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Despite U.S. engagement, U.N.’s Durban II racism conference says no way to gay rights

Despite America’s decision this week to join the negotiations and extend an outretched hand to the U.N. planners of the Durban II conference on racism, their response so far to President Obama is continued intolerance, underscored today by their shooting down a provision on discrimination against gays, in a stormy debate.

The original proposal by Western states in the draft text (par. 69) was to condemn “all forms of discrimination and all other human rights violations based on sexual orientation.” Not so controversial, one would think, for a conference ostensibly about discrimination and intolerance.

Continue reading ‘Despite U.S. engagement, U.N.’s Durban II racism conference says no way to gay rights’

Spain complains after U.N. Gaza meeting not held in Spanish-funded multi-colored stalactite chamber

 The UN Human Rights Council held a meeting today in Geneva to plan its emergency session on Gaza scheduled for this Friday. The session, expected to last only one day, will be the fifth aimed at condemning Israel out of the nine special sessions the Council has held since it was launched in 2006.

Over that period, the Council — where a bloc of Islamic states backed by many African countries, Russia, China and Cuba holds an overwhelming majority — has condemned Israel 20 times, or 80 percent of all its resolutions. The only other countries to be strongly criticized have been Myanmar, four times, and North Korea, once. The Council has issued no condemnations of any countries in the majority bloc.

Meeting summary:

•         In the explanatory remarks as primary sponsor of the special session, Palestine condemned the “massacre” of Gazans, saying that there were more than 900 civilian targets and more than 600 civilians killed. Palestine highlighted the killing of civilians seeking shelter at an UNRWA school, as well as the targeting of ambulances and several aid workers. The delegate also expressed regret about the deaths on both sides.

•          Argentina, Brazil, and China said that they received the green light from their capitals to cosponsor the special session.

•         Spain complained that the session was not scheduled to be held in the new art ceiling room, a controversial project that cost $23 million and was paid for by Spanish corporations as well as taxpayers. After the secretariat explained that there were difficulties with holding the session in the room, Spain again argued that the room should be fully operational and every effort should be made to hold the session there. The President agreed.

•        Consultations on the resolution will be held tomorrow at 10 am.

Swiss FM Calmy-Rey: All Must Consider “Sitting Down with Osama Bin Laden”

In a speech delivered last week to the annual assembly of her diplomatic corps (see below), Swiss Foreign Minister Calmy-Rey, who for some reason takes pride in describing herself as a founder of the UN Human Rights Council, said that one of the questions that every country has to ask is, “[S]hould we seek dialogue without discrimination — even if it means sitting down with Osama Bin Laden?”

You’ll recall this is the same woman who signed the gas deal with Ahmadinejad, and posed with him smiling, as she donned the Islamic headscarf. She once proposed inviting the Iranian leader to Switzerland to debate the Holocaust. Really.

Instead of apologizing to the free world for what even the Swiss now recognize to be not only inane but dangerous remarks — political figures there are finally beginning to question her fitness for office — Calmy-Rey has been trying to shoot the messenger.

Unhappy with how Agence France-Press reported the story, journalists say that Calmy-Rey’s staff threw a fit, calling every reporter in the country to save her career from self-destruction. The Swiss issued a public rebuttal of AFP’s story, but that wasn’t enough.

Now, Geneva newspapers report, Calmy-Rey’s office has filed a formal complaint with the Paris headquarters of AFP, a letter that may have even suggested that the Geneva bureau chief be fired. Calmy-Rey further alienated political allies and the normally sympathetic press corps when she boycotted the 80th anniversary celebration of the Swiss foreign press association, reneging on her promised appearance.

Boycott? Funny, and we thought she was against that stuff.

Below is the relevant section of FM Calmy-Rey’s speech.

Continue reading ‘Swiss FM Calmy-Rey: All Must Consider “Sitting Down with Osama Bin Laden”’

French Rights Minister Backs Activist Silenced by UN for Mentioning Sharia

Rama Yade 

Speaking before a United Nations audience, French secretary of state for human rights Rama Yade voiced the strongest international backing yet for Geneva activist David Littman, who was silenced by the Human Rights Council this past June for daring to mention the role of Islamic Sharia law in certain violations of women’s rights. Showing more courage and candor than any other European official, Yade said that

…[H]uman rights is all about being very alert. There may be attempts to deny their universal nature but there is also European action to be taken within the French presidency. Certain governments would like certain forms of slander to be acknowledged as criminal law offences which run counter to the principle of universality upon which human rights are predicated.

