Archive for the 'Ad Hoc Ctte on Complementary Standards' Category

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?

Controversial Durban committee meets in Geneva – Day 3

For a comprehensive summary of today’s proceedings, click here.

Today’s proceedings of the Ad-Hoc Committee on the Elaboration of Complimentary Standards centered on reviewing the final three topics remaining for discussion and determining which would be included in the substantive sessions starting Monday.

The meeting started with a disagreement over the inclusion of the topic of racism in sport. Costa Rica withdrew its proposal that the issue be discussed, but the EU requested that it be kept on the agenda but moved to a later time slot to enable a colleague to give a report on the issue. There was disagreement between the EU and the African Group as to whether this was appropriate so the issue was tabled and debate opened on the topic of “the establishment of national mechanisms to protect against discrimination.”

The EU presented the topic, as it is an EU initiative. The AG and OIC considered the word “discrimination” by itself to be too broad and requested that it be changed to “racial discrimination,” which the EU resisted, pointing out that this would ignore the issue of xenophobia. There was disagreement as well concerning what exactly substantive discussion of the issue would involve: outlining norms and standards for national human rights institutions, the identification of procedural gaps, or establishing procedures for implementation of recommendations.

Discussion then moved on to the next topic, “procedural gaps with regard to ICERD,” which had been added to the agenda the previous day at the request of the cross-regional group. Brazil elaborated that the two aspects of the issue are identifying protection gaps in ICERD and strengthening existing mechanisms, and suggested that discussion of the issue be postponed until the next session of the Ad-Hoc Committee to allow time for consultations with capitals. Algeria suggested the issue had already been satisfactorily covered in previous sessions and that it would be wasting time to discuss it further. Brazil replied that discussions of the issue in the past had been hampered by lack of trust and differing agendas between the delegations, and that further discussion could be fruitful. There was also disagreement between the delegations on the value of inviting ICERD experts to speak to the committee, and as to whether the role of the committee was to address procedural gaps or only substantive ones.

For the discussion on racism in sport, the UK began by presenting its own experience with combating racism in sport, and Brazil supported the topic. In the afternoon the Chair proposed that the topics of xenophobia, incitement to racial hatred, and national mechanisms against racism showed the most promise of achievement, and asked if those could be agreed upon as the topics of discussion for the following week. The US presented an action plan for the second topic adopted from a similar effort against religious hatred, which Algeria opposed the circulation of. The day ended with conflict between Algeria, Nigeria, and Pakistan on the one hand and the US and EU on the other over priorities and how the agreed-upon issues should be discussed, but overall there was consensus on which issues would be included in next week’s discussion.

Controversial Durban committee meets in Geneva – Day 2

For a comprehensive summaries of today’s proceedings, Click here.
Today’s proceedings of the Ad-Hoc Committee on the Elaboration of Complimentary Standards centered on narrowing the 6 topics identified as possible areas of focus for substantive discussion next week down to 2 or 3.  Of the 6 topics proposed (xenophobia, incitement to racial hatred, racist acts committed through communication technologies, racial profiling, racism and sport, and the establishment of national mechanisms to protect against discrimination), Argentina for the cross-regional group said they are willing to discuss xenophobia and profiling. They also proposed the additional topic of “procedural gaps to the implementation of the ICERD” focused on follow-up issues. The African Group (AG) and OIC said they needed more time to study this proposal. Brazil stressed that this point is very important for the cross-regional group. The EU opted for the discussion of topic 6 and suggested that they identify gaps first before going on to develop standards, while Nigeria for AG and Pakistan for OIC expressed their preference for the first 4 topics. The meeting then proceeded to  discussion of the merits of the first four topics.

Topic 1: Xenophobia
The Chair said that they needed to develop a definition of xenophobia and its relations to racism. There is incomplete treatment in existing international instruments. Brazil said that the Committee needs to identify protection  gaps for xenophobia. Liechtenstein and the EU argued that the notion of xenophobia has been developed by CERD in its general comments and recommendations.

Nigeria, Egypt and Algeria supported discussion of this issue and argued that the mandate of the committee includes discussion of new norms, not just gaps. Algeria also said that countries signed the ICERD, not all the work by the experts. USA said that the ICERD is a wider document and does not only include racism but also xenophobia. Brazil for the cross-regional group agreed with the topic to be discussed and asked for the contribution of experts.

