Durban Watch

Between Durban II and III

EYEontheUN ALERT - April 27, 2009

How Durban II Undermined Human Rights
The U.N. conference degrades the very causes it says it fights for.

This article, by Anne Bayefsky, originally appeared in Forbes.

Durban II, the U.N. conference in Geneva that ended on Friday, will forever be remembered for handing a global megaphone to genocidal hatemonger Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the name of combating racism. By the end of the week-long jamboree, even the South African ambassador insisted that participants stop referring to the meeting as Durban II because "it is maligning my country."

But the facts aren't stopping the U.N. apparatus from already attempting to rewrite history. Navanethem Pillay, U.N. high commissioner for human rights and secretary-general of Durban II, called a news conference on Friday hours before the adoption of the final declaration to claim Durban II was "a celebration of tolerance and dignity for all." Well, not quite all.

Pillay was open about her intentions to the press corps: "I'm jumping the gun ... the Durban Review Conference is technically not over until later this afternoon. But I know you have deadlines." Rather than changing perceptions, however, her heavily-orchestrated plea confirmed that neither she nor the U.N. understood what had hit them.

The high commissioner bragged: "... a few states disengaged from the process ... they are not part of the consensus that adopted this text ... and Iran is part of that consensus. When the final call came, Iran did not oppose the text." She didn't seem to have a clue that a result approved by Iran--but not by the U.S., Canada, Australia, the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, New Zealand, Poland, the Czech Republic (currently head of the European Union) or Israel--reflected on the merits of Durban II rather than on these leading democracies.

Pillay is no stranger to double-talk. Since taking office last September, she has repeatedly claimed that the 2001 Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (the DDPA)--which singles out only Israel of 192 U.N. member states, saying that Palestinians are victims of Israeli racism--"transcended divisive and intolerant approaches." She has alleged that back in 2001 "abusive or hurtful remarks against Israel" were confined to "a small section of the NGO parallel forum." In a last-ditch effort to avoid a boycott of Durban II, she told reporters on April 2 that the language on Israel had been removed from the Durban II draft outcome document.

When it was over, however, she evidently felt the need for subterfuge was gone. Her audience had changed, and she noted both that Israel had been singled out and demonized by the DDPA, and that Durban II had done the same by reaffirming the DDPA in its opening paragraph. In her words: "The DDPA includes ... one paragraph which mentions the suffering of the Palestinians ... Palestine is mentioned ... in the DDPA, and the word "reaffirm" carries those paragraphs into this document."

By comparison, the U.N.'s highest human rights officer had no problem with the silence of Durban I and II on the plight of Israelis, or any other specific victim of discrimination or intolerance in the Arab, Islamic and developing world. She had no comment on the fact that the transatlantic slave trade was highlighted in Durban II, while the slave trade and slavery in Arab and Muslim states was deliberately omitted. She said nothing about the fact that ongoing genocide in Darfur was again totally ignored.

Durban II, therefore, revealed a startling development in the world of human rights. Since the position of U.N. high commissioner for human rights was created in 1993, there has never been an incumbent so obviously in the pocket of Arab and Islamic countries. These states invented the global conference formula years ago in an attempt to isolate Israel, curtail free expression, manufacture victimhood that would offset concern with anti-Semitism, and prevent any mention of the racial and religious intolerance and discrimination rampant in their own backyards.

And yet, the high commissioner took the unusual step of singling out these states for praise in her closing remarks. She claimed Arab countries had made "extremely difficult" "political concessions" in not insisting on even more condemnations of Israel, while the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) "was also very cooperative." In fact, it was the stubborn refusal of Arab and Islamic states to agree to any U.N. "anti-racism" declaration that did not allege Israel is racist, which kept the U.S. and other states away.

The Geneva venue for the Durban Review Conference, deliberately chosen to allow the U.N. greater control over events, makes it impossible to pin the blame for what occurred on anyone but the U.N. and governments themselves. The proceedings were entirely conducted in an oppressively controlling atmosphere. Pillay acknowledged, for example, the nexus between the U.N. and the press corps (which have permanent offices inside U.N. premises). On the final day, she said, "I want to say at this point particularly to you that the Geneva press corps has been terrific during the later stages of this process. You have seen through the propaganda. ... So on behalf of my entire office, I would like to extend you a very warm thank you for that. I believe you have played an exceptionally important role. I know that some of you have had to argue with editors who, like so many others, have succumbed to the mythology."