And along the same line, it is very saddening that within the UN Human Rights Council, last June, a speaker of an NGO was censored because he was talking about the stoning of women in countries applying Sharia law. We have to be very determined as to maintaining the universal nature of human rights even if they are mistreated by States who defend a view of things that they themselves describe as cultural.

The Senegalese-born Yade addressed the opening of the UN’s annual conference of non-governmental organizations, held for the first time in Paris to mark the 60th anniversary of the signing there of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer headed the conference’s NGO expert panel on the UN Human Rights Council.

According to Yade, France took a strong stand rejecting relativism, and would call for a European Union drive to tackle violence against women worldwide. As current holder of the six-month EU presidency, France hopes to use Europe’s diplomats to “set the criteria for EU intervention” in combating violence towards women, said Yade.

Yade also told the conference that Paris plans to submit a draft declaration to the UN General Assembly in December aimed at combating homophobia and decriminalizing homosexuality, which is punishable by prison in 90 countries and by death in six of them.  The Paris conference gathered 1,700 NGOs associated with the United Nations for three days of debate.

More excerpts from Rama Yade’s speech:

…For instance on women, I believe that a Congolese woman from Goma must have the same rights, is entitled the same rights as a Parisian. This is what universality is all about. Do not accept relativism and this is why I decided for the French presidency of the European Union to introduce and defend a subjective gender equality, in particular regarding violence against women.

You know, no doubt, that the European Union already has guidelines on five subjects: death penalty, torture, dialogue with third countries, children in armed conflicts and human rights defenders. When we gather together all the instruments of the European Union, this can serve as a framework to protect human rights beyond European bodies and my objective is to add to this range guidelines on violence against women. It will set the criteria for UE intervention in women rights and will also be applied and trigger measures in the European diplomatic network. The preliminary work is on the way and we are about to submit the draft text to the European parliamentarians in the days coming. The idea is to push this through between now and December, in other words, before the French presidency draws to an end.

The second project I would like to commit to during the presidency – you have to prioritize – is that of homophobia so that certain governments renounce penalizing homosexuals and homosexuality. There are 90 countries worldwide who penalize homosexuality and six who actually apply the death penalty to homosexuals.

My preferred method is to prioritize collaboration with NGOs, not just in drafting the texts but also in identifying the most effective strategy. A draft declaration will be presented in December at the UN Assembly and I trust that we will be able to rely on help from a large number of governments in addressing this subject which remains taboo in many countries.

  • Watch video
  • Full text of Rame Yade’s speech in original French
  • Oxford Analytica Cites UN Watch Report on UN Rights Commissioner

    Oxford Analytica’s The World Next Week cites the UN Watch report on High Commissioner Louise Arbour. See Human Rights at the UN.

    African Meeting in Nigeria Threatens to Derail World Conference on Racism

    Abuja, Nigeria, August 26, 2008  — Geneva-based human rights group UN Watch expressed alarm over several provisions in a draft declaration set to be adopted today by an African regional meeting in Abuja, Nigeria, in preparation for the UN world conference on racism to be held in Geneva in April.

    “The draft declaration (click here for text) fails to address racial and ethnic crimes committed by Sudan, tramples international human rights guarantees on free speech, places Islam above all other religions, and targets Israel alone, implying that it is uniquely racist,” said UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer. “Regrettably, Durban II is looking more and more like the original Durban debacle of 2001.”  Click here to see final Abuja text

    The stated objectives of the African regional conference, which opened Sunday and closes today, are to review regional implementation of the 2001 Durban declaration, and to map the way forward in preparation for the UN’s Durban Review Conference on racism set for Geneva in April. But the draft declaration fails to review any African country’s actions, and its inflammatory provisions threaten to derail the conference, said Neuer

    Canada is boycotting the April conference, saying that that Durban II was sizing up to be as anti-Semitic as the 2001 original event. French President Sarkozy and cabinet ministers from Britain and the Netherlands have warned that a breach of red lines could also trigger their boycott of the 2009 meeting in Geneva.
    1. Draft Declaration Fails to Review African Performance on Racism

    “By failing to review the performance of African countries on racism and related intolerance, the conference is ignoring its primary mission, and squandering a golden opportunity to help Africa’s many victims of racism and xenophobia,” said Neuer. “This message of impunity for African states places all Africans at risk.”

