Day 1 at Durban II: Islamic Group Quotes UN Watch ‘s Boston Globe Op-Ed, Complains of ‘Smear Campaign’ Against Conference

Day 1 at Durban II: Islamic Group Quotes UN Watch ‘s Boston Globe Op-Ed, Complains of ‘Smear Campaign’ Against Conference

Libya Elected Chair, Iran and Cuba as Vice-Chairs


Day 1 of Durban II began much as we predicted. Libya was elected as chair, and Iran and Cuba among the 19 vice-chairs. Contrary to reported UN comments downplaying the influence of Iran and the 20-nation bureau, the chair revealed today that the bureau held no less than 19 meetings over the last 2 months, “in which all elements were discussed in exhaustive detail.” The fact is that all the way to 2009, Iran will be a key player in the planning of Durban II. Click here for our comment on the elections.

And belying the apologists who claimed the election was strictly “personal” — of the ambassador but not the country — was the Libyan ambassador herself. She expressed her profound thanks to all member states of the UN “for the confidence you placed in my country.” Score another propaganda coup for Khaddafi’s benighted Libyan regime.

In plenary speeches today, Egypt on behalf of the African Group immediately singled out Israel by complaining about “continued occupation of Palestine and violations arising therefrom [which] have been subject of condemnation from international community.” Egypt also invoked the “new and dangerous incitement against religion” from the Danish cartoons. The 57-strong Organization of the Islamic Conference announced its intentions from the start: “The Conference should move the spotlight on the continued plight of Palestinian people…” The OIC speech quoted from a Boston Globe op-ed by UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer, and complained of a “smear campaign” against the Durban Review Conference. The OIC also introduced new accusations, not appearing in the original Durban program, of “defamation of religions.”

Syria today said that 9/11 opened the door to new forms of racism and associated intolerance against “Semitic” people. This brings us right back to the pernicious subversion of language that surrounded Durban I, where the word antisemitism — the term for hatred or persecution of Jews — was gutted of all meaning. Recall article 46 of Durban’s NGO Declaration: “…Anti-Arab racism is another form of anti-semitism and Islamaphobia.” And article 79: “Arabs as a Semitic people have also suffered from alternative forms of anti semitism, manifesting itself as anti-Arab discrimination and for those Arabs who are Muslim, also as Islamophobia.”

Activist groups who wish to prevent the anti-discrimination agenda from being hijacked once again must speak out — immediately, before it is too late, before we are back to the darkest days of Durban I.


Following are selections and summaries from today’s opening of the Preparatory Committee for the Durban Review Conference.

Ambassador Doru Romulus Costea, President of the Human Rights Council, opened the meeting and called on Egypt to nominate the Chair.

Egypt on behalf of the African Group nominated Libyan ambassador Najat al-Hajjaji to be the Chair. She had an illustrious diplomatic career. She is a former chair of the 59th Commission on Human Rights and held a post at the Durban conference in 2001. She led her country for over a decade on human rights issues and boasts many honors and awards in human rights. She has human rights expertise and is well positioned to steer the conference toward success. Sri Lanka seconded the proposal. Brazil also supported Libya’s nomination.

The President of the Human Rights Council declared ambassador al-Hajjaji elected by acclamation. [Applause from the audience. Amb. al-Hajjaji ascends podium, receiving congratulations and kisses from UN officials.]

Chairperson al-Hajjaji (of Libya): Thank you for the confidence you placed in me to chair this preparatory committee, whose work will lead to convening of Durban review conference in 2009 which we all look forward to. The work ahead of us is enormous. In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate, your excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, I would like at the outset to extend profound thanks to all member states of the UN for the confidence you placed in my country, and in my humble person to chair this prep com for review of Durban. In particular, my thanks to African states that have always supported my country in all regional and international fora. And my appreciation to the Organization for the Islamic Conference for their continued support.

Six years have elapsed since the international community adopted the Durban program of action and declaration. Soon after, the events of Sept. 11, 2001 erupted. And one of the most important consequences was an increase in racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance.

The war against what is called “terrorism” started. Some states put aside human rights for the war against terrorism. Some have exploited it in order to persecute its opponents and critics and to take revenge. Many laws were adopted of a restrictive nature. Persecution of migrants, asylum seekers, refugees, those of particular ethnic groups. All under the pretext of the “war on terror.” Anti-Semitism rose, covering Arabs and others. Violent movements rose, targeting Muslim, Christians and Jews, in addition to [others]. Internet full of pages instigating violence on basis of racial hatred. Even sports arenas have witnessed racist acts. Depth of racial discrimination increased as we saw intolerance. Ridiculing religious symbols, leading to violence. Streets cemeteries and holy places have become scene for racist violence. All that I have indicated does not obviate fact that a number of countries have made progress on national level on racism. World summit against racism was adopted. A number of other countries have set up national plans.

