Archive for the 'Racism' Category

Czech Republic stands up for principle at Human Rights Council

On September 27, 2013, the Human Rights Council adopted a resolution for the follow-up of the Durban Process. The Durban Program of Action, the UN’s process to fight racism, has been marred with controversy and undermines international efforts to fight the scourge. Several liberal democracies have boycotted Durban-related UN sessions.

The resolution was adopted with two Human Rights Council members voting against, the US and the Czech Republic. The Czechs deserve special praise for standing up for principle and breaking from the EU consensus (the rest of the EU abstained, together with Japan, South Korea and Switzerland). Only if more countries stand up for principle, can there be hope for positive change.

The return of the Ad Hoc

On July 22, 2013, a two-week session of the controversial Ad Hoc Committee on the Collaboration of Complementary Standards commenced. The Committee, set up in accordance with Paragraph 199 of the Durban Declaration, has as its goal to identify protection gaps in the fight against racism, especially within the International Covenant for the Elimination of Racial Descrimination (ICERD). From its first session in 2008, the Committee acquired notoriety as it became the forum through which the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) was seeking to draft an international protocol against defamation, thus limiting free speech and promoting blasphemy laws.

So far, this year’s session has been pretty uneventful. The committee meetings were extremely stilted, as many delegations had nothing to say, or felt no need to further elaborate. Many afternoon or morning sessions were postponed and adjourned, due to lack of content, or officially, to give countries time to familiarize themselves with material that was not distributed until last minute, such as biographical information on upcoming speakers.

The European Union and the United States continued to be vocal critics of the committee’s work, like in the past. They both complained against attempts to bring defamation back to the agenda. The EU noted with regret that the committee’s questionnaire was not carried out in a transparent manner, that important information was only provided at late stages, and that many countries did not respond, resulting in an underrepresentation of some regions. The United States said that they saw no need for additional substantive legal instruments, because the mandate of the committee is to promote a consensus of action plans and not create new confusing international law instruments. At times, the USA also had to ask a speaker how their topic had anything to do with the question of xenophobia.

Why not make this year’s session the Committee’s last one?

UN hosts seminar against defamation – but downplays state-orchestrated violence

During a recent meeting at the UN, the High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay seemed to downplay the responsibility of governments in instigating violent protests, while Pakistan tried to dilute the meaning of antisemitism.

On Thursday, February 21, 2013, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) organized a conference on the Rabat Plan of Action on the prohibition of advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility, or violence. This is a series of seminars held around the world against the concept of “defamation of religion,” an Islamic-inspired notion that aims to limit free speech.

In her opening statement, the High Commissioner said that “In recent years, incidents involving hate speech, negative stereotyping in the media and even advocacy of religious or national hatred by public officials and political parties have resulted in killings of innocent people, attacks on places of worship and calls for reprisals.” We agree with her that racism, discrimination, hate speech and incitement to violence should be constantly and unequivocally condemned and combated. However, her statement failed to hold governments responsible for provoking social unrest. According to the New York Times, 19 people died and 160 were injured in Pakistan following “government-sanctioned protests” over an obscure YouTube video.

Continue reading ‘UN hosts seminar against defamation – but downplays state-orchestrated violence’

Defamation come-back at the UN?

The recent violence in the Middle East and beyond on the movie on Prophet Mohammed has rekindled the defamation debate at the United Nations.

Last week, South Africa, on behalf of the African group, put forward a resolution which sent shockwaves to many capitals around the world. The text proposed to bring back a lot of the inflammatory and divisive language that surrounded the defamation resolutions. The impression was that the defamation resolutions were history following the adoption of resolution 16/18, which was hailed as a “landmark achievement.”

However, divisive language was included in this year’s annual African text on racism. The proposed resolution included references such as “deplores the use of print, audiovisual and electronic media, including the Internet, and any other means to incite acts of national, racial or religious violence, xenophobia or related intolerance and discrimination against any religion, as well as the targeting of religious symbols and venerated persons.” Such language is unacceptable in a human rights framework, as religions, symbols or venerated persons are not the bearers of rights; instead the individual is the bearer of human rights.

After three public negotiation sessions and numerous other behind-closed-door consultations most of the inflammatory language has been removed [see new language in red, old language crossed out]. However, many concerns remain with this resolution. For example, it perpetuates the Durban Declaration, a failed and polarized vehicle to fight racism. Second, it continues to create a hierarchy among victims of racism. Lastly, it bundles all cases of racism in Africa as one, branding them “afrophobia,” when the reality is far more complicated.

The resolution will be formally adopted tomorrow when we shall see then the final text and the result of the vote, if one is called. In addition, there are fears that a resolution on defamation will be adopted by the UN General Assembly, whose annual session started this week and last for a few months. The United Nations and the international community have failed so far to address the important issue of racism in an impartial and constructive way and urgently need to find a new approach to the whole issue.

U.N. Rights Council debates racism – highlights

On Wednesday July 3rd, the Human Rights Council dealt with issues of racism and related forms of intolerance. Below are some highlights:

*   Pakistan, on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, says that Muslims throughout the world are confronted with discrimination and violence based on religion. They claim that antisemitism has become taboo while Islamophobia runs rampant.