    “Apart from UN Watch’s plenary speech on Sunday, neither the conference nor the draft declaration have addressed the Sudanese government’s racist crimes against humanity in Darfur, including the ethnic killings of at least 200,000 black Africans, mass rape, and the displacement of over 1 million men, women and children,” said Neuer.  When UN Watch representative Leon Saltiel addressed the Darfur atrocities in his speech to the Abuja conference on Sunday, Sudan immediately interrupted with an objection, and chairman Martin Uhomoibhi of Nigeria ruled that country situations could not be mentioned.

    “Moreover, the text fails to review the xenophobic attacks that recently broke out in South Africa—the leading organizer of the Abuja meeting and the overall Durban process—where foreigners, notably from Zimbabwe and Mozambique, were targeted in May during a wave of anti-immigrant attacks in which at least 62 were killed and tens of thousands were displaced,” said Neuer. “Nor does the text review the ethnic crimes in Kenya this year that killed 1,000 people, displaced another 600,000 and burnt down 40,000 buildings, in an outburst of tribal bloodletting. Millions of African victims of xenophobia — present and future — are ill-served by the conference’s grant of impunity for racial or ethnic crimes committed in African countries.”
    2. Draft Declaration Attacks Free Speech, Seeks to Import Islamic Anti-Blasphemy Prohibitions into International Human Rights Law

    The draft (paragraph 13) calls upon states to avoid “inflexibly clinging to free speech in defiance of the sensitivities existing in a society and with absolute disregard for religious feelings.” Other provisions in the text speak of “incitement to religious hatred.” According to Neuer, “these mirror efforts by Islamic states at the UN Human Rights Council to insinuate Islamic anti-blasphemy prohibitions into international law. Yet the UN expert on religious freedom Asma Jahangir and other international human rights experts have expressly opposed ‘defamation of religion’ resolutions, which seek to alter international human rights law by defining religions—instead of individuals—as the bearers of rights.”

    “The draft declaration’s attack on free speech contravenes the Article 19 guarantee of freedom of expression of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, whose 60th anniversary the UN will be celebrating next week in Paris. The language goes far beyond the recognized norms for balancing prohibitions of racial hatred with respect for free speech, which is the lifeblood of democracy. If the right to express one’s beliefs — to question the dogmas of the day in society, law, politics, art, science, and, yes, religion — is to be restricted by the ‘feelings’ and ‘sensitivities’ of others, this will mark the end of free speech as we know it,” said Neuer.

    3. Draft Declaration Imposes Hierarchy of Religions

    The draft’s special emphasis on Islamophobia (paragraph 20) “seeks to impose a hierarchy of religions, placing adherents of Islam above all others,” said Neuer. “This is contrary to the basic principles of equality enshrined in the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and undermines the very premise of the global struggle against racism.”

    4.  Conference Singles Out Israel for Opprobrium, Threatening to Repeat Debacle of 2001

    The declaration makes only one reference to a country situation, “reiterat[ing] its concern about the plight of the Palestinian people under foreign occupations.” Neuer asked, “Why is a non-African situation referenced in a declaration about Africa, one that references neither Sudan’s racist killings, nor any other country in Africa?”

    “The message of the special reference to the Palestinian issue is that Israel is practicing racism. This reverts to the discredited rhetoric of the UN’s 1975 “Zionism is Racism” resolution, sponsored by the Soviet and Arab blocs, repealed by the United Nations in 1991 and repudiated by its highest officials,” said Neuer.

    “Describing the Arab-Israeli conflict in racial terms — instead of territorial or political — is more than political mischief; it’s an attempt to dehumanize Israelis and their supporters as uniquely evil. We urge African states not to allow the extreme political agenda of certain Middle Eastern governments to undermine their legitimate cause.”

    UN Watch has been participating at the Nigeria conference this week in its capacity as an international non-governmental organization. A speech delivered by UN Watch representative Leon Saltiel on Sunday was interrupted by Sudan, after addressing the situation in Darfur and Zimbabwe, and described Libyan hypocrisy. The conference featured little debate, and has been adjourned since Monday afternoon, after hearing from experts. It is expected to convene soon to adopt the text.

    Amnesty International Hosts Qaddafi Booster

    Despite our urgent appeal to Amnesty International (AI) Secretary-General Irene Khan, she went ahead and appeared on an AI Switzerland panel with Jean Ziegler, Qaddafi’s chief ally at the UN. Although AI Switzerland’s press summary omits mention of Ziegler, the agenda of the Berne annual meeting shows the April 19, 2008 morning panel of Khan, Swiss FM Micheline Calmy-Rey, and Jean Ziegler, and was reported by Swissinfo. To her credit, as the latter article describes, Khan rapped Calmy-Rey for failing the cause of human rights in her recent trip to Iran.

