Durban Watch

Durban II

EYEontheUN ALERT - January 23, 2009

Durban II's Iranian "Anti-racist" Superstar

Day 3 of the UN Durban II planning committee meeting, January 21st, saw Iran once again take the floor more often than other single state. "The UN is giving a regime headed by a notorious racist a platform to manufacture anti-racist credentials," said Anne Bayefsky, Editor of EYEontheUN. "The only question now is whether President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton are going to lend legitimacy to this travesty by joining these racists at the table," she added.

Here is an example of Iran's lecture on equality to the assembled Durban II crowd purporting to be meeting for the purpose of combating racism: "The crux of matter that in countries a different group of people - because of color, ethnicity, background - are treated in a discriminatory manner as they go to seek a job, or education or housing. As soon as their ethnical identity, color of skin is known to the employer, educator, supplier of housing, they are treated in a different manner. These double standards should be avoided."

And here is another gem from the Iranian "human rights" expert as he recommends wording for the Durban II "outcome document": "I would like to kindly draw the attention of the house to the fact that here we are working on a conference on racism and racial discrimination... I have my variation - at dictation speed - then if it sounds acceptable...: "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity of rights therefore any doctrine based on superiority of one over another is categorically and strongly rejected.""

One more Iranian nugget of inspiration courtesy Durban II: "We like to see spirit of compromise... talking about the formulation of providing maximizing redress to victims through inter alia securing access to justice...Make sure justice is served...because justice delayed is justice denied from our point of view."

The speaker, a representative of a country whose president advocates genocide, was clearly wallowing in the UN-provided opportunity to pretend to care about racism. Despite the travesty, not one state made any mention of the lecturer's anti-racism credentials. Those credentials? As described in the most recent annual State Department report on Iran: "The government's poor human rights record worsened...The government severely limited citizens' right to change their government... Security forces committed acts of politically motivated abductions; torture and severe officially-sanctioned punishments, including death by stoning; amputation; flogging; and excessive use of force against and imprisonment of demonstrators...The government severely restricted civil liberties, including freedoms of speech, press, assembly, association, movement, and privacy. The government placed severe restrictions on freedom of religion...Violence and legal and societal discrimination against women, ethnic and religious minorities, and homosexuals; trafficking in persons; and incitement to anti-Semitism remained problems." (U.S. State Dept. Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, Iran, March 11, 2008)

But at the UN, Iran is a human rights authority figure - a Vice-President of the Durban II Executive Planning Committee (or Bureau). The game plan is as obvious, as it is obscene. Here is what the Nigerian delegate had to say about the Iranian contribution: "... one thing about the delegate of Iran is that he is always right in conceptualization and in location...This is the right way to go." "Iran has always this powerful way of conveying and analyzing. Each time you come forth. Iran has a very powerful line of logic and it is becoming difficult to disagree with Iran really."

In the midst of this back and forth, Iran, the EU and the Chair,Yuri Boychenko (Russia), have encouraged out-of-sight consultations in smaller groups. In one exchange, over a provision on "new emerging forms of racism," the European Union said it didn't want to "neglect old and persistent forms of racism." (Translation: they didn't want more allegations of "Islamophobia.") While Iran said old forms had "already been covered." (Translation: they don't want to condemn antisemitism.) Iran then volunteered: "we can work with them to come up with compromise language." And the Chair encouraged a meeting. The product of EU-Iranian consultations on the meaning of racism is sure to be enlightening.

This is exactly the swamp that would quickly surround President Obama should he make the mistake of attending.

By the end of the third day, only 25% of the Durban outcome document had been discussed. Only 8% of the document was agreed to and adopted. Every day at least one hour is lost as delegates meander into the meeting room in no particular rush to get things going. According to the Chair, at least four hours of valuable time have been squandered this week. The Chair's arrival an hour and a half late on the first day contributed to the obvious effort to leave as much undiscussed by the end of the week as possible.

Although this week-long session is allegedly devoted to moving the Durban process forward, in reality the strategy of delay suits the rights-abusing states perfectly. The longer the process can be deemed "in progress" or "still being decided" or "under negotiation" the longer the pressure is on European countries to stay involved due to the lack of a finalized document that clearly crosses red lines.

All participants are hoping that if they keep enough of a lid on the real Durban II agenda, President Obama will be convinced of the harmlessness of U.S. participation.

As the working group crept through the 37-page draft, any paragraph that caused discord (usually between the EU on one hand and Iran, Syria and the African Group on the other), was put on hold. Meanwhile the Chair increased the backroom wheeling and dealing by appointing "facilitators" to work out disagreements behind-the-scenes and report back to the Committee by the end of the week. Senegal, a major figure in the Organization of the Islamic Conference, was appointed one of two facilitators.

Informally, delegates agree that Iran is hijacking the entire meeting, offering "input" on racism that even its allies at times have trouble swallowing. Day 3 marked the second day in a row that Iran took the floor more often than any other single state. Overall, members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference dominated the proceedings, in particular Pakistan and Nigeria, in addition to Iran.

The Palestinian delegate made one intervention expressing an interest in moving the sections in the draft alleging Israel is racist from the "reviewing progress" section to the take-action section.

Here are other memorable moments from Day 3 of what the UN considers to be progress in the effort to combat racism:
  • The European Union agreed to hold a Durban II only if it was limited to assessing the original Durban Declaration and Programme of Action. This EU "red-line" has now been thoroughly trashed. Syria said: "If we repeat the DDPA then there is no point to holding a review conference." The EU is still sitting in their seats, content to eat crow one more time.
  • Western countries were constantly put on the defensive:
    • Proposed provision: "one of the principle reasons fomenting the tide of racism is the growing increase in the right wing extremist political discourse, including in some of the most liberal pluralistic societies."
    • Pakistan: "Wherever people are doing something wrong - whether freedom of expression, counterterrorism policies or abuse of national security policies, the legal action which has not been taken against them amounts to immunity."
  • Freedom of expression came under attack numerous times:
    • Iran: "People...say that existing law doesn't allow us to prevent abuse of freedom of expression...Immunity... is there."
    • Cuba: "Include negative abuse of freedom of expression...Insert "...violence by the media and national security forces."
    • Syria: "We are not talking about freedom of expression. What we mean is...the abuse of the right to freedom of expression and not the freedom of expression itself. So we distinguish between the two notions. Difference between the right to freedom and freedom of expression itself. We mean abuse of the right."
    • Pakistan: " We are not talking about freedom of expression, but impunity that has been exercised on the use of these freedoms which creates discriminatory behavior in those societies."
Meanwhile, many of the extreme NGOs that attended Durban I continue to plan to participate in Durban II and to hold an NGO Forum. Such a Forum would be some kind of NGO-focused meeting just before the governmental conference. NGOs continue to press the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights for support. The Office has said it will pay for NGOs from the South to attend Durban II. It is unclear how many or how much funding has been allotted for NGOs, or how it will be distributed. A meeting took place over the lunch break with the Libyan Chair of the Durban Preparatory Committee, Najat Al-Hajjaji, and NGOs. Al-Hajjaji raised the possibility of an NGO Forum by repeatedly asking the NGOs about their plans on the subject. She made no move to discourage such efforts, leaving the impression that her real purpose in posing the question over and over was to push it forward. The NGO Forum at Durban I, attended by human rights luminaries such as Fidel Castro, is best remembered for its multiple displays of racism directed at Jews.