Friday, April 24, 2009

Obama Caves to Right-wing in Boycotting UN Anti-Racism Conference

Published on Thursday, April 23, 2009 by Foreign Policy In Focus

by Stephen Zunes

In boycotting the United Nations conference on racism, the Obama administration demonstrated that just because an African American can be elected president doesn't mean the United States will be any more committed than the Bush administration in fighting global racism. Rejecting calls by liberal Democratic members of Congress, leading human rights groups, Pope Benedict XVI, and most of the international community to participate, the Obama administration instead gave into pressure by Congressional hawks and other anti-UN forces by joining a handful of other nations refusing to participate in the historic gathering.

The five-day conference, which is taking place this week in Geneva, assessed international progress in fighting racism and xenophobia since the UN's first conference in Durban, South Africa eight years ago. The Bush administration withdrew from that gathering, but there had been hope the Obama administration wouldn't continue its predecessor's ideology-driven opposition to the UN and its human rights agenda.

With pressure from the United States and some other countries, the draft declaration prepared for this year's conference dropped a call to ban "defamation of religion," which raised concerns regarding restricting free speech, as well as any references to Israel and Palestine. State Department spokesperson Robert Wood acknowledged that the draft was "significantly improved," and that the United States was "deeply grateful" that requested changes had been made. Yet he announced the United States would boycott the conference anyway because the document reaffirmed the final declaration of the 2001 meeting in Durban right-wing critics had labeled "anti-Israel."

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