Durban Watch

Durban II

EYEontheUN ALERT - August 30, 2007

Day 4

Ten and a quarter millions dollars is what the United Nations spent on propagating anti-semitism on a global scale at the Durban I "anti-racism" conference back in 2001. This was the information revealed today to the Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) of Durban II, currently meeting in Geneva.

In a day marked by continuing discord over the main substantive items, the UN committee did not have any trouble agreeing to a procedural move with discriminatory overtones. The first substantive session of the preparatory committee will be April 21- May 2, 2008. Why those dates? The Jewish holiday of Passover is April 20-27, 2008 and Jews the world over will now be inhibited from participating in a meeting supposedly dedicated to combating discrimination and xenophobia.

The second substantive session will be October 6-17, 2008, but these dates are still unconfirmed "to avoid any conflict with the General Assembly's Third Committee meetings."

Releasing the dollar figures for Durban I now puts a key issue in a clearer light. How much can anti-democratic states, with some of the world's worst human rights records, expect the Western democratic world to hand over for Durban II in the name of fighting racism everywhere, except that is, in the backyards of the Organization of the Islamic Conference.

The hands are out. The EU is playing coy. It is claiming it will absolutely refuse to pay unless it gets its way on limiting Durban II to the implementation of Durban I's Declaration. In other words, the EU says it won't agree to holding a global Danish-cartoon conference or a 'fighting terrorism is a racist ploy' conference. So as negotiations drag on, the EU is now threatening to withhold approval for expenditures from the UN regular budget and to refuse to cough up voluntary funds for the 2009 Conference.

On the other hand, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) and the African Group of the Human Rights Council (which the OIC controls) are threatening to call a vote on Friday on all the preparatory matters still outstanding – including the objectives of Durban II – if the EU doesn't capitulate and join "consensus" by the end of the day.

The EU has gone down this path many-a-time at the UN – and for the past seven years at the General Assembly have caved in as a matter of routine. The U.S. and Israel have voted against successive "Durban follow-up" resolutions which have led inexorably to today's stand-off while the EU has voted with their friends at the OIC.

Today in Geneva the EU was in effect playing for time – content to come to no final resolution of the main issues at this first preparatory meeting. By contrast, the OIC and the African Group want decisions now. And why not. As former U.S. Ambassador John Bolton has explained "it's fun spending other people's money." He might have added – especially given the UN endgame has predetermined winners and losers and the losers pay for their own demise.

The rub is that the EU knows that they don't have the numbers if the tough issues, like the objectives, come to a vote. Moreover, the EU is desperately holding on to the fiction of this United Nations as capable of protecting human rights and fighting racism in the 21st century. Consequently, the EU is almost always prepared to reach "consensus" at all costs across the UN spectrum. It would therefore be no surprise to any UN observer if the EU's play for time today translates into a total capitulation tomorrow, where they join consensus on some ambiguous language and feign victory. If they are successful in simply buying time, the upcoming General Assembly will become the battlefield for the next round - many of the same players just departing Geneva to operate from New York. The numbers for democratic governments at the UN in New York are as bleak.

Over the course of today's informal sessions, Egypt (coordinator of the African Group) objected to today's new "non-paper." The non-paper proposed by Armenia suggested that the Conference "evaluate and enhance the effectiveness of the existing Durban follow-up mechanisms and other relevant UN mechanisms dealing with the issue of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance." What was Egypt's problem? The idea of evaluating actual conditions of equality. Said Egypt's representative" "I think enhancing' the effectiveness' is enough, no need to evaluate..."

Also in today's debates was a battle over whether or not the PrepCom should solicit active participation in the Conference, in the form of analysis and recommendations, from specific named human rights investigators or rapporteurs. The OIC states want to name in particular only the UN special rapporteur on racism and related intolerance and the special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief. The former produces an annual report on Islamophobia. Left out of these special invitations would be all kinds of UN rapporteurs on subjects like freedom of expression and women's rights. The OIC thought it would be fine to just point to "other relevant human rights mechanisms" and leave invitations to those dealing with rights they have no intention of respecting to future consideration. So far the EU has said, no to any list of preferred rights.

On the sidelines of all this government sport, stand the NGOs. Contrary to popular belief, civil society is no less prone to posturing in the name of human rights than the states they inhabit. A meeting was held today organized by "Interfaith International". It provided another platform for the following kind of diatribe:
    Dr. Krishna Ahoojapatel, President of the NGO Committee on the Status of Women (The Conference of NGOs in Consultative Relationship with the United Nations - CONGO): "since 9/11 happened on the same weekend as Durban, the media blocked out what happened in Durban; ...the so-called war on terrorism...; 20% of Palestinians live almost in prison cells..."

    Dr. Kapet de Bana (International Coordinator of the World Council of the African Diaspora, Paris) spoke about "Americans that segregate" and praised Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi as a great African leader.

    Charles Grave, the Secretary-General of Interfaith International said in response to a question about how to prevent the same kind of incidents [concerning anti-semitism and Israel] that took place during Durban I: "it was impossible to stop these countercurrents.... Let's not make charges of what could happen in the future..."
One of the most vocal NGOs throughout this week's sessions has been Tupaj Amaru. Back in 2004 Tupaj Amaru had its UN accreditation suspended by the Economic and Social Council for one year after the group had "rushed towards the United States delegation carrying a large cylindrical object, had unfurled a banner and had chanted anti-American slogans" during the 2003 session of the Commission on Human Rights. In the eyes of Durban II enthusiasts, of course, this only renders this NGO a more welcome participant. Back from suspension, the representative of Tupaj Amaru during this week's sessions gushed: "I share the views of Iran and Egypt." It went on to say "... racism needs to be understood within the context of terrorism and the war on the basis of the Patriot Act..." and "we are opposed to New York [as a venue of the Durban II Conference]. The U.S. government would not grant visas to activist NGOs working on human rights...while we want effective participation of the victims of racism."

There you have it. The U.S. and Israel are the problem. Egypt and Iran are the solution. And we wait to see how much the Europeans will agree to throw at an entire conference along this vein – and American taxpayers will agree to pay once the budget hits the General Assembly's Fifth Committee this coming fall.