*   Libya attacked Israel, stating that “the ugliest forms of racist and discriminatory practices…affect the Palestinian people under Israeli occupation and Israeli racist laws…”.

*   Iran states that Islamophobia and violence directed towards Muslims are prevalent in Western countries.

*   Russia, on behalf of seven former Soviet Republic states,  slams those who “…cast doubt on decisions of the Nuremberg tribunal…whitewash the Nazis and their henchmen and even declare them heroes…”, claiming that this is an “…open mockery of the memory of millions of people who fell…brutally tortured…burned and suffocated in concentration camps…”

*   China, in its right of reply, claims that it “…attaches great importance to the social, cultural and religious development of minorities…”. Additionally, it accused foreign powers of supporting separatist movements in Tibet and Xiang Jiang.

UN adopts resolution to organize Durban III conference

The UN General Assembly adopted a resolution this morning that details the program and speakers for its September 22, 2011 summit of world leaders, known as “Durban III,” to commemorate the controversial 2001 Durban Declaration. Notable elements include:

  • Speakers at the high-level meeting will include UN chief Ban Ki-moon and top rights official Navi Pillay, who recently admitted to being “naive” in having downplayed fears in 2009 that the Durban II conference would be manipulated for political ends by Iranian President Ahmadinejad. Also speaking will be South African President Jacob Zuma.
  • The date has changed. The event was previously set for Sept. 21, a day after the opening of the UNGA General Debate. But the latter was moved a day later, and so Durban III followed.
  • The two round-table sessions, co-chaired by two heads of state, will be webcast. This was inserted by the G-77 bloc of developing states to boost the status of the event.
  • Selected NGOs will be invited. One hopes that GONGOs will this time be excluded. The Gadhafi-created group “North-South 21” — a Libyan-funded propaganda vehicle that masquerades as a NGO but which in fact manages the Moammar Gadhafi Human Rights Prize — was a leading player in politicizing Durban I and Durban II.

Six months after Canada announced its non-participation, the U.S. recently said it would also keep away from the September event.

UN Calls Fight Against Antisemitism and Holocaust Denial “Their Own”

UNITED NATIONS

MESSAGE BY KIYO AKASAKA, UNDER-SECRETARY-GENERAL FOR COMMUNICATIONS AND PUBLIC INFORMATION

TO THE INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON ANTI-SEMITISM AND HOLOCAUST DENIAL

18-19 NOVEMBER 2010, DUBLIN

 

One cannot begin to understand the origins of the Holocaust without cknowledging the anti-Semitism that led to it. And, one cannot understand the dangers f anti-Semitism without learning the universal lessons of the Holocaust. Ignoring these facts increases the risk that they will be repeated.

Holocaust denial is anti-Semitism. It wounds the people who suffer the most – the survivors. And it extends this hurt to every Jewish person, as a heartless reminder of unspeakable cruelty and the ruthless attempt to eliminate every member of their families.

Anti-Semitism fuels hatred and hatred kills. Yet it persists.

It persists because we have not yet learned. We have not fully understood that discrimination against people anywhere hurts people everywhere. Minorities of all kinds continue to be persecuted and murdered. And too often, we have been indifferent.

The United Nations takes this indifference to heart. As Secretary-General Ban said, earlier this year, “the United Nations Outreach Programme on the Holocaust is working closely with survivors to ensure that their stories are heard and heeded as a warning of the consequences of anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination. Holocaust survivors will not be with us forever, but the legacy of their survival must live on. We must preserve their stories, through memorials, through education, most of all through robust efforts to prevent genocide and other grave crimes.”

The Programme also partners with teachers and civil society groups in furthering Holocaust education. These partnerships help to weaken Holocaust deniers, who in the face of the truth, can no longer claim ignorance of historical fact. The Programme’s “Discussion Papers Journal” provides a forum for scholars to examine the causes of the Holocaust and its relevance today. It encourages the international community to work together to help stop crimes against humanity, including genocide.

I congratulate the organizers of this important International Conference on Anti-Semitism and Holocaust Denial and encourage all of the scholars and experts here to continue to examine these issues, work to dispel myths, and fight discrimination.

Your cause is the United Nations’ own.

GA adopts outcome document of Durban Review Conference

On November 23, Sudan, on behalf of the Group of 77, introduced in the General Assembly’s Third Committee a resolution on the adoption of the Outcome Document of the Durban Review Conference.  The Conference was held in Geneva from April 20 – 24, 2009, and is best remembered by the dozens of democracies that walked out during Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s controversial opening address. 

The delegation of Israel called for the vote, explaining that her government refused to afford credibility to a process that was “obsessed” with the Middle East.  The text was initially adopted with 161 countries in favor, 6 against, and 12 abstaining. 

