News: The UN’s “Working Group on the Effective Implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action” released a draft report on February 6. This Working Group, open to all states but boycotted by the US, Canada, Australia and Israel, meets for two weeks each year to discuss the application of the Durban documents.
Analysis: The discredited World Conference against Racism ended on September 8, 2001, but the Durban process continues. Predictably, the politicization that plagued the Conference persists as well. As with the Durban Conference, many African and Latin American countries came to the Working Group meeting to discuss racism, gender discrimination, education, indigenous peoples, and other pertinent and pressing concerns. Once again, the meeting was derailed by Arab and Islamic nations that forced the Middle East conflict into the recommendations of the Working Group.
The problems were not of the same magnitude as occurred during the Durban Conference preparations. There were no proposals to compare Zionism with racism, to trivialize the Holocaust, or to pervert the definition of anti-Semitism. Yet, the discussions and the priorities expressed in the draft recommendations demonstrate that the Working Group has also succumbed to the pressure of the Arab and Islamic bloc.
In the course of the negotiations to produce general recommendations to states and international agencies, many issues were deleted from a proposed list of “priority areas”: gender dimensions of racial discrimination, migrants and refugees, indigenous peoples, discrimination against children, contemporary forms of racism, and discrimination against Roma and Gypsies. By contrast, Egypt suggested a paragraph on the Middle East be added: “The Working Group reaffirms and emphasizes the importance of the effective implementation and follow-up to all paragraphs of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action concerning the situation in the Middle East.”
Norway spoke against its inclusion, citing the difficulties that discussions about the Middle East had caused during the Durban Conference. And then the attack began. Pakistan said the paragraph had “great value to us and we attach utmost importance to it.” Syria threatened to leave the meeting unless the paragraph was discussed immediately. Algeria questioned why there were no references to “Palestine”. Jordan said the paragraph in question was “part and parcel of the Durban declaration.” Egypt pointed out that the paragraph was “really moderate” compared to the “very, very serious and tragic situation in the Middle East.” Algeria took the floor again to agree. Saudi Arabia praised Egypt for its moderation.
South Africa then suggested that two words be added: “The Working Group reaffirms … all paragraphs … including those concerning the situation in the Middle East.” Faced with such pressure from the Arab bloc, Norway grasped the opportunity to back down and to agree to the South African fig leaf. Given the pervasive expressions of anti-Semitism and discrimination against
women in the Arab world, their disruption of a serious discussion about racism is not surprising. Less understandable is the lack of resolve by the African and Latin American states to put an end to the political games played at their expense.