Topic 2: Advocacy and incitement to racial, ethnic, national and religious hatred
The US asked to change the title of the topic to the one of the resolution adopted by consensus at the previous HRC session. They are not comfortable with the notion of incitement. Nigeria and Egypt did not accept the US position, to which the US responded that they were not comfortable discussing this topic as stated, and urged the Committee to focus on finding areas of agreement that would lead to concrete progress instead of wasting time on rehashing old and insurmountable differences in opinion that will lead nowhere.

Topic 3: Racial and xenophobic acts committed through information and communication technologies
Liechtenstein indicated that the Council of Europe protocol on cyber hate did not enjoy broad consensus, which is why it is a separate protocol from the convention, which few countries have signed onto. The  US agreed with this analysis. Nigeria for the AG and Pakistan for the OIC said that it was time for the UN to adopt a similar convention. Japan for the cross-regional group said they were not comfortable with this proposal, which required a lot of technical expertise.

Topic 4: Racial, ethnic, and religious profiling
Nigeria for the AG said that profiling is an important issue as it is “rampant.” When asked by the EU to offer examples, they referred to the reports by the Special Rapporteur on racism and their own experiences when traveling.

Discussion will continue on Thursday with further discussion on the topics.

Controversial Durban committee meets in Geneva – Day 1

 The Ad-Hoc Committee on the Elaboration of Complimentary Standards was established by the UN Human Rights Council in 2006, in accordance to the Durban Declaration and Program of Action. In its previous sessions, the Committee dealt with highly contentious and controversial issues, such as defamation of religion and incitement to religious hatred, which often polarized the debate.

Unable to elect a chair in October of last year following the resignation of the Algerian ambassador, the Committee postponed the session to the following year. On Monday, April 11, 2011, the Committee resumed. Scheduled to last two weeks, the first day of the session has already evidenced tension.

The first item of business was the election of a chair. Ambassador Jerry Matjila of South Africa, was appointed chair. In a show of humility, Ambassador Matjila admitted that no country can say it is immune from manifestations of racism, not even his own. He expressed his desire to find common ground between states, that he respected the unique and varied approaches of each country. The Ambassador set ambitious goals, and appealed to each state to draw on the diversity of others in order to move this process forward.

After adopting the provisional agenda, the chair moved to a matter on which there was great divergence: the program of work. Ambassador Majila insisted on asking the Committee to adopt a blank program of work – a schedule that would say when the committee was meeting, but not what they were meeting to discuss. This was opposed strongly by the EU, supported by the US and Switzerland. Iraq also acknowledged that the absence of the topics to be discussed from the program of work is “mysterious” and “ambiguous.”

The EU expressed a number of reservations, most importantly on the substance of the discussion and the methodology to be used. It warned of “an adventure with tsunamis and earthquakes.”

The Chair responded that he would resign if the committee did not trust him. Later, he was persuaded to circulate the list of four topics he chose for discussion, out of a list of 22 possible ones, and went on to explain them in more detail.

The first topic was xenophobia. In an atypical moment of self-reflection, the Ambassador of South Africa condemned the recent xenophobic attacks in his country, where, “foreigners were burnt alive,” calling them “shameful.” He also said that they need to define what “Xenophobia” means, to which countries expressed concern that this endeavor is outside of the Committee’s mandate.

The second topic on incitement could potentially bring back the deleterious notion of “defamation of religion,” which was removed at the last HRC session. The Chair argued that discussing it at this stage was “ripe.”

The third issue, racism on the internet, required technical expertise, Switzerland argued. The EU said that at the Council of Europe, the issue was dealt in the wider framework of cybercrime. Having not ratified the protocol of the council of Europe, the USA said it was in no position to discuss this theme in the ad-hoc committee.

Last but not least, the fourth issue, racial profiling after September 11, also raised eyebrows.

The EU’s first reaction was to ask the Chair how he was possibly able to narrow the list to these four topics and expressed its concern that certain of these themes  were out of its “comfort zone,” and not appropriate in the ad-hoc committee. The USA and Switzerland were trying to identify where the chair was trying to lead them with these subjects. The USA proposed to merge item 2 with item 4.  Switzerland concluded that it was willing to accept topic 1 and 4 but topic 3 isn’t a subject they would be willing to discuss.

During the discussion, Nigeria for the African Group said that “the EU confirmed his fears and suspicions that they are not willing to see the process take off the ground.”

