Despite U.S. engagement, U.N.’s Durban II racism conference says no way to gay rights

Despite America’s decision this week to join the negotiations and extend an outretched hand to the U.N. planners of the Durban II conference on racism, their response so far to President Obama is continued intolerance, underscored today by their shooting down a provision on discrimination against gays, in a stormy debate.

The original proposal by Western states in the draft text (par. 69) was to condemn “all forms of discrimination and all other human rights violations based on sexual orientation.” Not so controversial, one would think, for a conference ostensibly about discrimination and intolerance.

The Czech Republic on behalf of the E.U., with the support of New Zealand, the United States, Colombia, Chili on behalf of the South American states, the Netherlands, Argentina and a few others, took the floor in support.

In face of resistance from the U.N. majority, however, the United Kingdom proposed alternative wording: “Recognizes that experiences of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance are aggravated and intersect with discrimination on grounds including sexual orientation and gender identity, and condemns all forms of discrimination and all other human rights violations based on these grounds.”

Still, the inclusion of the words “discrimination on grounds including sexual orientation” made the paragraph unadoptable and unacceptable for countries that reflect the majority of member states at the U.N. who oppose any form of gay rights: South Africa on behalf of the African Group, China, Egypt, Nigeria, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Botswana, Iran, Algeria, and Syria.

South Africa on behalf of the African Group, a key organizer of the Durban II conference, said: “Sexual orientation and discrimination. . . we feel it goes beyond the framework of the (2001) Durban Declaration.”

Some other voices, not from the Durban II architects, also resisted. The Holy See said that “sexual orientation” should refer only to an inner condition, explaining that it finds the paragraph unacceptable because it refers to a form of conduct, not a condition.

The E.U., however, was adamant that the language of sexual orientation needed to be included. Denmark made a substantive statement explaining that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation has been condemned with the support of 66 nations in the General Assembly, in the EU human rights system, in various UN reports, and by national and international NGOs — implying that it is legitimate and necessary to also be addressed in the Durban declaration.

The Czech Republic on behalf of the E.U. then requested an addition of a subheading titled Anti Semitism to be included with the cluster of paragraphs relating to groups facing discrimination.

In response, Iran proposed the addition of the subheading titled Islamophobia, and South Africa on behalf of the African Group, in support of Iran, expressed that “we do not feel we should be selective here.” The text is already replete with references to Islam and Muslims as the primary victims of racism in the world. See our report, Shattering the Red Lines.

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