After the vote, however, the delegation of the Russian Federation raised a point of order to note that their “yes” had been recorded as an abstention; they then requested a new vote.  The United States responded that it was “highly unusual” for a new vote to be recorded, asking under what rule of procedure the Committee would be acting.  The Chair replied that although it was, indeed, unusual, the rules do not prohibit the retaking of votes.  Furthermore, in previous demands for a new vote, the requesting delegation had pressed the wrong button.  As the Russian delegation had insisted that he had pressed the correct button, the Chair deemed it acceptable to grant a re-vote.  However, the United States argued that because the delegation had not requested a reconsideration of the resolution, a second vote would be invalid. 

The Chair decided to hold another vote, and the final count was 163 in favor, 5 against, and 9 abstaining.  The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as the Russian Federation, changed their votes from abstentions to “yes.”  The Marshall Islands, which initially voted “no” was absent during the second vote, as was Macedonia, which had voted “yes” originally.

Canada was one of five nations to refuse to vote for the Durban Outcome Document (the other four were Australia, Israel, the Netherlands, and the United States.)  The Canadian representative explained that the language in the text reaffirmed the outcome document of the first Durban Conference in 2001, and that his government would not lend its approval to such a politicized process.  Moreover, the delegation argued that references in the document to the Middle East bore no relevancy to the fight against intolerance.

The other five countries that walked out of the Conference, namely Germany, the Czech Republic, New Zealand, Poland and Italy, all abstained.  They were joined by Georgia, the Republic of Moldova, Romania and Tonga.

In a general statement on the resolution, the delegation of Israel remarked that “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results.”  Israel argued that the 2001 Durban Conference “had descended in a brazen display of anti-Semitic racism,” and the promotion of racist agendas.  The representative of Israel further explained that they had initially decided to reserve judgment on the General Assembly’s decision to convene the Durban Review Conference; that they had realized the Conference’s potential to rectify the wrongs of 2001, but that these hopes had been misplaced.  Though Israel acknowledged the importance of various elements of the Review, the Conference had, nevertheless, reaffirmed the 2001 Durban Declaration.  The delegation explained that Israel was “fully committed to address, in a professional manner, the scourge of racism, xenophobia and intolerance,” but that it could not support a document that endorsed the 2001 Durban Declaration.

Durban Ad Hoc Committee: Day 4 Morning

The protection of states’ rights became the central issue of this morning’s Durban follow-up meeting. Arab and African states are pushing to restrict freedom of expression by criminalizing “Islamophobia,” and “defamation of religion” (which has now been stricken from the program of work). Nigeria submitted a proposal to create international laws that make criticism of Islam a punishable offense. As Western and Islamic countries continue to lock horns on this issue, the commitee has been unable to adopt its program of work. Continue reading ‘Durban Ad Hoc Committee: Day 4 Morning’

L’ANTIRACISME EN DANGER : La société civile se mobilise

A moins d’un mois de la tenue de la Conférence d’examen de Durban de l’ONU – Genève 2009 (20 au 24 avril), la Ligue Internationale Contre le Racisme et l’Antisémitisme vous convie à participer à un

GRAND MEETING CITOYEN

L’ANTIRACISME EN DANGER !

La société civile se mobilise

avec le soutien de SOS Racisme, le Grand Orient de France, la Grande Loge Féminine de France, le Comité Laïcité République, l’UEJF, la Confédération étudiante, Regards de Femmes, la Ligue du Droit International des Femmes, Le Meilleur des Mondes, UN Watch, la Coordination des Berbères de France, etc.

Mardi 7 avril 2009 à 20h15 à la Maison du Barreau 2/4, rue de Harlay 75001 Paris

Réservation obligatoire auprès de Frédéric : 01 45 08 08 08 – licra2@licra.org

U.N. launches website to spin Durban II, asks for more funds

New Website

 The UN today launched its new website on the Durban Review Conference (“Durban II”), in a festive atmosphere, with sandwiches and drinks, following a meeting of the Libyan-chaired Bureau, which oversees planning for the April conference. It was attended mostly by government representatives with few NGOs present.

The meeting was chaired by Ibrahim Salama, who now heads the Human Rights Treaties branch of the OHCHR, and is the official who lead the efforts of the UN Secretariat on Durban II. Mr. Salama was ambassador of Egypt to Portugal, member of the UN Sub-Commission for Human Rights, chair of the Working Group on the Rights to Development and African coordinator at Durban I. (for a more detailed background:  http://www.faithinhumanrights.org/read/36/dr_ibrahim_salama)

UN Secretariat Planning  for Durban II

Mr. Salama delivered a broad overview of the efforts of the Secretariat so far on Durban II issues:

1) Activities in public information
2) Financial Situation
3) Contribution by the High Commissioner
4) Program of Activities during Durban II
5) NGO participation

On public information, Mr. Salama presented the following activities: a new website launched on that day (available at www.un.org/durbanreview2009, to be also available for Durban II follow-up purposes), a newsletter distributed to all those present, an electronic bulletin and a poster (see above). With all these initiatives, Mr. Salama argued that “only facts can defeat fears.” Another colleague presented the different features of the website, which is directed to a “very broad audience.”

