States debate need for “complementary standards” to the racism convention

South Africa, on behalf of the African group, conducted consultations today on its U.N. Human Rights Council resolution: “Elaboration of complementary standards to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD).” The purpose of the resolution is to advance the work of an Algerian-chaired committee, “The ad hoc committee on the elaboration of international complementary standards,” in which Islamic states and their African allies are attempting to add new legal prohibitions to existing international law that would define criticism of religion as a violation.

The USA and Czech Republic, speaking for the EU, complained that the draft text contained many problematic, substantive claims even though it was supposed to be a purely procedural document on how the ad hoc committee will proceed. Together with other democracies, they objected to virtually every paragraph.

The first objection was that, by advocating the need for complementary standards to the ICERD, the text went beyond the road-map agreed upon by member states during the committee’s December meeting. Denmark, backed by the Netherlands and others complained that it is inappropriate for a procedural text to assert such a need. The representative went on to say that the text of the resolution should make it very clear that the chair of the ad hoc committee is supposed to gather contributions from member states and decide on a consensual basis what “gaps” in international law should be addressed, if there are, in fact, any. The USA said that it “feels strongly” that there is no need for additional standards, just better implementation of existing ones.

The USA, Canada, and the EU also objected to the paragraph recalling that there will be no renegotiation of the Durban I declaration, saying that the clause seems overly defensive and misplaced. Egypt explained that the paragraph is needed because many states are calling into question paragraph 199 of the Durban I declaration, in which all agreed that there should be elaboration of international standards to update existing measures against racism. Denmark responded that no one was contesting that there may be a potential need to create new standards, but that such a specific need has to be identified and agreed upon first. Belgium argued that the Durban I declaration does not mention that the new standards should be in the form of an additional protocol to the ICERD, and that such an assertion is itself a “renegotiation” of the Durban I declaration.

Lichtenstein proposed adding a clause that would stress the importance of maintaining consensus in the implementation of the road-map. Pakistan, backed by Algeria, objected that consensus should not be a precondition for progress. South Africa said that, according to Human Rights Council rules, “decisions are no less authoritative when adopted by vote” rather than consensus.

A number of democratic states took issue with a clause in the draft that proposed the “international human rights regime” provide protection to victims of racism. Lichtenstein explained that even if the word “regime” were changed to “system,” the phrase is problematic because it implies that an international system can provide protection, when in fact, it is only the national authorities who should be called upon. Zimbabwe objected that “it is not only state obligations” that matter. Denmark proposed rewording the phrase to “recalling the need for states to provide adequate protection.”

Throughout the debate, Egypt made a number of hypocritical comments to attack the position of the Western states, including, “Some have taken it upon themselves to create an atmosphere that is not conducive to progress.” Egypt also complained that EU states were lying about what happened in the December ad hoc committee meeting, saying “We have to avoid worst practices: to eat apples and say you’ve eaten oranges—that is exactly what the EU said.”

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