    Because our colleagues at Amnesty International often do such important work, we regret the undue legitimacy they granted to Ziegler, a human rights impostor. And we hope Ms. Khan will respond to our letter.

    Islamic and African States Fail to Block UN Webcast of Human Rights Hearings

    Bahrain First to Undergo “Seriously Flawed” Review Procedure

    Geneva, April 7, 2008 — Facing opposition by Arab, Islamic and African states, the UN Human Rights Council’s decision to webcast its review of Bahrain, the first to undergo a new procedure that will scrutinize all UN members, constituted a small victory for reform, UN Watch said today.

    “The new system of universal periodic review has serious institutional flaws, including its grant of excessive control over the outcome to the state under review,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of the Geneva-based human rights monitoring organization.

    “Although the official verdicts are likely to be questionable at best, the very fact of holding debates on countries that were previously given a free pass, even if only once every four years, helps activists to shine an international spotlight on human rights violations, and to challenge government responses that are inadequate or false.”

    Today’s three-hour session on Bahrain offered little in the way of scrutiny, and was dominated by praise of the gulf state’s record. In his presentation, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Nizar Al Baharna told the council that Bahrain respected women’s rights, equality and freedom of expression. Of the more than 30 states that then took the floor, most were fellow Islamic nations that complimented Bahrain’s record on “social and economic rights,” with Pakistan citing the growth of its GDP.

    “We are deeply disappointed that the session summarily ignored the detailed NGO submissions, which presented evidence of restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly, torture, and violations of women’s rights,” said Neuer. “Although the U.S., Canada, France and a handful of Western democracies posed questions, their interventions were overly cautious and diplomatic, and did little to make this new procedure into one of real scrutiny. Human rights victims deserve far better.”

    On Friday, the Arab, Islamic and African blocs made a last-ditch effort to block UN webcasting of the session, but their attempt failed. Click here to read set of demands.

    “After a series of major setbacks at the council—including the outrageous insertion of anti-blasphemy provisions into the freedom of expression mandate—this is one small victory that human rights activists must cherish,” said Neuer.

    UN rights chief praises Cuba for hosting pro-Castro UN investigator

    (Click here for HTML version with links to sources)

    UN Watch urges High Commissioner Arbour to clarify her position on Cuba and UN official Jean Ziegler

    Geneva, February 14, 2008 — The UN’s human rights chief should reconsider her praise of Cuba’s record and of the recent mission there by a UN official compromised by ties to the Castro regime, said UN Watch today.

    In a letter sent to High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour, Hillel Neuer, executive director of the Geneva-based human rights monitoring group, urged her to recognize Cuba’s consistently negative role at the UN Human Rights Council. UN Watch also questioned Arbour’s praise of a mission to Cuba by Jean Ziegler, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, whose position at the world body was sponsored by Cuba, and who co-founded the Moammar Qaddafi Human Rights Prize that was given to Fidel Castro in 1998.

      Continue reading ‘UN rights chief praises Cuba for hosting pro-Castro UN investigator’

    Damascus uses UNESCO designation to claim title as “capital of resistance culture”

    The Culture of Tyranny

    By Guest Contributors  Nir Boms and Jonathan Spyer

    The ancient city of Damascus received another mark of recognition last week. Following in the wake of Liverpool – which was recognized as the European Capital of Culture, and Stavanger in Norway, which was named the non-EU European Capital of Culture, UNESCO last week designated Damascus as the Arab Capital of Culture for 2008.

    In a speech celebrating this decision, Syrian President Bashar Assad chose to highlight a very specific element of his capital city’s culture – namely, Damascus’s self-appointed role as the center of Arab ‘resistance.’ “Damascus is the capital of resistance culture by symbolizing Arab culture” he declared, and went on to define ‘resistance culture’ as “the culture of freedom and defending freedom.”

    A closer look at what exactly President Assad means by ‘resistance culture’ might lead one to ask whether the type of activity designated by the term really deserves the acclaim and recognition of an august international body such as UNESCO.

    UNESCO’s Cultural Capitals Program was launched in the Arab world in1998. It aims to promote the cultural aspects of development and increased international cooperation.

    The new Arab Capital of Culture has a unique approach to “international cooperation.” Damascus serves as the headquarters of a long list of designated terrorist organizations, including Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), and an alphabet soup of smaller organizations similarly committed to the practice of violence against civilians. This particular approach to encouraging international cooperation brought the Assad regime to international recognition even prior to its latest accolade from UNESCO. Syria has successfully defended its position at the top of the USA’s list of “countries supporting terrorism” since 1979.

