Durban Watch

Durban II

EYEontheUN ALERT - April 6, 2009

The Durban Delay

This article, by Anne Bayefsky, originally appeared in National Review Online.

The Durban II U.N. "anti-racism" conference is set to begin April 20 -- the anniversary of Hitler's birth -- and the committee responsible for drafting the conference's final declaration met today in Geneva. As the dialogue for and against expressing regret for the Holocaust continued, President Obama hasn't decided whether the U.S. will attend the conference, apparently quivering at the prospect of "non-engagement."

Engagement in this U.N. forum is about giving voice to anti-Semites and racists -- under the guise of combating racism. Today Iran used the U.N. megaphone to express its views about human rights as many times as the entire European Union did; Iran was second only to South Africa. Syria took the opportunity to announce it had reservations about the Holocaust paragraph, which reads: "Recalls that the Holocaust must never be forgotten, and in this context urges all U.N. members to implement GA resolutions 60/7 and 61/255." Iran's delegate immediately declared "a lot of support for the specific comments of Syria."

Syria and Iran's constant complaints about the reference to the Holocaust have already done enormous damage to the credibility of Durban II. The above-quoted paragraph is a stripped-down version of an older text that was more expansive and action-oriented. It included:
    Affirms that the Holocaust, which resulted in the murder of one-third of the Jewish people, along with numerous members of other minorities, will forever be a warning to all people of the dangers of hatred, bigotry, racism and prejudice; recalls again that the Holocaust must never be forgotten
    . . . .
    Urges States to raise awareness and to implement United Nations General Assembly resolutions 60/7 and 61/255 which inter alia observed that remembrance of the Holocaust is critical to prevent further acts of genocide, condemned without reservation any denial of the Holocaust and urged all Member States to reject denial of the Holocaust as an historical event either in full or in part or any activities to this end.
When the European Union listed its various objections to the negotiating text today, the deletion of these detailed references to the Holocaust (which they themselves had originally proposed) was not among them. This is the essence of what consensus means at the United Nations: A lowest common denominator emerges for reasons having nothing to do with human rights.

Syria and Iran also served notice that they do not intend to leave the effort to demonize a "racist Israel" off the table at Durban II. Said Syria, "We feel the structure of the text is not victims-oriented as it allows the perpetrators of racism to find refuge. . . . We will not endorse a process that ignores the surviving apartheid regime."

Also, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, called for the "reaffirmation" of the 2001 conference's final document so that "we can hope to alleviate the plight of countless victims of racism." Pillay chose her words deliberately. She knew this amounted to once again labelling Israel as racist. She was fully aware that such a "reaffirmation" is a primary hurdle to U.S. participation in Durban II -- because the 2001 document's list of "victims of racism" includes "the plight of the Palestinian people under foreign occupation."

Also engaging in this "human rights" discussion was Pakistan. On behalf of the 56 states of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, Pakistan indicated that the paragraph mentioning anti-Semitism needed "more work."

Cuba, meanwhile, got upset about this idea: "Stresses that the right to freedom of opinion and expression constitutes one of the essential foundations of a democratic, pluralistic society, since it ensures access to a multitude of ideas and views." Cuba declared: "I don't think this is really a subject matter for the conference and should be deleted."

Throughout this "human rights" dialogue, Australia contributed a sentence, the U.S. and Italy observed from the sidelines, and the Dutch pointed out that the draft still undermined freedom of expression.

In the U.N.'s Geneva halls, there is much speculation that the Obama administration might be prepared to join Durban II if a nice footnote were tacked on explaining U.S. reservations. But such a trick was tried on Canada in 2001, and every U.N. publication of the Durban Declaration thereafter failed to reproduce the Canadian caveats.

Furthermore, throughout today's meeting repeated calls for the full implementation of the 2001 Durban Declaration were approved without any objections (although all approvals are tentative until the whole package is agreed.) Given all of these other references to the 2001 Durban Declaration, it would be virtually impossible for a minor footnote to satisfy the administration's stated condition that it will not "reaffirm the Durban Declaration in toto."

Also influencing the administration's stance on U.S. participation is the recent decision by President Obama to join the permanent Israel-bashing forum known as the Human Rights Council. The move may make the president feel inclined to throw American Jews a bone by not attending Durban II. The president may also believe he will be able to extract some future concession from Israel for the magnanimous step of deciding not to participate in a global platform for anti-Semitism.

Having left this matter of principle to the last minute, what the administration really deserves is derision. The shameful delay has defeated the chances of a much wider -- and much deserved -- boycott of this dangerous gathering.