Open Letter to President Barack Obama
This is a letter written by dozens of human rights groups and activists in the United States, urging President Barack Obama to rethink his decision to boycott the United Nations-sponsored anti-racism conference.
Why the United States Should Stop Refusing to Participate in a Global Conference on Racism
Dear President Barack Obama,
We, the undersigned individuals and organizations dedicated to fighting racial injustice and promoting human rights domestically and globally received your recent decision to boycott the Durban Review Conference with profound disappointment.
Recognizing that your stated objections to the conference have been addressed, we are confident that your Administration will be reversing its decision in time to participate in the conference and its remaining preparatory meetings scheduled to take place in April.
Refusing to Discuss Racism on a Global Platform is Inconsistent with a Policy of Engagement with the International Community
As you know, the Durban Review Conference is one of the most important international platforms for discussing the elimination of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerances. Given the brutal history of slavery and Jim Crow in the United States, your Administration has much to contribute to this discussion. A boycott would be inconsistent with your policy of engagement with the international community. A policy of engagement requires discussion with governments and institutions even if one does not agree with them as demonstrated by your statement last week to the people and leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran that your Administration is committed to seeking "engagement that is honest and grounded in mutual respect." How can your Administration engage in any manner with the international community if it has no representation at the discussion table?
The United States Should be Fighting for the Strongest Protections against Racism
The Durban Review process has offered a sophisticated and comprehensive framework for advancing racial equality including concrete guidelines for addressing the link between poverty, racism, sexism, and multiple forms of discrimination; advancing migrant rights; addressing youth violence; providing access to quality education, health care, and adequate housing; and advancing transparent governance in the fight for racial equality. We expect your Administration will not only engage in the process but will also work to ensure that the final outcome offers the strongest and most comprehensive framework for eliminating racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerances. This is critical for progress in the domestic and global fight for racial and economic justice.
Specific Objections Raised do not Warrant a Boycott
We are concerned by the reasons put forth by your Administration for its refusal to engage in the conference. Notwithstanding that changes have been made to accommodate your Administration's specific objections, we do not believe that these objections should warrant a decision to boycott the conference. As we mentioned before, you recently demonstrated your Administration's willingness to engage in dialogue with governments with which you do not always agree such as the Islamic Republic of Iran, and we applaud that decision. Why would your Administration pursue a different policy now that it is time to discuss how to fight and eliminate racism for people in the United States and the rest of the world? How can the United States affirm freedom of expression - even for hate speech - if it refuses even to be present to listen to the views of others?
The United States Must Not Attempt to Ignore our History of Slavery
We are troubled that your Administration pushed for the withdrawal of language related to reparations, reference to the transatlantic slave trade as a crime against humanity, and the overall weakening of the efforts related to people of African Descent. We recall your own speech on March 18, 2008 that we need to "remind ourselves that so many of the disparities that exist in the African-American community today can be directly traced to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow." We also urge you to consider the bill H.R. 40 reintroduced by Representative Conyers in January calling for the establishment of a commission to examine the institution of slavery and current forms of racial discrimination, as well as to make recommendations to the Congress on appropriate remedies. We believe it will help illuminate the importance of discussing these issues both in the United States and globally.
The United States Must Engage the Global Fight for Racial Justice in Good Faith
It is regrettable that your Administration made its current decision on whether to participate in the Durban Review Conference based on one meeting. One meeting is inadequate for meaningful engagement in the process especially since the process has been ongoing since 2006 not including the time and preparation put into the 2001 World Conference Against Racism (WCAR). The actions of your Administration leave the impression that you are willing to ignore an important opportunity to advance racial equality if it is politically expedient.
The Current Position of Non-Participation is worse than that of the Bush Administration
A boycott by your Administration would be the first time in recent history that the United States has refused to participate in a United Nations conference. This position is even more radical than that of the Bush Administration's as the former Administration at least attended the preceding conference on race before withdrawing. We hope that your Administration will not squander this important opportunity to push for racial equality on the global stage and will instead send a diverse and high-level delegation including representatives from the non-governmental community.
A United States Refusal to Discuss Racism Encourages Other Countries to do the same
The current decision by your Administration not only affects the United States, but also provides cover for other countries that are reluctant to engage in a meaningful discussion on advancing racial equality to boycott the discussion as well. A United States boycott would have a long-term damaging effect on the global fight against racism.
In closing, we are reminded again of a speech you made a year ago insisting that race is an issue that this nation cannot afford to ignore right now. We applauded your thought-provoking speech then as it echoed basic American values of equality and fairness and reminded us of the importance of engaging in mature and constructive dialogue on race. We urge you not to ignore this global discussion on race. This is an issue that is extremely important for making genuine progress in the United States and advancing peace worldwide. It is also a priority for many of us who supported your campaign for change. Again, we look forward to your timely and substantive engagement in the Durban Review Conference.
