On 5 March, Minister Frattini announced in Brussels the decision to withdraw the Italian delegation from Geneva, where the Durban II Conference will be taking place from 20 to 24 April. The Italian withdrawal, and followed the example of the USA, Canada and Holland, was a protest against the “anti-Semitic” phrases contained in the draft Declaration. The reasons behind the Italian decision include:
- As was the case in 2001, the Israeli-Palestinian question once again appears in several sections of the document under discussion. The text negotiated thus far refers to “a policy of racial discrimination against the Palestinian population”. It defines Israel as being responsible for apartheid, torture and numerous criminal actions in breach of human rights. Israel is even described as “a threat to peace and international security”.
- The document also contains references to the question of “religious defamation”. International conventions against racism already exist. We need to make every effort to ensure that they are applied in full. The Italian Government deems it inappropriate to speak of “additional standards” that aim to introduce new limits to freedom of expression in cases where it is a religion that is being “defamed”.
Freedom of expression is one of the fundamental values of our civilisation and legal culture, according to which individuals, not religions, have rights.
On issues of such importance, on which all the countries of the European Union are in profound agreement, Italy wished to state its position very clearly. It is no coincidence that these issues have been described as the Union’s “red line”, coinciding with those of other western democracies such as the United States, for example.
The previous Conference (the third) against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance took place in Durban from 31 August to 8 September 2001 on the basis of UN General Assembly Resolution 52/111 of 1997.
That Conference focused on five issues (causes and forms of racism; victims; prevention, education and protection measures; compensation and reparation measures; strategies to achieve full and effective equality). It ended, after a difficult debate, with the consensus-based adoption of a Declaration and Action Plan. These documents restate the general principles agreed at the international level and contain a series of measures to be implemented to fight racism more incisively. The Conference also addressed highly controversial issues such as the Middle East question, the recognition of past injustices (slavery, trafficking in slaves, colonialism). It discussed ways of compensating or providing reparations for these and identifying the victims of racism and the criteria for discrimination.