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Last April, over 100 countries at the United Nations Global Anti-Racism Conference in Geneva, Switzerland agreed on a declaration to combat racism and related forms of intolerance worldwide. The United States boycotted the conference despite President Obama's previous opposition to racism and advocacy for global civil and human rights.
The declaration reaffirmed principles agreed upon at the U.N.'s first global racism meeting in Durban, South Africa eight years ago. The United States and Israel walked out there because participants had taken the Jewish state to task over its treatment of Palestinians. U. S. delegates were among those who denounced Obama's refusal to participate or send a representative to Geneva. The U.S.'s main reasons for boycotting: Israel, and a demand that references to reparations be taken out of the final document.
In January the Obama administration announced it wanted to assess the negotiations on the final document for the upcoming Geneva Conference. It had previously said the U.S. would boycott the conference unless the document was changed to drop all references to Israel; a second demand-underplayed in the media-was that the conference not take up the issue of reparations for slavery.
Near the end of March, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights described the U.S. decision not to attend the conference as devastating and said, "...Unfortunately, the Durban Review Conference is being hijacked by governments, including the Obama administration, who may not have the elimination of racism and racial discrimination, especially for Africans and people of African descent, as their highest priority."
Actually, the Durban Review Committee: "withdrew language related to reparations and the transatlantic slave trade being a crime against humanity and removed proposed paragraphs designed to strengthen the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent."
According to news reports, the Obama administration indicated it was pleased by the progress in March, but still did not participate at Geneva. The outcome of the Geneva Conference is not law, but an agreement negotiated by governments vital to those who suffer racism and discrimination.
Many Blacks are not surprised that the president of the United States, no matter his racial identity, would go to great lengths, including using the media to keep Black reparations from being further legitimatized. What the U.S. could not prevent, however, was the establishment of a U.N. recognized identity for the descendants of enslaved Africans throughout the Diaspora.
The White House announced it would boycott the upcoming Durban II Conference in Geneva on April 16th. According to the Huffington Post, on April 14th, Obama placed a conference call to "American Jewish leaders," all but assuring them that the U.S. would not show up in Geneva. Obama's National Security Advisor said, "The Revised Draft Document met U.S. demands, but it continued to reaffirm, in toto, Durban I."
Glen Ford asked, "Why is the White House reporting to Jewish leaders on an issue that is of interest to all Americans, especially people of color? Has he arranged such a briefing on Durban II for Black leaders, Latino leaders or Native American leaders-representatives of constituencies that have suffered genocide, slavery, discrimination and all manner of racist assaults right here on American soil?" Black leadership said nothing, and Ford maintains that the President knows full well that he risks virtually nothing by disrespecting Blacks.
It was anticipated that at Geneva, the U.S. with other countries would report on residential segregation, criminal justice, police brutality, felonious disenfranchisement and Katrina displacement. Of course, this did not happen.
The White House spoke of "red lines" (demands) that it would not tolerate being crossed. Where were the demands that so-called Black leaders would not allow to be breached? A letter to President Obama by the National Conference of Black Lawyers registered "profound disappointment" with the U.S. boycott, but added, "We are confident that your administration will be reversing its decision in time to participate in the conference." How wrong, how meek!
In early April, Trans-Africa Chairman, Danny Glover said, "This (Geneva Conference) should be a moment for the United States to rejoin the global struggle against racism, the struggle that the Bush administration so arrogantly abandoned." Was Barack Obama too accommodating by boycotting the Geneva Conference? Did he renege on his commitment to fight racism?
Larry Aubry can be contacted at e-mail