NZ should continue to boycott the Durban conference


The first UN conference in Durban in 2001 was a watershed event that demonstrated that the international human rights community had been hijacked by a very ugly and hostile group of activists who were more interested in promoting hatred of Israel than promoting human welfare. The Orwellian, antisemitic anti-racism conference organised by the United Nations also exemplified the systemic bias of the international body.

New Zealand officials expressed disappointment about the turn of events at that conference and, despite the Human Rights Commission urging NZ to attend in 2009, Kiwi representatives boycotted the two subsequent attempts to repeat it. This year, the United Nations is trying once again to hold an event.

Israel, the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Hungary have all confirmed they will not be participating in the proposed hate-fest and representatives of each country have been clear that they stand against antisemitism.

We strongly believe New Zealand officials and representatives should boycott the event scheduled for September, along with other countries that do not endorse Jew-hatred and consistent with refusing to attend in 2009 and 2011.

If you’d like to write to Minister Mahuta urging her not to give New Zealand’s imprimatur to a hateful event, email her here.


Below is more information on ‘Durban IV’.

It started in 2001

In 2001, the ‘Durban Conference’ was organised by the United Nations and intended to be a “World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance”. However, the noble goals of the 2001 UN World Conference Against Racism were undermined by hateful anti-Jewish rhetoric and anti-Israel political agendas.

Copies of the antisemitic forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, were sold on conference grounds; protesters jeered Jewish participants chanting “Zionism is racism, Israel is apartheid,” and “You have Palestinian blood on your hands”; fliers depicting Hitler with the approving question, “What if I had won?” circulated among conference attendees; Jews were blamed for 9/11 (which had just occurred); and more.

So bad was the anti-Jewish rhetoric, Jewish participants had to be accompanied by additional security to ensure their personal safety at the conference and an official session on Holocaust revisionism had to be canceled due to security concerns. Canadian MP Irwin Cotler observed that

“[the conference] became the tipping point for the coalescence of a new, virulent, globalizing anti-Jewishness reminiscent of the atmosphere that pervaded Europe in the 1930s”.Irwin Cotler

And a similar report was filed by late Tom Lantos, a Holocaust survivor and longtime US Congressman, who attended as a member of the American delegation. He stated

“For me, having experienced the horrors of the Holocaust first hand, this was the most sickening and unabashed display of hate for Jews I had seen since the Nazi period,”Tom Lantos

NZ Attorney General Margaret Wilson attended the event and reported that “This was a very difficult meeting”. She expressed disappointment that the focus of the conference on the problems of racism and intolerance was diverted into highly-politicised and divisive arguments.

The most politicised and divisive resolution that was adopted during the conference called Israel “a racist apartheid state,” guilty of the “systematic perpetration of racist crimes including war crimes, acts of genocide and ethnic cleansing … and state terror against the Palestinian people.” The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, called the allegations “inappropriate and unacceptable,” and, counter to traditional UN practice Robinson said she “could not recommend the document to the government delegates in its entirety.”

Israel and the United States walked out of the conference, with United States Secretary of State Colin Powell explaining

“I know that you do not combat racism by conferences that produce declarations containing hateful language, some of which is a throwback to the days of ‘Zionism equals racism;’ or supports the idea that we have made too much of the Holocaust; or suggests that apartheid exists in Israel; or that singles out only one country in the world – Israel – for censure and abuse.”Colin Powell


There was a second attempt

In 2009, there was an attempt to repeat the 2001 event that became known as ‘Durban I’. The United States, Australia, NZ and a small group of similarly minded truly anti-racist countries, boycotted the event, with New Zealand’s Foreign Minister, Murray McCully, explaining

“When the World Conference Against Racism was held in Durban, South Africa, seven years ago it was extremely contentious. It gave rise to expressions of anti-Israeli views which undermined its focus on genuine anti-racism initiatives… I am not satisfied that the wording emerging from preparatory discussions will prevent the Review Conference from descending into the same kind of rancorous and unproductive debate that took place in 2001.”Murray McCully

However, the New Zealand Human Rights Commission was opposed to the boycott. Chief Human Rights Commissioner, Rosslyn Noonan, said there was nothing in the program of action that any New Zealander would disagree with: “I cannot find any evidence of what some people claim is contained in the document. I can’t find anything, for example, that smacks of antisemitism.”