Congratulating the Geneva-based press for telling tales her way was a fairly accurate reflection of what transpired. A news conference, called to respond to Ahmadinejad's anti-Semitic tirade featuring, among others, Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz, Academy Award-winning actor Jon Voight and prize-winning author Shelby Steele, was dominated by U.N. talking points and a list of falsehoods the high commissioner had been peddling for months. Pillay's press corps was more interested in alleged Israeli atrocities than in the fact that Ahmadinejad had been promoting genocide from a U.N. "anti-racism" soapbox.

Non-governmental organizations also became victims of Durban II's official line. Some NGOs representing Dalits, Tamils and Tibetans were denied accreditation to attend the conference at all. Cameras and film crews were prevented from recording selected NGO panels that took place on U.N. premises. The final declaration was adopted two days before NGOs were permitted to make a single comment. Allowed to speak with only 24 hours left in the proceedings, NGOs mentioning Ahmadinejad or Tibetans or Berbers were constantly interrupted and silenced by spurious points of order from Libya, China, Iran and South Africa.

The chair announced the governing rule was that "proper language must be used with respect and dignity at all times," and then proceeded to let speeches likening Israelis to Nazis and claiming "9/11 is an unexplained mystery blamed on Arabs" go unchallenged. By Friday afternoon, the voices of NGOs were so obviously censored or irrelevant that many who had signed the speakers' list didn't bother to show up to deliver their statements.

The U.N.'s NGO liaison officer, Ricardo Espinosa, harassed me for 15 minutes following a speech I delivered condemning the proceedings. When I insisted on having someone with me, or a tape recording of whatever it was he was intending to communicate, he objected, "this is not the United States, this is the U.N."--a fact with which I was only too familiar. When I finally found colleagues and offered to speak to him in the presence of others and a recorder, he suddenly fell silent, said nothing and left with the words "you'll be hearing from us." It remains to be seen whether he or his U.N. bosses are prepared to put their unidentified threat in writing.

Manufacturing a Durban success story is now the primary goal of all the participants--some of whom began to speak of the next conference, "Durban plus 10 years," in the typical U.N. mode of perpetual self-reproduction. In the final minutes on Friday, India (on behalf of the Asian regional group of states), Sweden (on behalf of the remaining E.U. states), Switzerland (the host country) and the Kenyan chair declared NGOs had played an "important role" and "all participated actively." Brazil, Pakistan and Cuba, speaking on behalf of larger regional and political groups, lined up to declare that Durban II's outcome represented a "consensus in international politics" that "makes us all happy." Particularly preposterous was the final comment of the U.K., which "welcomes the adoption by consensus of the outcome"--a very odd description of a product adopted without the approval of key members of the E.U.

The U.K. also claimed that its support for the Durban II outcome was conditional "on the clear understanding that it does not single out any country for consideration." Given that foreign office lawyers know full well that Israel was singled out when Durban II reaffirmed the Durban I Declaration, issuing an interpretive declaration saying the opposite looks like a cynical attempt to deceive the British public. British voters will also be interested to know that their government "was disappointed not to have seen the program budget implications"--meaning the dollars and cents associated with all the undertakings in the document--before it was adopted. But being kept in the dark about the financial implications of Durban II for British taxpayers was still not enough to prevent Britain from jumping on board.

Cuba, on behalf of the 117 member Non-Aligned Movement, best illustrates the Durban fiction that the U.N. hopes will now take hold. It called the Durban document and its reaffirmation the "most far-reaching and transcending document of the international community in the struggle against racism."

A closer look at the final product, however, reveals a variety of troubling provisions rammed through in 15 minutes on the conference's second day. There are a dozen references to cultural diversity, cultural identity and cultural respect aimed at threatening universal human rights standards; new reliance on the U.N. Human Rights Council (a body dominated by human rights abusers); a new provision on racism and foreign occupation written for a party of one, various actions demanded for "victims as defined by the DDPA" (which means Palestinians); and a commitment to grant Durban declarations I and II biblical-like status and implement them throughout "the whole U.N. system."

In her final press conference, Pillay singled out an article I had written last December for Forbes entitled, "The U.N.'s Dangerous High Commissioner for Human Rights." She made light of the title, but having watched her Durban II performance, she is probably the only one laughing. The United Nations and its high commissioner cajoled, pressured and threatened states to legitimize a campaign to undermine the universal values at the heart of the genuine protection of human rights. In so doing, they had no qualms about making promises they had no intention of keeping. Before the conference, on April 15, U.N. spokeswoman Marie Heuze announced: "Hate speech and ethnic insults will be barred at next week's United Nations conference on fighting racism and intolerance." Pillay's post-conference claims of "a celebration of tolerance and dignity for all" show the same disdain for honesty.

Durban II does not represent tolerance and dignity for all, or a consensus in international politics, or restraint by Arab and Islamic states that seek the destruction of the Jewish state. It represents the corruption of the U.N. human rights system itself.