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.