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 Durban Review Conference – Durban II
20-24 April 2009

  by Astrid Stückelberger, SPSSI Representative to the United Nations in Geneva, delegated by SPSSI to participate to Durban II in Geneva


On April 20-24, 2009, in Geneva, Switzerland, the United Nations hosted the “Durban Review Conference II” – a follow-up to the 2001 UN World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance (WCAR). As mandated by the UN General Assembly, the Human Rights Council of the United Nations (UNHRC) was responsible for organizing and convening the event “towards the effective and comprehensive implementation” of the conclusions and recommendations of WCAR, and to continue the “global drive for the total elimination of racism.”

More than 5,000 individuals attended the Conference, which included States, 120 NGOs and media personnel.

Many factors put the conference at high risk of slowing down the process and jeopardizing the outcome document: the provocative opening speech of the President of Iran (the only President of State to attend) which irritated several delegations to the point of leaving the room in plenary, and the boycott of 10 member States deciding not to participate in the conference.

Despite this very tense first day, the Durban II conference ended with 2 main outcome documents: the member States Outcome Document and the NGO Declaration against Racism.

The outcome document of the Durban Review Conference was adopted by consensus on the 21st of April, 2009. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay noted that “the adoption of the outcome document by consensus is the right answer to the disinformation and misinformation that had raged throughout the preparatory process. The fact that the document was adopted by the entire membership of the UN, with the exception of the ten States who declared they would not be part of the Conference, was a measure of success and that one State was not able to detract from the document.” She was referring to the opening speech of the President of Iran which had provoked a general fear that it would undermine the advancement and work of the majority.

The Spokesman of the Durban II conference commented “The Outcome Document makes some very specific suggestions which are both new and practical. […] The outcome document extended the idea of discrimination on grounds of illness beyond HIV/AIDS to other diseases including malaria and tuberculosis. There is also reference in the Outcome Document to the need for psychological counselling for women and children who were victims of racism and racial discrimination.”


The main points of the Outcome Document were: that it reinvigorates the political commitment to the implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (DDPA); it highlights the increased suffering of many different sorts of victims of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and similar forms of intolerance; it identified, shared and disseminated some best practices in the fight against racism; it unequivocally reaffirmed the positive role of freedom of expression in the fight against racism, while also deploring derogatory stereotyping and stigmatization of people based on their religion or belief. Furthermore, it launched a process that will examine how the prohibition of incitement to hatred, as reflected in Article 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, has been implemented in various parts of the world.

Mrs. Pillay renewed her appeal to all to consult the document to ascertain exactly what it contains and what it does not contain.

See the outcome document on

The NGO Declaration, the “Geneva 2009 Declaration Against Racism,” is the result of the Civil Society Forum that took place 2 days prior to Durban II (17-19 April 2009) and was intensive but attended only by about 50 people. The declaration can be seen on

Concluding remarks

Conflicts and strong reactions from individuals and States demonstrate the need to continue the dialogue -- as monologue leads nowhere -- on these often hotly disputed issues in a non-confrontational and non-politicized manner, whilst at the same time safeguarding the fundamental importance of freedom of expression.

As psychologists, we know how emotions can be a problem but also a solution. With Durban II the issue at stake is too important to let anyone highjack it by leaving the room or refusing to talk, it would be opposite to psychological maturity and diplomacy. There may be some contribution that SPSSI could make in bringing an understanding of dialoguing better and understanding the different meanings a word can have in different languages and cultures. By accepting freedom of expression, yet participating in the process, it will be possible to contribute to designing the future of a discrimination-free and racism-free world.

In April 2009, as Durban II just ended, the United States has taken a decisive step in seeking a seat this year on the United Nations Human Rights Council “with the goal of working to make it a more effective body to promote and protect human rights.” The government has issued the “US Human Rights Commitments and Pledges” which underlines the importance of working together. Two points are particularly relevant in this context:

1. The United States commits to continuing its efforts in the UN system to be a strong advocate for all people around the world who suffer from abuse and oppression, and to be a stalwart defender of courageous individuals across the globe who work, often at great personal risk, on behalf of the rights of others.


 5. The United States recognizes and upholds the vital role of civil society and human rights defenders in the promotion and protection of human rights and commits to promoting the effective involvement of non-governmental organizations in the work of the United Nations.  and

Durban was a process and not an end in itself. Following the successful adoption of the outcome document, the international community is called upon to continue the fight against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. Finally, the Durban II conference survived many counter-forces for the global achievement to address one of the most emotional and touchy subjects of Humanity: regulating our differences and our similarities throughout time.



Between Durban I and Durban II, legislative and other actions took place in the United Nations, including a series of resolutions adopted by the General Assembly:


Holocaust and anti-Semitism

-         2005: resolution to designate the 27th of January every year as Holocaust Remembrance Day, which also resulted in establishing a program of outreach on the Holocaust and the United Nations, and inaugurating several memorials (the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, the Memorial de la Shoah in Paris and Yad Vashem in Israel.

-         2006: resolution to condemn, without any reservation, any denial of the Holocaust.

-         Series of seminars: “unlearning intolerance” specifically addressed anti-Semitism and one on  Islamophobia.

Slave Trade

-         2006-2007: set of three resolutions related to the Slave trade followed by the installation of a permanent memorial at United Nations HQ to honor the memory of the victims of the slave trade, the latter an initiative led by the Community of Caribbean Nations.

Human Trafficking

-         2007, UNGIFT – United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Trafficking – was launched. This led to a number of collaborations within the United Nations system such as that between the ILO, UNGIFT and the Global Compact to address the possible connections between business and human trafficking as it affected the policies of investors and stakeholders and how best to ensure that businesses did not inadvertently allow themselves to be used either by traffickers or use the trafficked. The Inter Parliamentary Union has also issued a handbook for parliamentarians on human trafficking.

-         2006: the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which entered into force.

-         2007: United Nations Convention of the Rights of Migrant Workers and All Members of their Families entered into force and launch of a global forum on migration and development.

-         2007: United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples entered into force.

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