    Since the mid-1990s, Damascus has served as the operational headquarters of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and as a nexus for the transfer of external funds to operatives of these organizations in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. Seized documents revealed a series of direct financial transactions from Syria to the two terrorist organizations. Syria, who was quick to recognize the Hamas Government in Gaza (despite the objection of the Palestinian Prime minister) also announced a public donation campaign to support it.

    According to the State Department, Syria gives the Lebanese militia Hizballah “substantial amounts of financial, training, weapons, explosives, political, diplomatic, and organizational aid”. Iranian arms bound for Hizballah regularly pass through Syria which effectively occupied and controlled neighboring Lebanon between 1990 and 2005, and which is currently engaged in attempting to regain control in Beirut.

    Hizballah’s July 2006 missile strikes on Israeli cities – another expression, presumably, of the “culture of resistance,” prompted allegations that Syria and Iran were using the group to deflect international attention from other issues, such as Iran’s contentious nuclear program.

    Syria is also active in Iraq. David Satterfield, Co-ordinator for Iraq at the State Department, recently noted that the US had received ‘no Syrian cooperation’ in attempting to stem the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq. Rather, he continued, “Syria still allows foreign fighters and suicide bombers to pass across its territories into Iraq.” A recent US media report estimated that 90% of foreign fighters entering Iraq to take part in insurgent activity come via Syria.

    In Lebanon, Damascus is thought to be behind the wave of killings of anti-Syrian political figures which began with the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri in 2005. Syria is doing its utmost to prevent the emergence of a new president and a stable government in Lebanon. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner last week told Arab reporters in Paris that “Syria wants to appoint the prime minister in Lebanon, the ministers, the distribution of ministries and the governmental plan of action through its allies in Beirut.”

    The new Capital of Culture and Resistance also, according to U.S. defense and intelligence reports, maintains an active chemical weapons program. Other reports suggest that Syria was clandestinely working on a nuclear program when these efforts were halted by a successful Israeli attack in September, 2007.

    Thus, the ‘culture of resistance’ means acts of terror against civilians, the deliberate subversion of the governments of neighboring countries, the assassination of political opponents and the apparent attempt to stockpile weapons of mass destruction. One wonders if this is what UNESCO – which describes its own goal as ‘to build peace in the minds of men’ had in mind. The title of ‘Arab capital of culture’ is currently held by the capital of one of the most brutal and lawless regimes in the world. Arab culture – which has given so much of lasting beauty and value to humanity – surely deserves a better representative.

    Nir Boms is vice president of the Center for Freedom in the Middle East. Jonathan Spyer is a Senior Research Fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs Center in Herzliya.

    Originally published at

    Durban II update: 2009 conference location undecided, NGO forum in doubt

    On January 30, 2008, the UN’s Jose Domingo Dougan-Beaca, head of the Anti-Discrimination Unit at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), briefed NGOs in Geneva on the latest news concerning Durban II:

    • Location of 2009 conference undecided:  No country has yet volunteered to host the final 2009 Durban Review Conference. New York and Geneva are two locations being considered.
    • NGO Forum “cast a negative light”:  There is a debate at the OHCHR on whether a NGO Forum should take place at the 2009 conference. OHCHR is thinking against it, since the NGO forum at Durban 2001 cast a “negative light” on the entire conference.
    • Regional meetings:  Brazil is the only country that has offered to hold a regional coordination meeting in advance of the 2009 conference. The OHCHR will send letters to regional groups asking that they organize any regional coordination meetings between June and September 2008.

    * * *

    Following are highlights from last week’s 6th session of the Intergovernmental Working Group (IGWG) on the effective implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action:

    • An inter-sessional working group on Durban will likely be created and meet between this year’s two substantive Durban planning sessions, between May and October 2008.
    • In the absence of the U.S., Canada, and Australia, the European Union found itself leading opposition to various efforts by the African and Islamic states. The EU strongly resisted attempts to introduce new topics into the Durban II discussion — i.e., topics not contained in the original 2001 Durban declaration. Egypt on behalf of the African group proposed that the Working Group take up new issues such as remedies for victims of racism, incitement to hatred and racial profiling. The IGWG will meet for a second week sometime in 2008 and discuss issues delegated to it by the April Durban prep-com.
    • Egypt on behalf of the African group said they will table a comprehensive resolution on Durban follow-up at the Human Rights Council’s March 2008 session, which will likely include many contentious issues.