As it transpired, one of the keynote speakers at the conference was Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who made a speech condemning Israel as “totally racist” and accusing the West of using the Holocaust as a “pretext” for aggression against Palestinians. The distributed English version of the speech referred to the Holocaust as an “ambiguous and dubious question”. The speech triggered a walkout by European countries, and a stern rebuke from UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, who said Ahmadinejad had used the conference platform “to accuse, divide and even incite”.
Ms Noonan made no further comments after the conference and there were no such recorded objections to boycotting ‘Durban III’.

The United Nations tried a third timeThe majority of countries that make up the United Nations are not democratic and many are particularly antisemitic. Thus, it is hardly surprising that the UN tried for a third conference – ‘Durban III’ in 2011. Australia, Austria, Bulgaria, Canada, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, the United Kingdom and the United States all boycotted the event.
Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, noted she had “not been convinced that the high-level meeting will avoid unbalanced criticism of Israel and the airing of antisemitic views.” and New Zealand Foreign Minister, Murray McCully, explained that

“We remain concerned that the commemoration of the 2001 Durban Declaration could re-open the offensive and anti-Semitic debates which undermined the original World Conference. For these reasons, we have decided not to participate.”Murray McCully


Now they want to try again

In December 2020, a resolution was put to the UN General Assembly calling for a one-day high-level meeting to be held in September 2021 to mark 20 years since Durban I. The resolution said the conference would mobilise “political will” for “the full and effective implementation of the Durban Declaration”, indicating no change or improvement of the deeply problematic 2001 conference outcome was contemplated.

Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States, and others voted against the resolution. New Zealand abstained.

Despite most democratic countries voting against the resolution, it passed, and the United Nations has approved a budget for ‘Durban IV’ to be held in September this year, despite objection from the United States – at the budget meeting US Ambassador Kelly Craft stated

“Twenty years on, there remains nothing about the Durban Declaration to celebrate or to endorse… It is poisoned by antisemitism and anti-Israel bias. It encourages restrictions on the freedom of expression. It exists to divide and discriminate and runs contrary to the laudable goal of combating racism and racial discrimination.”Kelly Craft

The United States has signalled that it will not attend the conference. The State Department announced

“The Biden Administration has put racial justice at the top of its priorities, both in multilateral fora and at home… the United States stands with Israel and has always shared its concerns over the Durban process’s anti-Israel sentiment, use as a forum for antisemitism, and freedom of expression issues…The United States will not attend or participate in any events commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Durban Declaration and Program of Action or the World Conference on Racism, which preceded it.”US State Department

Australia has also signalled that it will not be participating, with Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, saying

“We will not associate Australia with one-sided and contentious language that singles out Israel or an event that champions such language.””This is entirely consistent with my Government’s very strong voting position on UN General Assembly resolutions, in the Human Rights Council and elsewhere. We will continue that same approach to Durban 4 later this year.”Scott Morrison

Canada has also voiced concern about the Durban process and committed not to attending the 2021 commemorations. A government spokesperson said

“Canada remains committed, at home and abroad, including at the UN, to advancing human rights, inclusion and combatting antisemitism, islamophobia and systemic racism in all its forms. Canada opposes initiatives at the United Nations and in other multilateral forums that unfairly single out and target Israel for criticism,”

The United Kingdom has also confirmed that it will not attend, with a spokesperson saying “Following historic concerns regarding anti-Semitism, the U.K. has decided not to attend the U.N.’s Durban Conference anniversary event this year.”

And the first EU country to announce it will not attend this year’s event was Hungary. Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjártó wrote“The Hungarian government declared a zero-tolerance policy against antisemitism and is fully committed to guarantee the safety of the Jewish people that we also consistently represent in the international fora.In this spirit, Hungary does not support the Durban process and voted against the resolution adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 31 December 2020 deciding on the convening of a high-level meeting on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of the adoption of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action”

The Israel Institute of New Zealand wrote to Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta on 05 May 2021 but at the time of publishing (01 July 2021) she had not responded. The Israel Institute of New Zealand also wrote to the Human Rights Commission, given their previous support for the Durban process, but they have declined to comment. If you’d like to write to Minister Mahuta urging her not to give New Zealand’s imprimatur to a hateful event, email her here.


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