Russia Biggest Funder of Durban II; Palestinians Have Money for UN Resolutions

Russia commented that they were happy to see the results of their ($600,000) contribution. Senegal asked whether any outreach to the private sector or political bodies was envisioned.

Mr. Salama thanked Russia for their financial contribution and commented “This was the good news; the bad news is about the financial situation.” He went on to explain the finances of Durban II. He said that the OHCHR is “extremely committed” to the conference and it is a priority. The problem is the lack of funds. The initial cost estimate was $740,000. The OHCHR has been requested to absorb it from its regular budget. This amount covers the April 20-24 conference itself (conference services, translation, rooms, etc). But, he argued, there are many more costs not included: information, outreach, empowerment and participation of NGOs, website, support for LDCs (Least Developed Countries). If the states ask the OHCHR to “convince, outreach, empower”, then they need to provide extra-budgetary resources.

The amount left over from Durban I, together with the voluntary contributions, so far amounts to $1.4 million, with about half from each source. They have already spent $500,000 for staffing and missions. This bring the total cost to $1.9 million, which means that they have a deficit of $1 million. Mr. Salama asked for more contributions and made the following points: (i) they are doing their best with limited resources, (ii) this deficit will have a negative effect on other activities of the OHCHR, (iii) more demands by states in resolutions will lead to less optimal results overall.

Answering a question by UN Watch, Mr. Salama provided a breakdown of the voluntary contributions so far:

Russia:       $600,000
China:         $20,000
Palestine:   $1,700
Indonesia:  $20,000 (pledged)
China:         $ 20,000 (pledged)
Morocco:    $ 22,000 (pledged)

Role of High Commissioner Navi Pillay 

On the issue of the contribution by High Commissioner Navi Pillay to Durban II, Mr. Salama said that the OHCHR was working on that report. They have established a cross-desk task force. Mr. Salama will be meeting with regional coordinators on their expectations. The High Commissioner has her views but wants to hear from others what they think. He invited all parties to contact him if interested.

As far as activities are concerned, Mr. Salama informed us that the OHCHR is in touch with other UN agencies and they work together on issues such as health, development, migration, children, all related to the fight against racism.

NGO Forum Not Ruled Out

Last, on NGO participation, Mr. Salama explained the different ways NGOs can be engaged: (a) OHCHR support through travel subsidies, (b) information/outreach (c) participation with side events and within the conference, and (d) informal contact and lobbying delegates. NGO participation is important because they represent the voices of the victims and can bring a meaningful contribution.

The desired parameters for the side-events are: (a) to promote a victim’s perspective, from grass-roots organizations, offer substance for the final outcome and have north/south balance; (b) events within the scope of the DDPA; (c) focus on implementation.

Ms. June Ray, head of the OHCHR Civil Society Unit, added that there is an OHCHR advisory unit, under the direction of the Deputy High Commissioner. They have drafted guidelines for NGO funding and have formed a committee to review applications. They have already supported NGOs to the regional meetings in Abuja and Brazilia and they have received more than 200 applications for support for April. They want to ensure geographical balance, victim group representation and a transparent process. They are open to meet and brief NGOs and they also want to hear about NGO plans.

At the discussion that followed, Mr. Jan Lonn (a leader of the far-left/anti-Israel coalition planning an “NGO Forum”) deplored the late launch of the outreach campaign and stressed the need to “respond to the negation from some corners.” They want to have a civil society forum, which is an important part in NGO mobilization. There is strong support for it from all the regions, but they have problems of logistics and finance.

Mr. Salama said that their optimal objective is participation. They are sympathetic to the complaint about the lack of time. He concluded by saying “any proposal will be considered.”

Mullahs tell UN Durban II conference: Iran is free of racism

In advance of next week’s first major planning session of the UN’s “Durban II” conference on racism, member states have filled out questionnaires on their actions and policies to combat discrimination. Iran’s submission, however, dodges any questions of racism in that country, which it says is blessed with “the absence of any division based on race or ethnicity in any walk of life.”

Asked by the UN to identify manifestations of racism “with a view to eliminating them in your country,” Iran sidestepped any reference to its own treatment of minorities. Instead, Tehran pointed the finger at other countries, accusing them of “defamation of religions” and Islamophobia, and devoted a large section to “gross and systematic violation of human rights in the occupied Palestinian
Territories.”

Although the UN General Assembly condemned Iran in December for its violations against Arabs, Azeris, Baluchis, Kurds, Christians, Jews, Sufis, Sunni Muslims and Baha’is, the submission by the fundamentalist regime made no reference to its treatment of these groups.

Egypt tells UN: Arabs, but not Gypsies, deserve mentions as victims of racism

Reporting by Leon Saltiel.

At the UN Human Rights Council today, Egypt as chair of the African group led informal consultations on its draft resolution on the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance sponsored by the African Group. Click here for text of resolution.