1. Advocates for Environmental Human Rights2. Alianza Latinoamericana por los Derechos de los Inmigrantes, ALDI3. Black Alliance for Just Immigration4. Black Workers for Justice - Europe (BWJ-e)5. BLACK Advisors6. Center for Constitutional Rights7. Cidadao Global8. Coalition of African, Arab, Asian, European, and Latino Immigrants of Illinois9. Coalition to Save Harlem10. Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism11. Croydon African Caribbean Family12. Equal Justice Society13. Equality Now14. Four Freedoms Forum 15. Global Afrikan Congressuk16. Hawai'i Institute for Human Rights17. Highlander Research and Education Center18. International Action Center 19. Justice Now20. Labor/Community Strategy Center 21. Malcolm X Grassroots Movement22. Maria Iñamagua Campaign for Justice 23. Matahari: Eye of the Day24. The Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute25. Minnesota Tenants Union26. Movement for Immigrant Rights Alliance (MIRA)27. National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, Chicago Branch28. National Conference of Black Lawyers 29. National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty30. National Lawyers Guild31. National Lawyers Guild - Minnesota Chapter32. National Network for Immigrant & Refugee Rights33. National Rail Maritime and Transport Union 0543 Local Finsbury Park Branch 34. Norbertines of the Priory of St. Moses the Black35. NY Solidarity Coalition with Katrina & Rita Survivors and the Survivors Assembly 36. United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE)37. Urban Justice Center38. Willets Point Defense Committee39. Women's International League for Peace and Freedom40. Women of Color United(please see individual signatures on next page)
Individual Signatures (with organizational affiliation for identification purposes only)
1. Ajamu Baraka, Executive Director, US Human Rights Network2. Alexandra Oprea, Senior Editor, UCLA Law Review, Vol. 57 3. Aleyamma Mathew, Transnational Institute for Grassroots Research and Action4. Alice J. Palmer, Chicago, Co-Chair of the People Programme5. Amelia Parker, Program Coordinator, Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, American University Washington College of Law6. Amy Agigian, Center for Women's Health and Human Rights, Suffolk University7. André Degbeon, Founder, AFRO TV BERLIN8. Andrés Castro, Founder/Managing Ed., The Teacher's Voice 9. Ann Fagan Ginger, The Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute10. Anthony Gifford, Barrister (UK) and Attorney-at-law (Jamaica)11. Asantewaa Gail Harris, Community Vision Council12. Bill Fletcher, Jr., Executive Editor, BlackCommentator.com13. Brenda Stokely, New York Solidarity Coalition with Katrina & Rita survivors14. Charles Amjad-Ali, Ph.D., Th.D., The Martin Luther King, Jr., Professor of Justice and Christian Community, Director Islamic Studies Program, Luther Seminary15. Council Member Charles Barron, New York City Council 16. Chris Crass, Catalyst Project17. Clarence C. Gravlee, Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Florida18. Colin Rajah, International Migrant Rights & Global Justice Program Director, National Network for Immigrant & Refugee Rights (NNIRR)19. Professor Connie de la Vega, University of San Francisco, School of Law20. Dr. Corann Okorodudu, Professor of Psychology & Coordinator, Africana Studies21. Daniel Hazen, Board Member, US Human Rights Network22. David Gespass, President-Elect of the National Lawyers Guild23. David Kreindler, Vermont Workers' Center24. David Wildman, Executive Secretary, Human Rights & Racial Justice Mission, Contexts & Relationships, General Board of Global Ministries United Methodist Church25. Dawn Stanger, Vermont Workers' Center26. Denise Williams, Ph.D., Negotiation, Conflict Resolution & Peacebuilding, California State University Dominguez Hills27. Ms. Diane King, Director, Seeking Joint Solution28. Dianne Burnham, Ohio Valley PEACE, Outreach29. Donald H. Smith, Ph.D., Past President, the National Alliance of Black School Educators; Former chair, the Board for the Education of People of African Ancestry, the John Henrik Clarke House, New York City30. Dowoti Désir, Founder of the DDPA Watch Group31. Ms. Dra Barryl A. Biekman, President of the African European Women's Movement "Sophiedela"; Chair of the National Platform Dutch Slavery; Past President of the Pan African Strategic and Policy Group (Panafstrag Europe EU/NL; Board member of Tiye International 32. Edith M. Jackson, Howard University33. Edward L. Palmer, Chicago, Co-Chair of the People Programme34. Ellen Raider, Independent Commission on