In what may be a portent of things to come, Islamic accusations against the West dominated a UN session today dedicated to follow-up of the 2001 World Conference Against Racism, held in Durban, South Africa.
This week in Geneva saw the first meeting of the “Ad Hoc Committee of the Human Rights Council on the Elaboration of Complementary Standards,” which was created by a UN Human Rights Council resolution on follow-up to the 2001 Durban conference. Initiated by Algeria on behalf of Africa, it was adopted in December 2006 over the opposition of the EU, Canada and other democratic states on the Council. The resolution sought to “heed the decision and instruction of the 2001 World Conference against Racism.”
The Ad Hoc committee is not formally part of the planning for the controversial 2009 Durban Review Conference, but is an overlapping entity that treats the same theme and involves the same diplomats. Its mandate is to elaborate “complementary standards” to the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and to provide “new normative standards aimed at combating all forms of contemporary racism including incitement to racial and religious hatred.”
The EU this week reiterated its unease with the committee but pledged to cooperate. Egypt on behalf of the African Group justified the need for the committee.
Today’s session quickly turned to familiar UN subjects of “foreign occupation,” the Danish cartoon controversy, Islamophobia, and colonialism:
- Algerian Deputy Permanent Representative Mohammed Bessedik drew thinly veiled comparisons of today’s treatment of Muslims to the Nazi atrocities against Jews. “The policy of targeting Muslims would actually aim at dehumanizing them by assaulting their identity to legitimize an attitude of racial discrimination similar to the one that targeted another Semitic people in the 20th century.” He described the threat of “reawakening the hydra of the anti-Semitic campaigns of the 20th century, which we now call Islamophobia.” Click for full speech (in French)
- Egypt’s representative cited the Danish cartoon controversy as an example of where legislation exists but was not implemented, or has not been updated. He also criticized recent fires and riots in Paris and other European cities. These, he claimed, can constitute threats to international peace and security. “Let this mechanism prevent these phenomena from escalating, so that the Security Council does not have to deal with them,” he urged.
- The representative of Belgium asked that specific country cases not be named, but Egypt denied having made references to any particular country, adding “If political exploitation of migrants or religions for political reasons comes from a particular region, if fires and riots come from a particular region, if resistance to combat these phenomena come from a particular region, this is not my responsibility.”
- Egypt offered the example of the “Da Vinci Code” film, which was deemed insulting “by the Christian Pope and by the 7-8 million Christians in Egypt.” Egypt did not allow this movie to be shown in any movie theater and “even bringing it in as a tourist can get you in trouble.” Christians are not a majority in Egypt and Sharia law is the pillar of Egyptian law, he said, but respect for all religions is paramount. The devout Muslim members of parliament were the first to push for this legislation, he noted.
- In thinly veiled jibes against Israel, “foreign occupation” was raised repeatedly by Islamic states. Syria and Algeria called it one of the worst forms of human rights violations. Egypt referred to countries that occupy other countries for a lengthy period as “a form of racism by itself” and “a racist regime of occupation.”
- Egypt accused the Europeans of lacking political will to combat racism.
- Senegal stressed the need for finding new language for contemporary manifestations of racism — another way of calling for a reopening of the Durban 2001 declaration.
- Egypt and Pakistan criticized “racial profiling” against individuals of a different religion. Egypt said that this should constitute a complementary standard.