Parts of the resolution as well as certain Egyptian statements on who qualified as victims of racism were received with concern by the representatives of Western democracies. One paragraph that provoked a great deal of debate was OP2a, instructing the Special Rapporteur on racism to focus on:

Incidents of contemporary forms of racism and racial discrimination against Blacks and people of African descent, Arabs, Asians and people of Asian descent, migrants, refugees, asylum seeks and indigenous peoples

Belgium on behalf of the European Union, Switzerland, Canada, USA, India, and even Russia asked for more generic language, so as not to exclude any particular group nor give greater prominence to any particular victims of racism.

Belgium proposed language to the effect that the Special Rapporteur should focus on all victims of racism, as detailed in the Durban Declaration and Program of Action. The Korean representative made the point that many nations in Europe can be considered of “Asian descent,” such as the Finns, Hungarians, Turks and so forth.

Egypt, in trying to defend the phrase’s logic, argued that it was drawn from the 1993 resolution of establishing the mandate, and that any change of the wording would mean that the above listed groups are no longer victims of racism, which, it said, is not the case.

To the contrary, the Egyptian diplomat continued, their situation has worsened. His position was supported by the representative of Nigeria who argued that one cannot combat racism without mentioning the specific categories of people against whom it is directed.

Portugal was unsatisfied with the response and gave the example of the Roma/Sinti/travelers who would not be covered by this paragraph. (Of course, no one dared to mention the paragraph’s section on Jews.)

Without hesitation, the Egyptian diplomat, generally considered articulate and knowledgeable, responded that he does not believe that the Roma/Sinti face the same level of discrimination as other groups mentioned in the paragraph. His response visibly shocked many of the people in the room, leaving them speechless.

The incident raises several questions:

  • In a meeting of diplomats intended to combat racism, should well-known victims of racism like the Roma (Gypsies) be so summarily dismissed?
  • Who, if anyone, should judge which group or individual is a greater victim of racism?
  • Apart from gasps and nervous chuckles, why did none of the diplomats respond to Egypt’s offensive statement? Is it because they were taken aback by their colleague’s candor? Or was it because this is just another of the many absurdities and offenses one witnesses every day at the UN Human Rights Council, with the effect that the sense of outrage — and will to defend basic principle — has been long lost?

Just another day at the UNHRC…

Algerian Ambassador: Islamophobia is like Nazism

The Ad Hoc Committee of the UN Human Rights Council on the Elaboration of Complementary Standards — a follow-up group to the 2001 Durban conference against racism — continued its work Wednesday and considered recommendations by a group of five human rights experts. (To read about previous Ad Hoc Committee meetings, click here). The report by the group of experts included recommendations regarding additional conventions, optional protocols and other mechanisms to combat racism.

Egypt found the report “unacceptable,” particularly a section on recommendations to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) to combat the nexus of racism and religion, since such recommendations omitted “issues related to defamation of religion.”

Supporting Egypt, committee chair Idriss Jazairy of Algeria likened 20th century Nazism and anti-Semitism to the current wave of Islamophobia. “When I was a young boy in France during World War II,” said Ambassador Jazairy, “I could see the ways Jews were mistreated. [This mistreatment was] not because of the articles of their faith, but because of what they (Jews) were. Muslims are facing acute challenges in this century, like the Jews were exposed to difficult challenges in the last century…We should keep in mind the experience of the 20th century as we try to address the challenges of the 21st century.”

The committee also considered the issue of complementary standards related to racism faced by people “under foreign occupation.” While the report by the group experts concluded that no new mechanisms are necessary, Syria, Pakistan, and Egypt made lengthy interventions on the evils of occupation and the need for a new convention or optional protocol on the matter. Syria argued that such standards are needed as “certain countries force women to give birth at checkpoints” and “raze kindergartens,” while Pakistan and Egypt stated that “foreign occupation is the worst form of human rights abuse.”

Chairman Jazairy said that “if discrimination against some Semites is racism, then such discrimination against a larger group of Semites should also be discrimination.”

Algeria tells UN Durban follow-up session: Islamohobia is the new anti-Semitism

In what may be a portent of things to come, Islamic accusations against the West dominated a UN session today dedicated to follow-up of the 2001 World Conference Against Racism, held in Durban, South Africa. 

This week in Geneva saw the first meeting of the “Ad Hoc Committee of the Human Rights Council on the Elaboration of Complementary Standards,” which was created by a UN Human Rights Council resolution on follow-up to the 2001 Durban conference.  Initiated by Algeria on behalf of Africa, it was adopted in December 2006 over the opposition of the EU, Canada and other democratic states on the Council.  The resolution sought to “heed the decision and instruction of the 2001 World Conference against Racism.”

The Ad Hoc committee is not formally part of the planning for the controversial 2009 Durban Review Conference, but is an overlapping entity that treats the same theme and involves the same diplomats.  Its mandate is to elaborate “complementary standards” to the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and to provide “new normative standards aimed at combating all forms of contemporary racism including incitement to racial and religious hatred.”

The EU this week reiterated its unease with the committee but pledged to cooperate. Egypt on behalf of the African Group justified the need for the committee.