Public Education35. Emira Woods, Foreign Policy In Focus/Institute for Policy Studies36. Eric Mann, Author, Dispatches from Durban: The World Conference Against Racism and Post-September 11 Movement Strategies.37. Erika Simard, Vermont Workers' Center38. Eva Paterson, President, Equal Justice Society39. Francisco Ramos, Executive Director, Coalition of African, Arab, Asian, European, and Latino Immigrants of Illinois. (CAAAELII) 40. Gary Orfield, Professor of Education, Law, Political Science and Urban Planning. Co-Director, Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles, University of California, Los Angeles, UCLA41. Gerardo Renique, Associate Professor, Department of History, City College of the City University of New York42. Dr. Gloria A. Caballero-Roca, Hispanic Studies, Earlham College43. Gwendolyn Anderson, Member, NEA, WEAC and Milwaukee Teachers Association44. Henrietta Faulconer, Northside Neighbors for Justice 45. Ignatious Muhammad, Member, Nation of Islam 46. Dr. Irma Loemban Tobing-Klein, President MDG Global Watch47. Iwan Leeuwin, Chairperson, AAD Network in the Netherlands48. James Haslam, Vermont Workers' Center49. James Rowan, Northeastern University School of Law50. Dr. Jason M. Ferreira, Department of Race and Resistance Studies College of Ethnic Studies, San Francisco State University51. Jeanne Mirer, Secretary General of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers52. Rev. Jeremy Tobin, Board Member, US Human Rights Network and Executive Board, Movement for Immigrant Rights Alliance (MIRA)53. Jerrika Rivera, President, Asociacion Latina DBA Latina Association 54. Jewel L. Crawford, MD, National Medical Association; Participant, UN World Conference Against Racism, 2001 55. Joanna Cuevas Ingram, Student Member, National Lawyers Guild - San Francisco56. Joceline A. Clemencia, Director Cultural Institute Independence, Curaçao, Netherlands Antilles57. John A. Powell, Executive Director, the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity58. Jonathan Kissam, Vermont Workers' Center59. Jose R. Matus, Alianza Indigena Sin Fronteras60. Joshua Cooper, Director, Hawaii Institute for Human Rights 61. Kalin Williams, Malcom X Grassroots Movement62. Katie Seitz, Teaching for Change63. K-C Nat Turner, Assistant Professor, School of Education, University of Massachusetts, Amherst64. Keith Jennings, President, African American Human Rights Foundation 65. Kristine Suozzi, Ph.D., New Mexico Health Equity Working Group Coordinator 66. Dr. Lady Dhyana Ziegler, Professor of Journalism, Florida A&M University, Tallahassee, Florida 67. Laura Roskos, Ph.D., Co-President of U.S. Section, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom68. Lisa A. Crooms, Howard University School of Law 69. Loretta J. Ross, National Coordinator, SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective70. Lucy Murphy, Convenor, Gray Panthers of Metropolitan Washington 71. Lynn Roberts, PhD, Assistant Professor & Coordinator, Community Health Education Track, Urban Public Health Program, Hunter College72. M. Thandabantu Iverson, Ph.D., Indiana University Labor Studies Program, School of Social Work73. Madeline Labriola, Hudson Valley PaxChristi74. Marc Pilisuk, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, The University of California. Professor, Saybrook Graduate School and Research Center75. Marilyn Fischer, Franciscans International76. Martin Y. Iguchi, Ph.D., UCLA School of Public Health77. Dr. Martin C. Okeke, (PhD) Former President of the Organisation NIDOE-France, Vice President PanAFSTRAG-France 78. Matt McGrath, Vermont Workers' Center79. Mavis G. Biekman, Board Member, African European Women's Movement Sophiedela, The Hague, The Netherlands80. Monami Maulik, DRUM-Desis Rising Up & Moving81. Monique Ndigo Washington, The Healing Drum Collective 82. Nancy J. Bothne, Instructor, DePaul University83. Nancy Munger, Co-President of U.S. Section, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom84. Nina T. Harawa, MPH, PhD, Department of Research, Charles Drew University 85. Nkem Dike, Northwestern University, IL86. Nzingha Assata, Founding Member, The Alliance of Afrikan Women in England87. Peg Franzen, Vermont Workers Center88. Mr. Philip M. J. Baptiste, III, Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc89. Queen Quet, Founder, Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalition90. Radhika Balakrishnan, Professor of Economics and International Studies , Marymount Manhattan College91. Raj Patel, Affiliation. UC Berkeley Center for African Studies92. Ramona Ortega, Executive Director, Cidadao Glo