African Meeting in Nigeria Threatens To Derail World Conference

UN Watch in the News

Emmanuel Iffer
Leadership (Nigerian newspaper)
August 26, 2008

UN Watch Executive Director Hillel Neuer, has issued the following statement on the draft African Regional Declaration and Programme of Action preparatory to the Durban Review Conference.

UN Watch, a Geneva- based independent human rights group that is actively participating as an international non-governmental organisation at the current African Regional Conference in Abuja, Nigeria, is deeply concerned that the draft declaration set for adoption later yesterday threatens to derail this year’s UN follow-up to the 2009 world conference in racism.

The objectives of the African conference are to review regional implementation of the 2001 Durban Declaration, and to map the way forward in preparation for the global Durban Review Conference on racism set for Geneva in April.

However, the current draft, slated for adoption, fails to fulfill the first objective of the conference, flouts international human rights principles, and breaches the red lines set by France, Britain, the Netherlands, and other Western states – which they have warned could trigger their boycott of the 2009 meeting in Geneva.

In particular, UN Watch is deeply concerned by the following:

  1. Draft Declaration Fails to Review African Performance 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. This message of impunity for African states places all Africans at risk. For example:
  • The text fails to review the Sudanese government’s racist crimes against humanity in Darfur, now the subject of ICC indictment, including the ethnic killings of, at least, 200,000 black Africans, mass rape, and the displacement of over 1 million men, women and children. When UN Watch addressed the Darfur atrocities in its 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.
  • The text fails to review the xenophobic attacks that recently broke out in South Africa-the key organiser 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.
  • The text fails to 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.

All of these African victims, and millions more in the future, are harmed by the conference’s failure to ensure accountability for crimes committed in African countries based on race, ethnicity and related intolerance.

  1. Draft Declaration Attacks Free Speech, Seeks to Import Islamic Anti-Blasphemy Prohibitions into International Human Rights Law

Paragraph 13 of the draft 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 related provisions in the text speak of “incitement to religious hatred,” and mirror efforts by islamic States at the UN Human Rights Council to insinuate Islamic anti-blasphemy prohibitions into international law.

UN Watch recalls that 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 paragraph 13 and related provisions show contempt for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantee of freedom of expression. They go far beyond the recognised 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.

  1. Draft Declaration Imposes Hierarchy of Religions

Paragraph 20 seeks to impose a hierarchy of religions, placing adherents of Islam above all others. 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.

Copyright 2008, Leadership
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