No thoughtful person expects the NDP to be perfect, or even to be fully aware of the consequences of every decision the party makes. Even the most thoughtful person or group is not immune to an occasional impulsive mistaken decision.

With this understanding, the NDP’s apparent decision to support the Canadian government’s abandonment of the United Nations sponsored UN Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance both saddens and disturbs me deeply. The decision is an alarming indication of just how precarious the future of international humanitarian law has become.

In a statement posted on the federal NDP website on January 24, 2008, Foreign Affairs critic Paul Dewar explained his rationale for opposing the anti-racism conference in a statement entitled, “NDP supports non-participation in flawed UN conference.”

“Canada should not only cancel its participation in Durban II, but it should also take a role in proposing an alternative. Canada should take the initiative and host an international forum on the issues of racism, discrimination, xenophobia, and intolerance. Our country can serve as a platform for a world-wide discussion committed to uprooting racism.”

As of several days after this statement was posted, it was no longer available on the website.

No thoughtful person expects the United Nations to act without fault, but few will deny that we are better off with an agreed upon Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by an international organization with representatives from every nation. For all of its faults no progressive person actually wants to eliminate the UN.

No thoughtful person expects international human rights law to be perfect for it is fallible human beings who create it and work to improve it over time. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was created in the aftermath of what is undoubtedly the worst failure of human nature in recorded history. In the aftermath of World War II there was a collective realization that something needed to be done to deal with the human potential for carnage and state-managed evil that the world had recently witnessed.

Very few doubted, in 1945, the need for the United Nations or for international humanitarian law. What was clear to everyone at the time was the key role played by racism in facilitating the crimes of the Nazis and it made good sense to deal with these issues if we were to build a more secure world.

However, the United Nations has not prevented every war, and racism and intolerance are still found in every nation. We now have two schools of thought on the question of global security. Some place their faith in a struggle to build a universal acceptance of international humanitarian law that will eliminate the consequences of racism and intolerance. Others believe in superior military power to ensure the safety of their group.

The U.S. invasion of Iraq was accompanied by a trivializing of international law and a determination to hobble the United Nations. At the time Stephen Harper bemoaned the fact that Canada was not part of the invasion of Iraq. It is no surprise, then, that Harper’s government has abandoned a UN conference dealing with racism and intolerance. His unqualified support for Israel’s destruction of the Lebanese infrastructure and onslaught on Lebanon’s civilian population in 2006 is certainly consistent with this latest action.

Unexpected, though, is the NDP’s support of this Conservative government’s action. For all the hype that has surrounded the 2001 conference in Durban it is surprising that the NDP so easily caved in to the hysteria surrounding this new conference scheduled for Durban in 2009.

What exactly was Canada’s official position in Durban in 2001? Canada, as represented by the Liberal government at the time, felt that the Palestinian/Israeli conflict was a political matter and should not have been discussed at a conference on racism. This sentiment was echoed in Canadaâe(TM)s rejection of the decision by the International Court at The Hague on the illegality of the Israeli wall being built on Palestinian territory. Here too, Canada claimed that it was a political matter and did not come under the jurisdiction of any court. Is this why we are not going to attend a United Nations conference trying to eliminate racism?

We have heard much about how the obsession of Islamic countries’ with Israel and Palestine made it impossible to deal with all the other racism-related problems around the world, but never about how the determination of European and North American countries to keep Israel and the Palestinians out of any discussion on racism bogged the conference down.

“The Declaration and Programme of Action,” adopted at Durban I, contains 219 clauses. Only two mention Israel and Palestine. Clause 150, for its part, is a model of balance: “Calls upon States, in opposing all forms of racism, to recognize the need to counter anti-Semitism, anti-Arabism and Islamophobia world-wide.”

We have heard often enough about how those absurd forgeries circulating under the title The Protocols of the Elders of Zion were on sale outside the conference at Durban, but why should that stop the nations of the world from trying to eliminate the racism inherent in this disgusting Judeophobic diatribe?

The bottom line is that, whatever our differences, military solutions have never provided long-term security for any nation or group. And while international humanitarian law is no guarantee, it remains the only hope for long-term peace and justice on earth.

One would hope that the party of social democracy in Canada would be prepared to meet with the rest of the human family to try to solve our mutual problems. Currently the only organization that comes close to being a universal body of humankind is the United Nations.

Any competing conference that Canada would organize, as the NDP statement advocated, in opposition to a UN conference with the intention of not addressing Israel and Palestine is going to be limited to ex-colonial powers and their hangers-on. It would be shameful for the NDP to be supportive of such an option.