Less than a month after the United States announced that it was withdrawing from participation in the United Nations Durban Review Conference and would re-engage only if dramatic revisions were made in the draft resolution for the Conference, the U.N. human rights office in Geneva announced substantial changes in the draft declaration. (Associated Press, 3/17.) References to "defamation of religion" have been removed and the draft now only expresses concern about the "negative stereotyping of religions." Also direct references to Israel have been removed from the draft.
Attempts over the past several years by the Organization of the Islamic Conference to enshrine "defamation of religion" as an offense under international law have generated substantial controversy. (See prior posting.) The group UN Watch (affiliated with the American Jewish Committee) still has some problems with the Durban II draft. Language referring to sexual orientation discrimination has been removed. Also, the draft still takes the position that religions themselves — not just religious believers — should be protected under human rights law. Western diplomats had no immediate comment on the changes, other than to say they were moving in the right direction. (See prior related posting.)