Open Letter to President Barack Obama on US Refusal to Participate in Conference on Racism

March 27, 2009

Open Letter to President Barack Obama

Why the United States Should Stop Refusing to Participate in a Global Conference on Racism

Click here to send a letter to President Obama urging him to have the United States represented at the Durban Conference on Racism

Dear President Barack Obama,
President Obama at G20 Conference 2009
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.

 Organizational Signatures
1.  Advocates for Environmental Human Rights
2. Alianza Latinoamericana por los Derechos de los Inmigrantes, ALDI
3. Black Alliance for Just Immigration
4. Black Workers for Justice - Europe (BWJ-e)
5. BLACK Advisors
6. Center for Constitutional Rights
7. Cidadao Global
8. Coalition of African, Arab, Asian, European, and Latino Immigrants of Illinois
9. Coalition to Save Harlem
10. Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism
11. Croydon African Caribbean Family
12. Equal Justice Society
13. Equality Now
14. Four Freedoms Forum
15. Global Afrikan Congressuk
16. Hawai'i Institute for Human Rights
17. Highlander Research and Education Center
18. International Action Center
19. Justice Now
20. Labor/Community Strategy Center
21. Malcolm X Grassroots Movement
22. Maria Iñamagua Campaign for Justice
23. Matahari: Eye of the Day
24. The Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute
25. Minnesota Tenants Union
26. Movement for Immigrant Rights Alliance (MIRA)
27. National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, Chicago Branch
28. National Conference of Black Lawyers
29. National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty
30. National Lawyers Guild
31. National Lawyers Guild - Minnesota Chapter
32. National Network for Immigrant & Refugee Rights
33. National Rail Maritime and Transport Union 0543 Local Finsbury Park Branch
34. Norbertines of the Priory of St. Moses the Black
35. NY Solidarity Coalition with Katrina & Rita Survivors and the Survivors Assembly
36. United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE)
37. Urban Justice Center
38. Willets Point Defense Committee
39. Women's International League for Peace and Freedom
40. Women of Color United

 Individual Signatures (with organizational affiliation for identification purposes only)
1. Ajamu Baraka, Executive Director, US Human Rights Network
2. Alexandra Oprea, Senior Editor, UCLA Law Review, Vol. 57
3. Aleyamma Mathew, Transnational Institute for Grassroots Research and Action
4. Alice J. Palmer, Chicago, Co-Chair of the People Programme
5. Amelia Parker, Program Coordinator, Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, American University Washington College of Law
6. Amy Agigian, Center for Women's Health and Human Rights, Suffolk University
7. André Degbeon, Founder, AFRO TV BERLIN
8. Andrés Castro, Founder/Managing Ed., The Teacher's Voice
9. Ann Fagan Ginger, The Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute
10. Anthony Gifford, Barrister (UK) and Attorney-at- law (Jamaica)
11. Asantewaa Gail Harris, Community Vision Council
12. Bill Fletcher, Jr., Executive Editor, BlackCommentator. com
13. Brenda Stokely, New York Solidarity Coalition with Katrina & Rita survivors
14. Charles Amjad-Ali, Ph.D., Th.D., The Martin Luther King, Jr., Professor of Justice and Christian Community, Director Islamic Studies Program, Luther Seminary
15. Council Member Charles Barron, New York City Council
16. Chris Crass, Catalyst Project
17. Clarence C. Gravlee, Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Florida
18. 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 Law
20. Dr. Corann Okorodudu, Professor of Psychology & Coordinator, Africana Studies
21. Daniel Hazen, Board Member, US Human Rights Network
22. David Gespass, President-Elect of the National Lawyers Guild
23. David Kreindler, Vermont Workers' Center
24. David Wildman, Exec Secretary, Human Rights & Racial Justice Mission, Contexts & Relationships, General Board of Global Ministries United Methodist Church
25. Dawn Stanger, Vermont Workers' Center
26. Denise Williams, Ph.D., Negotiation, Conflict Resolution & Peacebuilding, California State University Dominguez Hills
27. Ms. Diane King, Director, Seeking Joint Solution
28. Dianne Burnham, Ohio Valley PEACE, Outreach
29. 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 City