The Chair, leaving the door open for new discussions topics, added “racism and sports” and “the establishment and maintaining of national mechanisms to prevent racism” on his list. A compromise was reached to suspend the meeting till Wednesday, April 13, in order to allow for consultations with capitals. On Wednesday and Thursday the topics will be discussed in an informal setting, facilitated by the Ambassador of Botswana. The resumption of the formal process is set for Friday, April 15.

Ad Hoc Committee Resolution Adopted by Consensus

The UN’s Ad Hoc Committee’s proposal to criminalize religious freedom unanimously passed the Human Rights Council (for more on the Ad Hoc Committee, click here). The resolution was tabled by South Africa for the African regional bloc, but had been challenged by an alternative text proposed by the United States (click here for the final draft as orally amended and click here for the proposed US draft text). Ultimately, the US withdrew its resolution and endorsed the African group’s text after long negotiations to incorporate changes proposed by the Ad Hoc’s Cross-Regional group. The European Union, staying out of the fray, did not join consensus on the resolution. Traditionally voting no, the EU did not call for a vote, which allowed the Council to adopt the resolution by consensus.

Strains Emerging on “Defamation of Religion” Ahead of Important Vote

Ahead of two important votes later this week, the Ad Hoc Committee met to discuss the resolution tabled by Nigeria on the “Elaboration of Complementary Standards to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination” (ICERD). Together with the annual resolution on the “Defamation of Religion,” they signal forceful actions by Islamic nations to change international law at the expense of freedom of expression, as part of the follow-up to the 2001 Durban conference on racism. For more on the Ad Hoc Committee and its earlier proceedings, click hereContinue reading ‘Strains Emerging on “Defamation of Religion” Ahead of Important Vote’

Readers comment on UN Watch’s New York Times letter on Swiss minaret ban

Letter to the Editor, The New York Times, December 19, 2009:

Re “Europe’s Minaret Moment,” by Ross Douthat (column, Dec. 7): We, part of the Geneva human rights community, are particularly embarrassed by Switzerland’s vote to ban minarets and will work energetically toward its speedy repeal.

Paradoxically, the most intolerant Islamists are likely to be strengthened by this act of bigotry, not weakened. Acts of intolerance by Western countries provide justification for banning religious freedom in Muslim countries.

These efforts have found expression at the United Nations Human Rights Council, where an Algerian-headed committee is advocating changes to an international covenant on discrimination to grant Islamic governments free rein to silence dissenters in the name of a supposed human right against “defamation of religion.” But questioning or criticism of Islamic orthodoxies by individuals – religious dissenters, human rights activists or journalists – is protected speech, and an essential part of religious and political freedom.

What a pity that Switzerland’s minaret folly – which, at the least, discourages religious expression by individuals – may end up hurting non-Muslim minorities in the Mideast as well as liberal Muslims. The overt banning of Muslim structures by a government is wrongful discrimination.

Hillel C. Neuer
Executive Director, U.N. Watch
Geneva, Dec. 11, 2009


Wall Street Journal: UN Watch takes on Islamist U.N. assault on free speech

Yesterday’s edition of the Wall Street Journal Asia (page 18) published the following two letters to the editor, by U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley and by UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer. Both were in response to a Nov. 5th editorial entitled “Hillary vs. State,” which critiqued the U.S. co-sponsorship with Egypt of a UN resolution concerning freedom of speech. For an excellent in-depth summary of the issue, see The Dangerous Idea of Protecting Religions from “Defamation”  by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom. *** Continue reading ‘Wall Street Journal: UN Watch takes on Islamist U.N. assault on free speech’

OIC defends “defamation of religion” proposal in letter to UN

After suffering heavy public criticism, the Organization of the Islamic Conference defended its proposal to ban criticism of Islam in a letter addressed to a UN committee charged with defining the norms of anti-racism. It also resorted to attacking Western countries, mentioning only Denmark, the Netherlands, and the UK as human rights violators, ignoring the suppression and oppression of religious minorities in Muslim countries. Continue reading ‘OIC defends “defamation of religion” proposal in letter to UN’

Durban Ad Hoc Committee: Day 8 Afternoon

The Durban Ad Hoc Committee wrapped up this afternoon after adopting its final report by consensus. The report reproduces the proposals made by the regional groups over the previous two weeks and will be submitted for review at the Human Rights Council in March 2010. Continue reading ‘Durban Ad Hoc Committee: Day 8 Afternoon’

