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Viewpoints on the U.N. Conference Against Racism

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad after arriving in Geneva for the Durban Review Conference (U.N.'s Conference against Racism) on Apr. 19. (Photo: Anja Niedringhaus / AFP-Getty Images)

Statement by Anne Bayefsky at the Third Substantive Preparatory Meeting of the Durban Review Conference (Apr. 17):

The eyes of millions of victims of racism, xenophobia and intolerance are upon YOU, the representatives of states and the United Nations. And instead of hope you have given them despair. Instead of truth you have handed them diplomatic double-talk. Instead of combating antisemitism you have handed them a reason for Jews to fear U.N.-driven hatemongering on a global scale.

The Durban conference — allegedly dedicated to combating racism, antisemitism and other forms of intolerance — will open Apr. 20 on the anniversary of the birth of Adolf Hitler without agreement on even so much as remembering the Holocaust and the war against the Jews. Your draft words on the Holocaust — the very foundation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights — have been narrowed to the barest mention from previous versions. And if the minor reference survives at all it will be a testament to your interest in Jews that died 60 years ago, while tolerating and encouraging the murder of Jews in the here and now.

Furthermore, the draft before you demonizes the Jewish state of Israel and then has the audacity to pretend to care about antisemitism in a single word buried among 17 pages. Antisemitism means discrimination against the Jewish people. Since it is evident that almost none of you have the courage to say it, the face of modern antisemitism IS the U.N. — your — discrimination against Israel, the embodiment of the Jewish people's right to self-determination.

Over and over again we have heard a massive misinformation campaign about the content of these proceedings and the draft before you. We have heard the tale that this draft does not single out Israel, that the hate has been removed, that the fault of the antisemitism at Durban I was that of N.G.O.s while states and the U.N. were blameless.

Perhaps you think that journalists and victims will not bother to read for themselves the Durban Declaration adopted by some governments. There is only one state mentioned in it — Israel. There is only one state associated with racist practices in it — Israel. And yet the very first thing that this draft before you does is to reaffirm that abomination, abomination for Jews and Arabs living in Israel's free and democratic society, and for all the victims of racism ignored therein. Lawyers call it incorporation by reference when they hope nobody reads the small print. The propaganda stops here. We have read it. We understand the game. And we decry the ugly effort to repeat the Durban agenda to isolate and defeat Israel politically, as every effort to do so militarily for decades has failed.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Chair of this Preparatory Committee also told us this week that the Durban Declaration in all its aspects is a consensus text. Perhaps they are unfamiliar with the Canadian reservations made in Durban in 2001 which state categorically that the Middle East language was outside the conference's jurisdiction and not agreed. Perhaps they failed to notice that one of the world's greatest democracies, the United States, voted with its feet and walked out of the Durban I hatefest? The Durban Declaration has never represented a global consensus among free and democratic nations. When the head of the Islamic conference treats Durban as a bible, in their words, it is more accurately a defamation of religions.

This week you decided which states ought to serve in a leadership role at next week's conference. Among them are some of the world's leading practitioners of racism, not those interested in ending it. You have also decided to hand a global megaphone to the President of a state which advocates genocide and denies the Holocaust.

So in a state of shock and dismay we address ourselves not to the human rights abusers that glorify the Durban Declaration or its next incarnation, but to democracies — and we ask: Will Germany sit on Hitler's birthday and listen to the speech of an advocate of genocide against the Jewish people and grant legitimacy to the forum which tolerates his presence? What about the United Kingdom, the birthplace of the Magna Carta? Or France that helped to ship last generation's Jews to crematoriums?

You could have fought racism. You chose instead to fight Jews. You could have promoted the universal standards against racism already in existence. You chose instead to diminish their importance in the name of alleged cultural preferences. You could have protected freedom of expression. You chose instead to undermine it by twisted concepts of incitement. You could have brought victims of racism together in a common cause. You chose instead to pit victims against each other in an ugly struggle for meagre recognition. For those democracies that remain under these circumstances you are ultimately responsible for what can only be called an appalling disservice to real victims of racism, xenophobia and related intolerance around the world.

Anne Bayefsky serves as professor at York University, Toronto, Canada; a barrister and solicitor, Ontario Bar; and a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute where her areas of expertise include international human rights law, equality rights, and constitutional human rights law.

