Dutch FM Verhagen ‘deeply disturbed’ by Durban II

At the High Level Segment of the UN Human Rights Council today, the FM of Netherlands took a forceful stand on Durban II, while Denmark and Italy also sounded an alarm. The EU (represented by the Czech Republic) and Belgium expressed concerns. Germany, Portugal and Luxembourg were weak. Relevant segments from their speeches follow below.

Czech Republic for the E.U. (Minister of Foreign Affairs, Karel Schwarzenberg): We engage constructively in the preparatory process and are ready to full participate in the Durban Review Conference next month. Nevertheless, the EU cannot subscribe to the outcome of this conference, where the result would limit, or undermine human rights and fundamental freedoms. The EU remains committed to the Durban Review Conference and believes that the final text will in the end be much shorter than the current one and reflect our principles as we have clearly outlined from the beginning.

The Netherlands (Minister of Foreign Affairs, Maxime Verhagen): Reaching out to one another does not mean we will not always agree. It is safe to say that we will continue to have our differences. And that is legitimate. What is not legitimate is holding the entire UN human rights system hostage to those differences. Take the Durban Review Conference as an example. The Netherlands is firmly committed to eliminating racism and related forms of intolerance. We would like to report on our progress in implementing the Durban Declaration and Program of Action. But I am deeply disturbed by the turn this event is taking. The way in which the preparatory process for this review conference has been proceeding suggests that it is unlikely to be a useful exercise, a meeting that will really assist in reaching our shared objective: abolishing racism. I therefore fully understand why some countries have decided not to participate in these proceedings any longer. For the Netherlands, too, the draft outcome document is not acceptable in its present form. It does not focus on the main challenges to address the problem of racism. Instead, the thematic world conference is used by some to try to force their concept of defamation of religion and their focus on one regional conflict on all of us. To all the delegates who doubt the Netherlands’ intentions, I say this: we do want to participate and work together on a useful outcome — but not at any price. We cannot accept any text, which would: (1) Put religion above individuals; (2) Not condemn discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation; (3) Condone anti-Semitism; (4) Or single out Israel. These are clear red lines for the Netherlands. That is certainly not what I have in mind when I call for a more empathic approach.

Denmark (Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Per Stig Moller): Next month, the Durban Review Conference against racism takes place here in Geneva. The conference shall review the progress made in the fight against racism on the basis of the Durban Declaration and Plan of Action adopted at the Durban Conference in 2001. Racism shows its ugly face in all parts of the world and must be addressed also through international cooperation. The Review conference should and must be an important event to this end. Denmark is committed to make the conference a success, and has from the outset been actively engaged in the negotiations of a draft outcome document. However, the preparations of the conference so far give rise to serious concerns, and a consensus based on the draft outcome document after the first reading seems unlikely. Attempts are being made to divert the focus of the conference away from the real problems of racism. Denmark is committed to working for the promotion and protection of human rights. We cannot accept that the conference is being diverted from combating racism and racial discrimination to restricting freedom of expression or any other human right or fundamental freedom. The stakes are high. If we lose focus, we risk that the consensus in Durban in 2001 will unravel to the detriment of our common endeavor to fight racism. It is a high price to be paid by those men, women, and children for whom racial discrimination is reality and who rely on us to further the international work to end their suffering. They are the focus of the Durban Review Conference. Let us keep that focus.

Italy (State Minister for Foreign Affairs, Vincenzo Scotti): The conference represents a unique chance to take stock of our efforts to fight against racism and discrimination and to renew our commitment to it. It is essential that the negotiations do not divert from this goal. Provided this is the case, Italy is ready to continue to engage in this process. We cannot allow ourselves to let this opportunity fall prey to other political or ideological agendas.

Belgium: The Durban review conference is coming up. Belgium is prepared to continue, but I am worried by the direction this process has taken. For Belgium the consensus of Durban must be preserved. We must see racism as a problem for all countries. The problem of defamation of religion undermines this process of the international system for protecting human rights. Human rights must protect individuals, and freedoms of individuals, and not religions as such. I call upon all states to show reason to make this review conference the will among all states.

Germany: My country places great importance on the fight against racism but greater efforts must be made. If we are speaking of minority rights, in the view of the Durban conference., its beyond every doubt to protect minorities in law and practice but we must not forget that it is the individual human being who are at the center – thus from the human rights perspective, it is the most basic human rights for each individual regardless of his or her belonging to a collective ethnic or religious groups. It’s these fundamental rights that states need to protect.

Portugal (Deputy Foreign Minister, Teresa Ribeiro): This year represents an additional challenge for us, as we are approaching the date of the Durban Review Conference. We are, as we believe every other country in the world, firmly committed to the fight against racism in all its forms, and in this regard we are also firmly committed to the implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action and to the success of this Review Conference. We consider of the utmost importance that all delegations adopt a constructive approach, in order to achieve a common ground that we can all support by consensus on such a fundamental issue. The next month and half will be crucial. I trust that we will, once more, be able to live up the high expectations placed upon us.

Luxembourg: We must focus on progress made since 2001… and I must address the importance of fundamental freedoms in combating racism.

UN Watch