Dr. Ben Saul responds to calls for Australia to boycott the UN Conference against racism

24 July 2008

Dr. Ben Saul @ the 2007 Sydney Law School Postgraduate Information Evening

Dr. Ben Saul, Director of the Sydney Centre for International Law @ Sydney Law School, believes Australia stands to lose much if it decides to boycott the second United Nations Conference against racism.

In a feature article co-authored with Dr. Andrea Durbach of the University of New South Wales (UNSW), which appeared in today's Sydney Morning Herald, Dr. Saul outlined a number of reasons against such a boycott.

"First, a boycott would be ineffective. The withdrawal of a few Western nations will have little real effect and those delegates with harsh and extreme voices will simply be handed unimpeded access to a global platform for their vitriol and polemic.

"Second, a boycott would be counterproductive. Refusing to engage with opposing views often succeeds only in entrenching polarised positions. The potential to correct assumptions, present informed criticism, dismantle stereotypes and shape pragmatic strategies against racism, evaporates.

"Third, the participation of repressive governments is no reason to boycott an international meeting which will address a great global threat to peace and security."

Dr. Saul and Dr. Durbach were responding to comments this week by the Canadian academic, Professor Anne Bayefsky, who encourages a boycott, that the conference would be a repeat of the "anti-Semitic hatefest"of the first UN conference against racism, held in Durban, South Africa, in 2001.

They write, "If being 'rights-respecting' is a a criterion for participation, as Professor Bayefsky suggests, then few countries would qualify as virtuous enough, and diplomacy and the UN - which remains our best, albeit flawed, 'hope' for universal human rights promotion - would disappear."

To view the entire article - We must stay in the racism debate

Contact: Greg Sherington

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