Blame the West for Durban II?

Testimony at the UN

UN Watch Speech to UN Human Rights Council
in presence of High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillay
Delivered by Hillel Neuer, 10 September 2008

Thank you, Mr. President.

Madam High Commissioner, United Nations Watch extends its warm greetings and congratulations on your undertaking of a mission that is critical to our time. Your own experience, as an international judge, human rights activist, and anti-Apartheid advocate, is an inspiration to us all. As the world celebrates the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, UN Watch eagerly looks forward to cooperating with you toward the advancement of our common cause.

Madam High Commissioner, your address before this council placed special focus on the Durban Review Conference. Concerning a key point that you made, I wish to join the statements of Pakistan for the Organization of the Islamic Conference, Egypt for the African Group, and Cuba for the Non-Aligned Movement. You expressed determination to bring into the process those countries that have warned of non-participation, as well as those warning that events may force them not to participate. We share this goal.

These countries, that have warned of non-participation, whatever their history and flaws, have been leaders in building legal and social institutions that combat racism. It is worthy of mention that the Governor General of Canada, my country, is a woman of African descent, born in Haiti. The United States has as its Secretary of State an African-American woman, and a serious candidate for President is an African-American man. In France, both the Justice Minister and Secretary of State for human rights are of African descent.

Madam High Commissioner, can anyone dispute that these countries, and others that have made similar statements (such as the U.K. and Holland), care about the cause of anti-racism? Therefore, we must ask: what is causing these countries to consider non-participation?

Madam High Commissioner, you referred to the African regional conference in Abuja, which you described as productive. We were there. Its stated objective was to take stock of African performance on racism, xenophobia, and related intolerance.

But which African country’s record on racism, xenophobia and intolerance was examined? Not one. In Abuja, the UN expert on racism Doudou Diene urged attention to xenophobic attacks that occurred in Kenya and South Africa — but these were ignored. A moment ago, the distinguished representative of Sudan mentioned Darfur, but in the Abuja text, this went unmentioned.

Instead, the only situation mentioned was a non-African situation — with Paragraph 32 singling out the Palestinian situation. Yet this is a political conflict, and should not be made into a racial one. Other provisions — which may become part of the final Durban Review Conference outcome document — are also of concern. Some point the finger only at actions committed by the West. Others undermine the guarantee of free speech. Paragraph 13, for example, refers to “the pretext of free speech.” Madam High Commissioner, the Universal Declaration guarantees free speech; it is not a “pretext.”  We hope these provisions do not make it into the final text.

Once again, Madam High Commissioner, we look forward to working with you to promote and protect human rights for all.

Thank you, Mr. President.


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