Fight Bigotry – Stay Away from Durban II

Author’s Note: This post was written jointly by Representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mike Pence. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida serves as the senior Republican on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. U.S. Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana serves as chairman of the House Republican Conference.

Over six decades after the Holocaust, we still must recognize and combat the continuing threat posed by bigotry worldwide. Hate-mongers frequently cloak their actions in democratic values; take the United Nations’ Durban Review Conference, which convenes in Geneva next month. Ostensibly aimed at combating intolerance, “Durban II” and its draft declaration have been hijacked by human rights violators and irredeemably distorted into an anti-Semitic, anti-Israel, anti-freedom hate-fest – one funded by more than $2 million from the UN’s regular budget. Appallingly, Durban II’s organizers are attacking human rights, while falsely claiming to promote them – all paid for by American taxpayers.

With objections to Durban II mounting, the conference’s organizers are now trying to deceive the world by offering a “compromise”: discarding some of the draft declaration’s blatantly offensive provisions, while preserving language that still implicitly advances hate.

We should reject this duplicitous move. Like the struggles of years ago, we must never eschew what is right in favor of what is easy. We can abdicate neither our responsibility to address and reject bigotry wherever it lurks, nor our obligation to safeguard public funds as Americans face extraordinary economic challenges. To give meaning to the words ‘Never again,’ the United States and other responsible nations must not fund or participate in any part of Durban II.

The conference’s 2001 predecessor planted the ugly footsteps in which Durban II will follow, with the world’s most intolerant nations using it as a platform to promote hate. Despite efforts to rewrite history and minimize the extent of the hate at Durban I, that confab’s Durban Declaration and Program of Action was indelibly marred by its singling-out of Israel for accusations of racism. Disgusted, the U.S. and Israel walked out.

Durban II, like many sequels, will be worse than the original.

The conference’s preparatory process is chaired by Libya, with Iran and Cuba among the vice-chairs. They focused the draft declaration’s ire on just one country. Not Iran, which imprisons, tortures, hangs dissenters and stones women to death. Not the Sudanese regime, responsible for the Darfur genocide. Only the democratic, Jewish state of Israel was singled out for condemnation.

Recognizing that the fix was in, Canada and Israel chose to stay away. Last month the U.S. sent a delegation to engage in intergovernmental consultations on the draft declaration, determined to transform Durban II through negotiation. The Americans witnessed how Iran, Syria, and other rogue regimes sought to advance hate by castigating Israel, opposing condemnation of Holocaust denial, and promoting language that restricts freedom of expression. The U.S. envoys summarized the situation as going “from bad to worse.”

Accepting reality, the Administration announced that the draft document was “unsalvageable,” and that the U.S. would not take part in further preparatory meetings or in the conference itself, unless there is a significant shift in the poisonous atmosphere and in the document to be issued. Shortly thereafter, Italy made a similar decision, and the EU and Australia have also threatened to stay away.

Facing the loss of international legitimacy, the rogue regimes are now trying to conceal their hateful, bigoted intent through smoke-and-mirrors. A newly-proposed draft declaration omits references to Israel, but in its very first paragraph, it reaffirms the 2001 declaration in its entirety – thereby reiterating that text’s anti-Israel bias and providing a foundation for Israel-bashing to again dominate the conference itself. Restrictions on free speech also remain. And, should this move convince wavering states to attend, dictatorships can always sneak in further hateful provisions at the last minute.

We must not succumb to this bait-and-switch. It is time for the U.S. and our allies to unequivocally deny all legitimacy to Durban II. This is not a time for half-measures, for criticizing some parts of Durban II while praising others, or for staying away while continuing to fund the proceedings. The stakes are too high – if we do not reject the conference in its totality, we will legitimize hatred and undermine true efforts to combat bigotry and intolerance.

With just one month until Durban II begins, the right way forward is clear. We have introduced House Resolution 42, calling on the Administration to publicly declare that the U.S. will neither fund nor participate in Durban II. It also urges other responsible nations to take the same path. Towards that end, last June we met with foreign and U.S. diplomats, Members of Congress, and NGOs to discuss other opportunities to fight hatred – and our efforts continue.

The case of Durban II tests how far we have come in rejecting all prejudice – no matter what form it takes. Now, not later, we must stand up and repudiate this circus, refusing to let political expediency trump real progress.

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