The United States sent a delegation to Geneva to engage in a broad range of consultations on the Durban Review Conference. The delegation was led by Mark Storella, Chargé d’Affaires for the US Mission in Geneva. The delegation included as private delegates, Betty King, the distinguished former Ambassador to ECOSOC and Felice Gaer, a leader in the human rights community who currently serves as Chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
We sent this delegation to work with countries that want to achieve a successful review conference that focuses on combating racism, racial discrimination and other forms of intolerance and to explore whether it is going to be possible to focus the Durban Review Conference on these serious issues. The United States had not previously participated in preparations for the Durban Review Conference because of our strong reservations about the direction of the conference, as the draft document singles out Israel for criticism, places unacceptable restrictions on freedom of expression under the guise of defaming religion, and calls for payment of reparations for slavery.
While in Geneva, the delegation consulted with 30 national delegations from every region to outline our concerns with the current outcome document and to explore whether there exists the possibility for progress in re-shaping the document and tenor of the discussions. The delegation also attended the informal negotiations of the working group tasked with developing the draft conference outcome document and met with UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillay.
The United States has not made a decision about participating in the Durban Review Conference or about whether to engage in future preparations for the Conference, but the work done this week will be important information for taking these decisions. The World Conference Against Racism is scheduled to take place in Geneva from April 20-24, 2009.