Today’s session quickly turned to familiar UN subjects of “foreign occupation,” the Danish cartoon controversy, Islamophobia, and colonialism:

  • Algerian Deputy Permanent Representative Mohammed Bessedik drew thinly veiled comparisons of today’s treatment of Muslims to the Nazi atrocities against Jews.  “The policy of targeting Muslims would actually aim at dehumanizing them by assaulting their identity to legitimize an attitude of racial discrimination similar to the one that targeted another Semitic people in the 20th century.” He described the threat of “reawakening the hydra of the anti-Semitic campaigns of the 20th century, which we now call Islamophobia.”  Click for full speech (in French)
  • Egypt’s representative cited the Danish cartoon controversy as an example of where legislation exists but was not implemented, or has not been updated. He also criticized recent fires and riots in Paris and other European cities. These, he claimed, can constitute threats to international peace and security. “Let this mechanism prevent these phenomena from escalating, so that the Security Council does not have to deal with them,” he urged. 
  • The representative of Belgium asked that specific country cases not be named, but Egypt denied having made references to any particular country, adding “If political exploitation of migrants or religions for political reasons comes from a particular region, if fires and riots come from a particular region, if resistance to combat these phenomena come from a particular region, this is not my responsibility.”
  • Egypt offered the example of the “Da Vinci Code” film, which was deemed insulting “by the Christian Pope and by the 7-8 million Christians in Egypt.” Egypt did not allow this movie to be shown in any movie theater and “even bringing it in as a tourist can get you in trouble.” Christians are not a majority in Egypt and Sharia law is the pillar of Egyptian law, he said, but respect for all religions is paramount. The devout Muslim members of parliament were the first to push for this legislation, he noted.
  • In thinly veiled jibes against Israel, “foreign occupation” was raised repeatedly by Islamic states. Syria and Algeria called it one of the worst forms of human rights violations. Egypt referred to countries that occupy other countries for a lengthy period as “a form of racism by itself” and “a racist regime of occupation.”
  • Egypt accused the Europeans of lacking political will to combat racism.
  • Senegal stressed the need for finding new language for contemporary manifestations of racism — another way of calling for a reopening of the Durban 2001 declaration.
  • Egypt and Pakistan criticized “racial profiling” against individuals of a different religion. Egypt said that this should constitute a complementary standard.

U.S. to go before U.N. Racism Review Panel

The U.S. is up for review this week before the 18-member UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), on February 21 and 22.  Below is a summary of the American submissions to the Committee, the panel’s questions posed to the U.S., and two of the many NGO reports.

U.S. Submission to CERD

The U.S. submitted a 115-page report answering the standard CERD questionnaire about domestic laws and policies on racism.  It includes:

•          “The United States is a vibrant, multi-racial, multi-ethnic, and multi-cultural democracy in which individuals have the right to be protected against discrimination based, inter alia, on race, color, and national origin in virtually every aspect of social and economic life.  The U.S. Constitution and federal law prohibit discrimination in a broad array of areas, including education, employment, public accommodation, transportation, voting, housing and mortgage credit access, as well as in the military, and in programs receiving federal financial assistance.  In addition, nondiscrimination obligations are imposed on federal contractors and subcontractors by Executive Order.”

•          “Two subjects of concern have been particularly acute in the years since 2000.  The first involves the increase in bias crimes and related discriminatory actions against persons perceived to be Muslim, or of Arab, Middle Eastern, or South Asian descent, after the terrorist attacks of 9/11.  The second involves the impacts of the changing demographic caused by high rates of immigration into the United States – both legal and illegal.  The continuing legacies described above, in addition to these more recent issues, create on-going challenges for the institutions in the United States that are charged with the elimination of discrimination.  Thus, despite significant progress, numerous challenges still exist, and the United States recognizes that a great deal of work remains to be done.”

CERD Questions to U.S.

Following the standard procedure, the CERD asked the U.S. for clarifications, including the following:

 -     The application of the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination to non-citizens (possibly a veiled to Guantanamo Bay detainees)
-          Conformity of US civil rights statutes – which provide that claims on racial discrimination must be accompanied by proof of intentional discrimination — with the Convention
-          Racial profiling
-          Residential segregation
-          Racial re-segregation of public schools
-          Police brutality against people belonging to racial, ethnic or national minorities
-          Various measures adopted in the wake of 9/11 to prevent and punish all forms of discrimination against Muslims and Arabs, South Asians and persons perceived as Muslims or Arabs
-          Ill-treatment of undocumented migrants crossing the Mexican-American border
-          Equal and effective enjoyment of rights for indigenous peoples
-          Adequate health care and services to people belonging to minorities
-          Rehabilitation of minorities after Hurricane Katrina

NGO Submissions

May NGOs also filed their own submissions to the panel, which can be viewed here.  Following are two examples.

Amnesty International (click here for report) expressed serious concerns about “the discriminatory treatment of non-US nationals held by the US military in the context of the so-called ‘war on terror,’ the latter an issue not touched upon in the USA’s report.”  Amnesty also addressed the U.S. government’s “failure to protect indigenous women from sexual violence and concerns about the treatment of displaced residents of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.”  It also expressed deep concerns about death penalty and racial minorities.