    UN Watch Exposes Moral Inversion at UNHRC Emergency Session; Cuba Lashes Out, Threatens “CIA-funded” UN Watch

    Against Moral Inversion

    UN Watch Testimony to UN Human Rights Council
    Sixth Special Session, Jan. 24, 2008

    Delivered by Executive Director Hillel C. Neuer


    Mr. President,
    The nations assembled in this special session on the Gaza Strip, convened by the Arab and Islamic states, face an immediate question. On the proposal to condemn Israel, for the alleged crime of targeting civilians, should they vote for, or against?

    Let us consider the proposed resolution. To understand its purpose we are guided best not by the science that studies the conduct of governments, but that which studies the mind. In psychology, attributing one’s own malicious impulses to others is known as projection.

    Mr. President, the resolution before us constitutes a classic case of such projection.  It is, after all, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the other Palestinian terrorist organizations, who deliberately fire rockets—over 200 in the past week alone—at innocent civilians in Sderot and other Israeli towns. It is they who attack from populated areas, using their fellow Palestinians as human shields. It is they who reject the very notion of a distinction between combatants and civilians.

    Israel, like the rest of the civilized world, does the opposite. In exercising its right and obligation under international law to defend its citizens from such attacks, Israel risks the lives of its own soldiers to avoid harming civilians. To Israel, causing a civilian casualty is an unintended tragedy; to Hamas, it is a cause for celebration. The world knows this.

    The supporters of those who fire rockets at nursery schools summoned us here to accuse Israel of violating international humanitarian law, when in reality it is they who deny—in word and deed—the very premise of that code.

    Let us also consider who initiated this session: Syria, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan—each of whom just received the lowest possible rating, Not Free, in the annual world survey by Freedom House. Another is Cuba, which just held an election where the ballots had only one candidate. Are these to be the world’s arbiters of human rights?

    The truth is that this session was fixed from the start. Those who sponsored it could introduce a resolution declaring the earth to be flat, and it would be assured of the same automatic majority.

    The real question we face is something deeper. Can civilization survive—the values of democracy, freedom and basic humanity—when its underlying ideas are, in such high forums, everywhere under assault?

    That may not be decided here today, but every international declaration has its influence.  Those countries who genuinely care about the future—of the Middle East, of a credible UN, of civilization—will vote No.

    Thank you, Mr. President.




    Cuba (exercising a right of reply):

    Thank you, Mr. Chairman. You know, usually, Cuba doesn’t exercise its rights of reply for non-governmental organizations. We appreciate their interventions in the Council as we did before in the Commission, even when they have views different from ours. If I am responding now, I am exercising this right to answer something which is the antithesis of a non-governmental organization.

    I am referring to UN Watch and the executive director, Hillel Neuer. I must say, he produced a Hollywood-type display, speaking to this Council and ambassadors and delegates.

    UN Watch is a lucrative organization amply funded by the CIA and Mossad, which is devoted to denigrating certain member states and this Council. He told us that Israel and his own organization are within the so-called “civilized world.” This implied that this special session is in the world of the barbarians. But I don’t know anything greater than the acts of barbarians than are taking place in Gaza — dark hospitals, people without water, and other things that UN Watch and his executive director haven’t talked about.

    I won’t take any more time talking about this false organization, whose voice I have never heard criticizing the concentration camps in Guantanamo. I will simply wait for them calmly in New York, where in the NGOs meeting they will have to render accounts. And we will see what to do with their consultative status.

    Thank you.

    Saudi women’s tales horrify UN


    Members of Saudi delegation


    Friday, January 18, 2008
    Canwest News Service

    Members of a United Nations women’s rights panel sat aghast yesterday as women in a Saudi delegation defended their status in their country without a hint of irony.

    Marking Saudi Arabia’s first appearance before the panel, the team seemed oblivious to the fact the testimony flew in the face of internationally declared standards.

    “Women are flourishing in different areas …” said Dr. Lubna Al-Ansari, one of the many women Saudi Arabia dispatched to testify before the UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.

    “We can travel on our own. For instance, for me, I have permission from my husband, so I can move freely and go wherever I want.”

    Another delegate defended Saudi Arabia’s ban on driving for women by saying it’s a legacy of history.

    “In ancient times, there were no cars. Women used to ride camels and donkeys. They used to participate in all kinds of transportation,” the delegate explained. “When mentalities are ready, women will be able to drive cars.”

