In February 2009, the U.S. State Department sent a delegation to negotiate on the Durban Review Conference, “to work to try to change the direction in which the Review Conference is heading” and to “evaluat[e] the current direction of Conference preparations and whether U.S. participation in the Conference itself is warranted.”

On February 27, 2009, the Obama administration decided that “the United States will not engage in further negotiations on this text, nor will we participate in a conference based on this text.” According to the official press release, “[s]adly, however, the document being negotiated has gone from bad to worse, and the current text of the draft outcome document is not salvageable…[a] conference based on this text would be a missed opportunity to speak clearly about the persistent problem of racism.”

Human Rights Watch (HRW) official Juliette de Rivero called the timing of the U.S. decision “strange” and claimed that, “if the US administration cannot commit itself to the fight against racism and to making the conference as successful as possible, then there is a big problem.” In contrast, Human Rights First (HRF) director Tad Stahnke recognized “problems with language proposed for the current draft of the outcome document” and concluded that “[the Obama administration] came to the assessment that things were not proceeding in a favorable direction so they are issuing this as a warning.”

The U.S. will continue to “observe developments…[and] would be prepared to re-engage if a document that meets [the U.S.’s] criteria becomes the basis for deliberations.” However, given that the Libyan and Iranian delegations, among others from the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the Arab League “single out…one country or conflict” and “embrace the troubling concept of ‘defamation of religion,'” U.S. participation in the Durban Review Conference is highly unlikely.

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