Human Rights Watch (click here for report) raised three specific issues as a complement to the other NGO submissions:

·       “First, we provide specific evidence of the United States government’s failure to inform the constituent states about ICERD [International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination] and its provisions and to seek information from the states, so that it can review their policies and practices in light of the treaty. We believe these failures constitute violations of Article 2.1 of ICERD.”

·       “Second, we view the discriminatory treatment of Haitian refugees as a violation of the right to equality before the law as provided in Article 5.”

·       “Third, in the context of racial disparities in the sentencing of black and white youth to life without the possibility of parole … Human Rights Watch presents the Committee with new data that challenge the US government’s assertion that ‘disparities are related primarily to differential involvement in crime by the various groups … rather than to differential handling of persons in the criminal justice system.’ Our data demonstrate that in at least 10 states black youth arrested for murder are significantly more likely to be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole than white youth arrested for the same crime. We believe these data provide an egregious example of unequal treatment before the courts, in violation of the United States’ treaty obligations under Article 5(a).”

Conclusions

Following the session this week, the panel will prepare its concluding observations, which will be available here.

South Africa says it will host ‘Durban II’ racism conference, UN Watch fears repeat of 2001 debacle

Geneva rights group welcomes today’s principled statement by Secretary Rice                    

Geneva, February 14, 2008 — After South Africa’s President Thabo Mbeki announced that his country will play host to a follow-up session of the discredited 2001 Durban anti-racism conference, UN Watch expressed worry about a repeat of the original debacle. The Geneva monitoring organization welcomed today’s statement by Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, as reported by the Associated Press, that the U.S. will not attend the meeting if it is anti-Semitic, and UN Watch called on other states to clarify their red lines.

“Next year, South Africa will play host to the Review Conference to evaluate the implementation of the decisions of the World Conference Against Racism which was held in our country in [2001],” Mbeki told the South African parliament on Friday. (Click for full speech.)

Although some observers had speculated that Mbeki meant to refer only to a regional preparatory meeting, senior sources in South Africa confirmed that the government intends to host the final 2009 Durban Review Conference.

The original 2001 conference in Durban, South Africa was supposed to combat racism, but was widely criticized as having degenerated into a festival of hate, with virulent anti-Semitic street demonstrations and physical attacks, leading the United States and Israel to walk out. Canada recently announced it will not participate in what has become known as “Durban II,” citing concerns that the process was heading once again in harmful directions.

“Those of us trying to prevent a recurrence of the 2001 violence and hatred are alarmed by the prospect of holding the sequel in the same country,” said UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer.

“Moreover, the text of the UN resolution on Durban II, as well as UN practice for all review conferences, require that the meeting be held within the framework of the General Assembly in New York, or at the UN’s European headquarters in Geneva.”

“Only the UN has the power to decide the venue,” said Neuer, “and the European Union and other member states need to make clear that a breach of the rules on this question would be the crossing of a red line.”

The location of the 2009 meeting is expected to be finalized at the upcoming April 2008 meeting in Geneva of the conference’s planning committee. The African and Islamic blocs are expected to support South Africa’s request, along with other countries including Cuba, China and North Korea.

“Apart from venue,” said Neuer, “with Qaddafi’s Libya as chair of the planning committee, and Ahmadinejad’s Iran as a vice-chair, there are obviously many other serious concerns that need to be addressed.”
 

UN Watch welcomes clarification by UN rights chief on Arab Charter

UN Watch welcomed the new clarification issued today by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour, in response to its Jan. 28, 2008 letter protesting her endorsement of the Arab Charter on Human Rights, which contains anti-Semitic provisions.

“Last week the High Commissioner endorsed the Arab Charter, but today she has shown courage in criticizing its ‘incompatibility… with international norms and standards,’ and that’s a step forward,” said Hillel Neuer, UN Watch executive director.  “We welcome Ms. Arbour’s recognition today that the Arab Charter includes ‘inconsistencies’ in regard to its approach to the death penalty for children, the rights of women and non-citizens, and anti-Zionism.”

“At the same time, we await a response to our demand that the UN official who advised the High Commissioner to sign the initial January 24 announcement be held fully accountable,” said Neuer.  “We are talking about someone who recommended the endorsing of a charter that promotes classically anti-Semitic themes, describing Zionism, the Jewish national liberation movement, as uniquely evil, and advocating its ‘elimination.’  We trust that the High Commissioner — whose mandate centers on the notion of individual responsibility and accountability, and who opposes the culture of impunity – will lead by example and ask the responsible adviser to draw the necessary conclusions.”

“This latest episode only underscores the kind of dangers that are up ahead. With Ms. Arbour serving as secretary-general of the Durban Review process — ostensibly UN meetings to combat racism, but which is chaired by Libya with the help of Iran and Cuba — we trust that she will immediately and forcefully oppose any similar efforts to hijack the language and idea of human rights for anti-Zionism or to denigrate Western democracies,” said Neuer.

