US Should Stay at the Table for the UN Racism Conference

By Guest Columnist Jan 24, 2008

by Marissa Gutiérrez-Vicario No doubt that the first United Nations Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa was wrought with controversy in 2001, and it appears already that its follow up Durban II will be also. Although former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan expressed that, “no country is immune from racism and xenophobia,” and his hope that, “all governments will participate at the highest level possible,” the 2001 conference, like most U.N. initiatives, lacked the support of the United States, which disappointedly, withdrew from the conference on September 3, 2001 after the huge amount of anti-Semitism that ensued. Yet, continuing along the same path, sources say that Canada, though committed to anti-racism domestically, will not be participating in the 2009 follow up Durban Review Conference. No doubt that the “hateful, even racist” atmosphere that emerged at the conference was wrong, and greatly detrimental to upholding human rights. No doubt that the racist incidents that occurred should, at all costs, be avoided again. Yet, I remain unconvinced that leaving the table, either by not participating or advocating for the de-funding of the conference, as some notable human rights scholars would suggest (i.e. Anne Bayesfsky, editor of, is the solution. The racism that continues since 2001 throughout the world, especially here in the United States in the aftermath of Katrina and the Jena Six incident and in the current immigration debate proves that a world forum committed to anti-racism has never been more necessary. Recently, a “Statement of Core Principles for WCAR Follow Up” has been signed by over forty non-governmental organizations from around the world, rejecting “hatred and incitement in all its forms” and encouraging groups to “work together in a spirit of mutual respect.” I find this a better alternative. Reject racism in all forms, learn from the “shortcomings” of the 2001 conference, but by all means, still stay at the table. The persistence of racism (xenophobia, in the caste system, institutional) is too huge of a problem to not.