Within this context it is necessary for us to voice our great appreciation to all efforts since Durban. Pay thanks to intergovernmental group on effective implementation of Durban action, the panel of eminent persons responsible for implementation of Durban, the Special Rapporteur on racism, all special mechanisms of the Human Rights Council, all who address this issue.

We are proud of achievements in Durban 2001. Among these, we have been able to diagnose face of racism today. To agree to practical steps. We’re also proud that through totality of Durban process that we managed this unprecedented mobilization of grassroots organizations and to let victims of racism speak loud; for those who have been excluded and ostracized to break bonds of silence; about their suffering.

Pay tribute to all member states for determination to hold this conference. Firm will to strengthen Durban objectives. We’ll be able to study how countries have implemented their goals. I appeal to all member states and organizations to contribute to voluntary fund for preparatory process of review process.

Extend my congratulations to members of the bureau whose names will be announced. Congratulate them. Thanks and appreciation for all their efforts. The bureau has held 19 meetings over last 2 months in which all elements were discussed in exhaustive detail. Despite diversity amongst bureau members, all of them have made every effort to overcome obstacles to make sure everyone would work in spirit of harmony and consensus, and all have won admiration of all. I hope this spirit will prevail, respectful dialogue. I hope we can take all decisions with consensus.

I conclude by quoting from statement by former High Commissioner Mary Robinson: “Durban must be a beginning and not an end…” I thank you all.

I now propose that these members be elected to bureau and to function as vice chairs: Armenia, Estonia, Russia and Croatia, for Eastern European group; Greece, Turkey, Norway, and Belgium from the Western group; Cameroon, Senegal and South Africa from the African group; Iran, India, Pakistan and Indonesia from Asia; and Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Cuba from Latin America. There being no objection, the members are elected and will serve as vice-chairs for prep com.

Proposal from Latin Group to nominate rep of Cuba rep as Vice-Chair Rapporteur of prep com. No objections, he is elected.

High Commissioner Louise Arbour click for speech

China and Bhutan both reserved their rights to object to the participation of NGOs on the list.

Egypt on behalf of the African Groupclick for speech

[…] Middle East. Continued occupation of Palestine and violations arising therefrom have been subject of condemnation from international community. Recent statements by Committee on Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination on foreign occupation of Palestine are indicative.

Steps from 2001. Terrorist attacks of Sept 2001. New and dangerous incitement against religion. Cartoons by Danish newspaper which hurt over a billion muslims around the world. African group notes with concern racist trends: racist acts, migrants, defamation of religions.

Financing: conference must enjoy necessary resources. Financing must be available to ensure participation. African group wants prep com to have competence and means.

Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conferenceclick for speech

  • Quotes Boston Globe editorial by UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer. “Critics have said this will only ‘mimic the format and script‘ of the [Durban 2001] World Conference Against Racism.”
  • There is a “smear campaign” against the Durban Review Conference.
  • “The Conference should move the spotlight on the continued plight of Palestinian people and non-recognition of their inalienable right to self-determination.”
  • “Defamation of religions” and Islamophobia

Portugal for European Unionclick for speech

  • Deep regret that agreement reached at GA was contravened by Human Rights Council resolution and EU was obliged to oppose
  • We appeal to all to achieve consensus
  • We don’t want to see politicization
  • Any follow up to the Durban conference should not reopen for debate what was already decided in 2001.

South Africa insisted that the follow up conference “contextualize” the world since 2001, especially the events of 9/11 and the fight against terrorism.

Senegal suggested reopening and adjusting the Durban declaration in order to give “fresh impetus” in the fight against racism.

Iran stated that new forms of racism – particularly against Muslims – are rising. The debate about the permissibility of headscarves in schools has contributed to Islamophobia, and the events of 9/11 have provided the pretext for a war on terror that has only made things worse for Muslims. Furthermore, Iran called for the “normative gaps” in the existing framework of the Durban declaration to be reviewed. Click for speech

Algeria stated that 9/11 has exacerbated racist tendencies against Muslims. Immigrant populations are also the subject of unacceptable discrimination. Suggested new mechanisms be put in place to deal with the rise of these new and “acute” forms of racism.

Syria said that 9/11 opened the door to new forms of racism and associated in tolerance against “Semitic” people.


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