    A male member of the Saudi delegation focused on Saudi laws allowing polygamy, saying they restrict the number of wives a man can take to four.

    “A man who is not confident about treating his women fairly should marry only one woman,” he said. “One reason for polygamy is that the husband may have a strong sexual desire, and maybe just one woman will not necessarily fulfill all his desire.”

    He also described polygamy as “humanitarian” because it gives more women opportunities to marry and “covers the expenses” of more of them.


    Committee members shot back, accusing Saudi Arabia of failing to meet international norms that guarantee women’s economic, political and civil rights.

    “Only when women are free to make their decisions on all aspects of their life, are they full citizens,” committee member Maria Regina Tavares told the session in Geneva.

    Saudi Arabia ratified the 1979 women’s rights treaty that the committee oversees eight years ago – but with the proviso that

    Islamic Sharia law would prevail if there were conflict between the two.

    With a team of more than 45, the Saudi government made its case with one of the biggest delegations ever to turn up for such a hearing.

    The monitoring group UN Watch said the Saudi delegation had masked the “pervasive discrimination” against women in the desert kingdom.

    “Many of the responses speak for themselves,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of the Geneva-based group.

    The hearing took place on the heels of a rape case that focused international attention on the plight of women in Saudi Arabia. In that case, the country’s King Abdullah eventually pardoned the 19-year-old rape victim, who’d been sentenced to lashes by Saudi Arabia’s powerful Islamic clerics because she had been in the company of a man unrelated to her.

    “Instead of sending massive delegations to the UN to pretend that Saudi women are not treated like chattel, Riyadh should focus on reforming the kind of discriminatory laws that sentence women rape victims to lashes,” Neuer added.

    © The Gazette (Montreal) 2008

    Pakistan thanks EU for its “concern” on emergency rule

    UN High Commissioner for Human Right Louise Arbour reported on her activities since the last Council meeting in September.

    Ms. Arbour’s remarks covered Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Brazil, Sudan, Pakistan, and Somalia. While Brazil and Afghanistan welcomed the High Commissioner’s comments, Pakistan and Sudan rejected any criticism. Pakistan reiterated its “commitment to the rule of law” and an independent judiciary, and mockingly thanked the European Union for its concern about the recent state of emergency rule in Pakistan.

    Two strong critiques of the situation in Darfur came from High Commissioner Arbour and the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Sudan, Ms. Sima Samar.  The Sudanese delegation, joined by Sudanese president al-Bashir’s brother, said it remained “highly patient” with various armed groups in Darfur, and stressed its “respect for all conventions of human rights.”

    Portugal on behalf of the EU urged Sudan to fully cooperate with the international community. Egypt on behalf of the African Group defended Sudan, saying it was the international community that “had failed” Sudan. The strongest rebuke of the Council’s inaction came from Canada, which said that the failure to help the victims of Darfur “shows that there is rhetoric but little concrete action.”

    Gibreil Hamid, an activist from Darfur, spoke on behalf of UN Watch. “We, the victims of Darfur, were hoping so much that this new Human Rights Council would give us a voice, and make a difference in our lives. Yet the genocide continues, and it seems that all this Council does is ask for more reports.” (Click for more).

    The day ended with a report by the Special Rapporteur on the situation on human rights in Myanmar, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro. Wednesday’s session (and blog update) will begin with that report and analysis.

    Iran Expresses “Satisfaction” with Human Rights Council, Supports New Reforms

    Tuesday afternoon saw heated exchanges at the UN General Assembly (GA) as its Third Committee, which oversees human rights issues, debated a package of reforms proposed in June by the Human Rights Council, a subsidiary body of the GA. (Click here or the statement by UN Watch and 26 other NGOs opposing the changes, as reported by Canada’s National Post).

    Israeli Ambassador Dan Gillerman accused the new Human Rights Council of “moral bankruptcy.” The new Human Rights Council, he said, “was delivered by some who thought they were giving birth to a new baby, but they have given birth to a horrendous monster.”

    The United States expressed “concern” at the “relentless” campaign against Israel at the Council. However, the Palestinian observer said that the situation in Palestine “had become a ‘test for the West’ regarding its commitment to the human rights.” Cuba, Syria and Iran also welcomed the Council’s focus on Israel.

    Syria, Egypt, Myanmar (Burma), and Iran all voiced support for the proposed “code of conduct” for Special Procedures—a mechanism designed by China, Algeria, and other authoritarian members of the council to cow independent human rights monitors into silence.

    Although many countries praised the non-selective nature of the proposed Universal Periodic Review (UPR) mechanism, France and the United States emphasized that it could not replace the need for country-specific actions and investigatory mandates.

