have no option but to pull out of preparations for the celebrations and to stay at home in September.”

New Zealand

Foreign Minister Murray McCully on Durban III, via Jerusalem Post (September 17, 2011)
“We remain concerned that the commemoration of the 2001 Durban Declaration could reopen the offensive and anti-Semitic debates which undermined the original World Conference. For these reasons, we have decided not to participate. New Zealand is fully committed to combating racism and we agree the UN should lead discussions on the elimination of racism. That is why we engaged constructively in the preparatory discussions in New York. However, in the end, the text is not one that we could support.”

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