Individual Signatures (with organizational affiliation for identification purposes only) - Part 2
30. Dowoti Désir, Founder of the DDPA Watch Group
31. 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 University
33. Edward L. Palmer, Chicago, Co-Chair of the People Programme
34. Ellen Raider, Independent Commission on Public Education
35. Emira Woods, Foreign Policy In Focus/Institute for Policy Studies
36. Eric Mann, Author, Dispatches from Durban: The World Conference Against Racism and Post-September 11 Movement Strategies.
37. Erika Simard, Vermont Workers' Center
38. Eva Paterson, President, Equal Justice Society
39. 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, UCLA
41. Gerardo Renique, Associate Professor, Department of History, City College of the City University of New York
42. Dr. Gloria A. Caballero-Roca, Hispanic Studies, Earlham College
43. Gwendolyn Anderson, Member, NEA, WEAC and Milwaukee Teachers Association
44. Henrietta Faulconer, Northside Neighbors for Justice
45. Ignatious Muhammad, Member, Nation of Islam
46. Dr. Irma Loemban Tobing-Klein, President MDG Global Watch
47. Iwan Leeuwin, Chairperson, AAD Network in the Netherlands
48. James Haslam, Vermont Workers' Center
49. James Rowan, Northeastern University School of Law
50. Dr. Jason M. Ferreira, Department of Race and Resistance Studies College of Ethnic Studies, San Francisco State University
51. Jeanne Mirer, Secretary General of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers
52.  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 Francisco
56. Joceline A. Clemencia, Director Cultural Institute Independence, Curaçao, Netherlands Antilles
57. John A. Powell, Exec Director, Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race & Ethnicity
58. Jonathan Kissam, Vermont Workers' Center
59. Jose R. Matus, Alianza Indigena Sin Fronteras
60. Joshua Cooper, Director, Hawaii Institute for Human Rights
61. Kalin Williams, Malcom X Grassroots Movement
62. Katie Seitz, Teaching for Change
63. K-C Nat Turner, Assistant Professor, School of Education, UMass, Amherst
64. 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 Freedom
68. Lisa A. Crooms, Howard University School of Law
69. Loretta J. Ross, National Coordinator, SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective
70. Lucy Murphy, Convenor, Gray Panthers of Metropolitan Washington
Individual Signatures (with organizational affiliation for identification purposes only) - Part 3
71. Lynn Roberts, PhD, Assistant Professor & Coordinator, Community Health Education Track, Urban Public Health Program, Hunter College
72. M. Thandabantu Iverson, Ph.D., Indiana University Labor Studies Program, School of Social Work
73. Madeline Labriola, Hudson Valley  PaxChristi
74. Marc Pilisuk, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, The University of California. Professor, Saybrook Graduate School and Research Center
75. Marilyn Fischer, Franciscans International
76. Martin Y. Iguchi, Ph.D., UCLA School of Public Health
77. Dr. Martin C. Okeke, (PhD) Former President of the Organisation NIDOE-France, Vice President PanAFSTRAG-France
78. Matt McGrath, Vermont Workers' Center
79. Mavis G. Biekman, Board Member, African European Women's Movement Sophiedela, The Hague, The Netherlands
80. Monami Maulik, DRUM-Desis Rising Up & Moving
81. Monique Ndigo Washington, The Healing Drum Collective
82. Nancy J. Bothne, Instructor, DePaul University
83. Nancy Munger, Co-President of U.S. Section, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom
84. Nina T. Harawa, MPH, PhD, Department of Research, Charles Drew University
85. Nkem Dike, Northwestern University, IL
86. Nzingha Assata, Founding Member, The Alliance of Afrikan Women in England
87. Peg Franzen, Vermont Workers Center
88. Mr. Philip M. J. Baptiste, III, Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc
89. Queen Quet, Founder, Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalition
90. Radhika Balakrishnan, Professor of Economics and International Studies , Marymount Manhattan College
91. Raj Patel, Affiliation. UC Berkeley Center for African Studies
92. Ramona Ortega, Executive Director, Cidadao Global
93. Sam Anderson, Author, The Black Holocaust For Beginners. National Reparations Congress. Black New Yorkers for Educational Excellence
94. Sandra Rivers, Black New Yorkers for Educational Excellence, Independent Progressive Politics Network (IPPN), National Black Education Agenda (NBEA), Coalition to Save Harlem (CSH)
95. Sara Flounders, Co-Director, International Action Center
96. Serfia Macnack, Comité Moederhart 1982, Suriname/Holland
97. Sharon Bator, Doctoral Student Southern University and A&M College
98. Shawna Howell, MPH, ASPH/CDC Health Disparities Fellow, Community Health and Program Services Branch, Division of Adult and Community Health, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention
99. Sheila McNiff, Sisters of Holy Child
100.Shelby F. Lewis, Professor Emeritus, Clark Atlanta University
101.Shulamith Koenig, 2003 Recipient of  the UN Human Rights Award
102.Dr. Stephanie Athey, Lasell College, Newton, MA
103.Susan Alva, Migration Policy & Resource Center UEPI/Occidental College/Los Angeles, CA
104.Sylvanna Falcon, Assistant Professor, Dept. of Sociology, Connecticut College
105.Taliba Adjoa, Project South: The Institute for the Elimination of Poverty and Genocide
106.Tanisha Douglas, Malcom X Grassroots Movement
107.Thomas B. Hall Jr., Peace and Justice
108.Vernellia R. Randall, Professor of Law, University of Dayton
109.Virginia Ott, Nord-Sud XXI
110.Wendy Lopez, Malcom X Grassroots Movement
111.William Stokes, Afro-Americans C.A.R.E.
 Individual Signatures (with no organizational affiliation)
112.Akosua Gyeaboa LCSW, MSW, Indianapolis, Indiana
113.Alexis Berkowitz, New York, NY
114.Andrea Silva, Normal Illinois, USA
115.Angela Flynn, Bethesda, MD
116.Celeste Bocchicchio, Atlanta, GA
117.Chandra S. Bhatnagar, New York, NY
118.Cynthia Racer, MA, MPH
119.Dorothy Stephens
120.Gail Lerner, New York, NY
121.Ijeoma Dike-Young, Indianapolis, IN
122.Jeanne Bergman, Ph.D., New York, NY
Individual Signatures (with no organizational affiliation)
123.Judith L. Killen, Educator, New York City
124.Kawika Liu, MD, PhD, JD, Honolulu, HI
125.Kwasigadyapay. F. R. Kotzebue, The Netherlands
126.Lee Guest, New York, NY
127.Lorraine Halinka Malcoe, PhD, MPH, Albuquerque, NM
128.Ms. Lynda Wolfe Smith
129.Marlene L. Grant
130.Naomi Blake, London, UK
131.Pauline Park, Transgender Activist, New York, NY
132.Terry Day,  Anti-Racist Activist, UK
133.Vrede Yvonne, Suriname
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