U.S. votes against U.N. millions for Libyan-led “anti-racism” parley

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and her UN envoy, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, won plaudits for casting the sole opposing vote on a UN budget that will allocate some $7 million to hold a series of global conferences on racism organized by Libya, Iran, Cuba, and other countries often criticized for their poor human rights records. Forty other countries, including members of the European Union and Canada, objected to the Durban Review Conference in a separate vote, but only the U.S. voted against the general budget, the first time in twenty years that it did not pass by consensus.

The Wall Street Journal hailed the U.S. stance as a rare moral victory at the UN. For details on the country positions as summarized by the UN, for the final vote click here, and for the lower committee votes click here. See also play-by-play coverage of the all-night negotiations by the intrepid Matt Lee here.

Libyan Head of “Durban II” Anti-Racism Conference to Address General Assembly

Guess who’s coming to town?  The Libyans, of course.  Fresh from his uncontested victory at the Security Council (see our previous blog), Colonel Qaddafi will be smiling again as Mrs. Najat Al-Hajjaji — the Libyan envoy who in August was appointed to chair “Durban II,”  a series of major UN anti-racism conferences through 2009 — heads to New York soon to address the General Assembly about her progress. The Human Rights Council President made the formal request on behalf of Al-Hajjaji in this October 15th letter.

Pakistan and UN Islamic Bloc Slam Holocaust Survivors; UN Watch and NGO Coalition Protests

UN Human Rights Council, Sept. 25, 2007

Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC): “In many instances Holocaust survivors, instead of promoting . . . harmony, are campaigning against Muslim symbols in the Western world. They should be the most ardent advocates against discrimination. Islamophobia is also a cruel form of Anti-Semitism.” Click to Read PDF of Full Speech (ed. note: text is dated Sept. 21 2007 but was actually delivered on Sept. 25, 2007)

Algeria: “. . . a worrying upswing in Antisemitism which now targets Arabs and is extended by oversimplification to all Muslims.”

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Joint NGO Response

Sept. 28, 2007

His Excellency Ambassador Masood Khan
Organization of the Islamic Conference
Permanent Mission of Pakistan to the UN in Geneva
Geneva, Switzerland

Dear Ambassador Khan,

We, the undersigned human rights groups and non-governmental organizations, write to express our grave concern over certain remarks that you delivered before the UN Human Rights Council this past Tuesday, 25 September 2007, which offend Holocaust survivors around the world and harm the cause of equality and human rights for all.

In your statement on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, you addressed the issue of “Defamation of Religions.” As representatives of civil society, we express our firm condemnation of all violations of freedom of religion. We strongly support universal respect for citizens of all faiths without discrimination.

We therefore can neither comprehend nor accept your unprecedented remarks which effectively accuse Holocaust survivors of practicing discrimination and promoting disharmony. In addressing accomodation for Muslims in the Western world and the potential for political and social harmony, you said that “in many instances Holocaust survivors, instead of promoting such harmony, are campaigning against Muslim symbols in the Western world. They should be the most ardent advocates against discrimination. Islamophobia is also a cruel form of Anti-Semitism.”

We are unaware of any such “campaigning” by Holocaust survivors. Moreover, even if it were true that individuals were engaged in such an alleged effort, it would constitute unjustifiable stereotyping to label an entire group — particularly surivors of a genocide — on the basis of the alleged actions of a few.

We believe that Holocaust survivors, elderly men and women who are often frail and suffering from illness, are deserving of our sympathy and respect, not denigration in a speech at the United Nations.

We also regret that the baseless accusation of discrimination on the part of Holocaust survivors was compounded by remarks that effectively deny these and other victims of Antisemitism recognition of their particular form of suffering. Islamophobia, Christianophobia, and Antisemitism are the recognized terms for the hatred of Muslims, Christians and Jews. However, saying that Islamophobia is itself a “form of Anti-Semitism” only serves to corrode and confuse the very meaning and existence of Antisemitism, the term coined in the 1870′s by proto-Nazi Wilhelm Marr as a euphemism for the German Judenhass, or “Jew-hate”. Not only is it nonsensical to claim that groups other than Jews are the objects of Jew-hatred, but it has the pernicious effect of blurring the meaning and impact of any condemnation of Antisemitism. We are gravely concerned that this is not the first time that Pakistan has made such statements at the UN.

Once again, pursuant to the values of the UN Charter, we express our unqualified support for the respect of all religions, and opposition to discrimination of any kind.

Please accept, Excellency, the assurances of our highest consideration and respect.

Sincerely,

Dr. Theodor Rathgeber
German Forum Human Rights
Switzerland

Angela C. Wu
International Law Director
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty
USA

Hillel C. Neuer
Executive Director
United Nations Watch
Switzerland

Roy W. Brown
Main Representative, UN Geneva
International Humanist and Ethical Union

Rabbi François Garaï
Chief Representative
World Union of Progressive Judaism
Switzerland

Rene Wadlow
Chief Representative to the UN Geneva
Association for World Education

Klaus Netter
Representative
B’nai B’rith International
Switzerland

Dr Francois Ullmann
President
Ingénieurs du Monde

Anatoly Kanunnikov
President of Social Ecology Foundation
Russia