The Anti-Racism Conference As It Should Have Been

By Gil Troy

Geneva is awash in the light green of early spring, nestled amid snowcapped mountains. Arriving from Israel, I found the city's tranquility surprising, until I remembered this was Sunday morning, not Monday. Still, the quiet set the tone for this first day, on the eve of what promises to be a tumultuous United Nations Review Conference on Racism, Discrimination, Xenophobia and Intolerance beginning Monday (the U.N. shifted from Durban to Geneva hoping to avoid the riotous anti-Semitic atmosphere of Durban, 2001).

Entering the city, I passed the Intercontinental Hotel, where Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is staying before addressing the conference Monday. Many Swiss citizens are urging their president not to shake Ahmadinejad's hand. "But," my taxi driver shrugged, "protocols must be followed."

What a perfect welcome to Europe, and to the U.N.'s moral myopia. By cherishing protocols more than human rights, the world enables dictators. Despite advocating Israel's and America's destruction, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will be welcomed like a head of state, rather than the genocide-seeking rogue he is.

Fortunately, twenty human rights N.G.O.s hosted a "Geneva Summit for Human Rights, Tolerance and Democracy," or what I call the "Anti-Racism Conference as It Should Have Been."

Offering a mirror image of the Durban Review conference leadership, many of the speakers suffered repression thanks to the leaders of today's U.N. Human Rights Council. The 22 speakers from Iran, Cuba, Libya, Iran, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, and elsewhere, along with the hundreds of attendees, rejected the toxic combination of European politesse and dictatorial manipulation perpetuating what one speaker called the "coalition of autocrats around the world."

That speaker, Dr. Saad Eddin Ibrahim, imprisoned in Egypt for three years, said that having Libya lead the human rights council made a mockery of human rights. He also denounced "the indifference of the democrats," regretting Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's vow that human rights issues would not sour American relations with the Chinese. "When people no longer denounce injustice ... we are giving an oxygen boost to dictators so they can continue to trample on people's rights," Jose Gabriel Ramon Castillo, a Cuban activist warned.

In the emotional opening session, victims of the Darfur and Rwanda genocides moved delegates to tears, by describing the evil they endured. Dominique Sopo, the President of SOS Racisme, condemned the Durban Review conference's "negationism," ignoring real the human rights crimes. "It is unbelievable that Darfur is not on the agenda," Sopo insisted. "What is the point of having a conference against racism if this is ignored?" Contrasting the U.N.'s passivity with the opening panelists' activist idealism, Canadian MP Irwin Cotler thanked the dissidents for "inspiring us to act and do that which needs to be done."

Celebrating sixty years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Genocide Convention, sessions examined the declaration's various articles. This afternoon's session examined Article 5, the "right to be free from torture and cruel or inhuman treatment." Parvez Sharma described "Jihad for Love," his film describing the discrimination endured by Islamic homosexuals. Ahmed Batebi, a dissident imprisoned in Iran for nine years, recounted how he was thrown in solitary confinement on flimsy legal grounds. He recalled: threats, mock executions, brutalization of friends, and how "they tied my hands to a chair and kept me awake until I lost consciousness, then cut me and poured salt in my wounds to wake me up." This cruelty, he explained, "is an attempt to crush the spirits" of anyone who criticizes Iran's regime.

Finally, Dr. Ashraf El Hagog, a Palestinian doctor, and Kristina Valcheva, a Bulgarian nurse, described how Libya falsely accused them of spreading HIV, then tortured them with beatings, electrical currents, and sexual sadism. "It's disgusting" that Libya is chairing the U.N. human rights council, Dr. El Hahog shouted, "SHAME ON YOU LIBYA." Noting that a Jew was one of the first people to help him get out of prison, Dr. El Hagog admitted that he had been imprisoned in his own ideology, and now regretted his bigotry.

"Please use your liberty to promote ours," Soe Aung, a Burmese dissident begged. Once, that slogan was the U.N.'s watchword. Today, the sentiment challenges U.N. protocols.

We owe it to these democratic heroes to do what we can to use our liberty to promote theirs, while pushing the U.N. to fulfill its historic mission. Meanwhile, we buckle our seatbelts for the farce that Ahmadinejad and his fellow dictators will launch tomorrow.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and the author of "Why I Am A Zionist: Israel Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today." He attended the Durban Review conference as as an observer.

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