    For the official UN summary of the debate, click here. Our own highlights follow below.
    Continue reading ‘Iran Expresses “Satisfaction” with Human Rights Council, Supports New Reforms’

    Libya elected to chair World Conference on Racism planning committee

    Geneva, August 28, 2007 — At yesterday’s opening of the Preparatory Committee for the Durban Review Conference, the follow-up to the 2001 World Conference Against Racism, Ambassador Doru Romulus Costea, President of the Human Rights Council, opened the meeting and called on Egypt to nominate the Chair.

    Egypt on behalf of the African Group nominated Libyan ambassador Najat al-Hajjaji to be the Chair. She had an illustrious diplomatic career, he said. She is a former chair of the 59th Commission on Human Rights and held a post at the Durban conference in 2001. She led her country for over a decade on human rights issues and boasts many honors and awards in human rights. She has human rights expertise and is well positioned to steer the conference toward success. Sri Lanka seconded the proposal. Brazil also supported Libya’s nomination.

    The President of the Human Rights Council declared ambassador al-Hajjaji elected by acclamation.

    Chairperson al-Hajjaji (of Libya): Thank you for the confidence you placed in me to chair this preparatory committee, whose work will lead to convening of Durban review conference in 2009 which we all look forward to. The work ahead of us is enormous. In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate, your excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, I would like at the outset to extend profound thanks to all member states of the UN for the confidence you placed in my country, and in my humble person to chair this prep com for review of Durban. In particular, my thanks to African states that have always supported my country in all regional and international fora. And my appreciation to the Organization for the Islamic Conference for their continued support.

    Six years have elapsed since the international community adopted the Durban program of action and declaration. Soon after, the events of Sept. 11, 2001 erupted. And one of the most important consequences was an increase in racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance.

    The war against what is called “terrorism” started. Some states put aside human rights for the war against terrorism. Some have exploited it in order to persecute its opponents and critics and to take revenge. Many laws were adopted of a restrictive nature. Persecution of migrants, asylum seekers, refugees, those of particular ethnic groups. All under the pretext of the “war on terror.” Anti-Semitism rose, covering Arabs and others. Violent movements rose, targeting Muslim, Christians and Jews, in addition to [others]. Internet full of pages instigating violence on basis of racial hatred. Even sports arenas have witnessed racist acts. Depth of racial discrimination increased as we saw intolerance. Ridiculing religious symbols, leading to violence. Streets cemeteries and holy places have become scene for racist violence. All that I have indicated does not obviate fact that a number of countries have made progress on national level on racism. World summit against racism was adopted. A number of other countries have set up national plans.

    Within this context it is necessary for us to voice our great appreciation to all efforts since Durban. Pay thanks to intergovernmental group on effective implementation of Durban action, the panel of eminent persons responsible for implementation of Durban, the Special Rapporteur on racism, all special mechanisms of the Human Rights Council, all who address this issue.

    We are proud of achievements in Durban 2001. Among these, we have been able to diagnose face of racism today. To agree to practical steps. We’re also proud that through totality of Durban process that we managed this unprecedented mobilization of grassroots organizations and to let victims of racism speak loud; for those who have been excluded and ostracized to break bonds of silence; about their suffering.

    Pay tribute to all member states for determination to hold this conference. Firm will to strengthen Durban objectives. We’ll be able to study how countries have implemented their goals. I appeal to all member states and organizations to contribute to voluntary fund for preparatory process of review process.

    Extend my congratulations to members of the bureau whose names will be announced. Congratulate them. Thanks and appreciation for all their efforts. The bureau has held 19 meetings over last 2 months in which all elements were discussed in exhaustive detail. Despite diversity amongst bureau members, all of them have made every effort to overcome obstacles to make sure everyone would work in spirit of harmony and consensus, and all have won admiration of all. I hope this spirit will prevail, respectful dialogue. I hope we can take all decisions with consensus.

    I conclude by quoting from statement by former High Commissioner Mary Robinson: “Durban must be a beginning and not an end…” I thank you all.

    I now propose that these members be elected to bureau and to function as vice chairs: Armenia, Estonia, Russia and Croatia, for Eastern European group; Greece, Turkey, Norway, and Belgium from the Western group; Cameroon, Senegal and South Africa from the African group; Iran, India, Pakistan and Indonesia from Asia; and Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Cuba from Latin America. There being no objection, the members are elected and will serve as vice-chairs for prep com.

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