Durban Ad Hoc Committee: Day 8 Morning

Lichtenstein and Nigeria went head to head at this morning’s Durban Ad Hoc Committee meeting. Redrawing sharp lines between Western and African countries, the two delegates debated the implications of new provisions to the current convenant on racial discrimination. The central point of disagreement remains “whether demonstrating there were insufficient instances in the field or that there were no insufficiencies and therefore the present status quo should be maintained,” therefore casting in great doubt the purpose of the committee itself. Countries have yet to reach consensus, and several, hugely divergent proposals still remain on the table. Continue reading ‘Durban Ad Hoc Committee: Day 8 Morning’

Durban Ad Hoc Committee: Day 7 Afternoon

Pakistan chastised the United States for racial profiling practices at this afternoon’s Durban Ad Hoc Committee meeting. The committee debated several issues, including the rights of people under foreign occupation, protection of migrants, refugees and IDP’s (internally displaced persons). Zimbabwe also expressed mild disgust at Western states, saying, “the denial or resistance of the Western groups in the area of gaps is not surprising.  They see them as adequate only when it comes to racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. […] Racial and religious profiling is evident.” Continue reading ‘Durban Ad Hoc Committee: Day 7 Afternoon’

Durban Ad Hoc Committee: Day 5 and 6

After several rounds of closed regional meetings, the Durban follow-up committee resumed work on Tuesday morning only to adjourn for another five minute recess when a new program of work was circulated. Upon reconvening, the committee did not formally adopt the program, but decided to move on to the more substantive issues of national mechanisms and genocide. Western states argued that countries need to focus on better implementing international laws in their own national mechanisms, while Arab and African countries pressed for new laws to cover gaps in international standards. Continue reading ‘Durban Ad Hoc Committee: Day 5 and 6’

Durban Ad Hoc Committee: Day 4 Afternoon

The controversial issue of defamation of religion took centerstage at this afternoon’s Durban Ad Hoc Committee meeting. Still unable to adopt its program of work, the committee has decided to discuss agenda items unofficially, with hopes that it will have more luck in reaching consensus on a per item basis. However, Islamic countries quickly moved the discussion away from discrimination on the basis of religion, to defamation of religion, an item that had been removed from the official program of work. This elicited strong resistance from Western countries, which argued that protection from religious discrimination should not create restrictions on freedom of expression. Continue reading ‘Durban Ad Hoc Committee: Day 4 Afternoon’

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’

Durban Ad Hoc Committee: Day 3 Afternoon

Western and Islamic countries are at loggerheads over new international laws that criminalize Islamophobia. Today’s afternoon session of the Durban follow-up ended in disagreement, with several states urging the committee to consider the findings of independent experts to break the impasse. Continue reading ‘Durban Ad Hoc Committee: Day 3 Afternoon’

Durban Ad Hoc Committee: Day 3 Morning

Heated debate continued at the Durban follow-up meeting on racism and discrimination when Nigeria and Pakistan sought to limit dicussions on homophobia and other forms of racial discrimination. At issue was the request made by Germany yesterday to clarify that opinions raised by certain countries do not reflect the view of the entire committee. This point was raised out of concern that changes in procedure could be used to force out consideration of certain rights, such as freedom of expression and protection against homophobia. Continue reading ‘Durban Ad Hoc Committee: Day 3 Morning’

Durban Ad Hoc Committee: Day 2

Islamophobia and homosexuality were among the controversial topics that arose today at the Durban Ad Hoc Committee, which reconvened after a one-day postponement for regional group consultations. The committee adopted the draft agenda and resumed discussions on the program of work. Continue reading ‘Durban Ad Hoc Committee: Day 2’

Durban Ad Hoc Committee: Day 1

Islamic states at the UN are once again attempting to change international law by defining criticism of Islam as a form of racism. As part of a broader Islamic campaign throughout the UN, which includes an annual “Defamation of Religion” resolution that is now making its way through the GA in New York, the so-called “Ad Hoc Committee on the Elaboration of Complementary Standards“, part of the UN Human Rights Council’s follow-up to the 2001 Durban conference on racism, opened today in Geneva for a 2-week session. The group was created in December 2006 and held its first session last year.

The premise of the Islamic-initiated group is that international law has a gap in allowing criticism (“defamation”) of Islam, and that new “complementary standards” must be enacted, to prohibit newspaper articles, cartoons or other statements deemed offensive to Muslims. The committee today discussed the relevance of reaching consensus on the program of work. Continue reading ‘Durban Ad Hoc Committee: Day 1’

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