Activists and national leaders reaffirmed their commitment to combating racism at a high-level meeting of the General Assembly of the United Nations.
The leaders Thursday pledged full and effective implementation of the Durban Declaration and Program of Action, a so-called blueprint to fight racism, first adopted 10 years ago at a conference in Durban, South Africa.
The program of action includes specific recommendations to combat discrimination against many groups, including Africans and people of African descent, indigenous peoples and minority groups around the world. It also recognizes that racism is a global concern that requires a global effort to eliminate.
“I would encourage all countries, individually and collectively, to intensify efforts aimed at reducing instances of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance,” stated General Assembly President Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser in his address to the delegates.
The United States did not participate in the meeting. In a press statement, the White House pointed to “ugly displays of intolerance and anti-Semitism” as well as “overbroad restrictions on freedom of expression” at previous DDPA conferences as its reasons for not taking part.
However, the statement underscored America’s “profound” commitment to combating racism. It is a commitment “rooted in the saddest chapters of our history and reflected in the most cherished values of our union.” And it pledged Washington’s partnership with “all nations of goodwill” in this struggle.
At the 2001 Durban conference, the United States and Israel walked out because some Arab countries pushed a draft resolution that criticized Israel for its treatment of the Palestinians and equated Zionism with racism.
When the United Nations announced that it would hold a 10th anniversary meeting, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., led a bipartisan coalition of 18 senators that urged the Obama administration to boycott.
In a letter to the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations Susan Rice, the senators noted that anti-Semitism at the conferences “undermines the very goal of fighting discrimination.”
Although the U.S. government did not attend the meeting, American-based advocacy groups did participate.
Addressing the General Assembly on behalf of the Mississippi Workers’ Center for Human Rights, Sarah White said, “This fight is about all our struggles — people of African descent, people of Asian descent, indigenous, women, children, minorities.”
White continued: “Our strength comes from organizing and bringing our voices together on one platform to make the Durban Declaration and Program of Action work.”
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon exhorted world leaders to embrace diversity and to defend the rights of all people in their borders.
“Let us stand firmly against anti-Semitism,” he urged. “We must oppose Islamophobia and reject discrimination against Christians. Bias based on religious identity has no place in our world.”