Geneva, August 27, 2007 — Libya was elected today to head a UN committee charged with organizing a series of international meetings on racism, leading up to a major world conference in 2009, while Iran was chosen to be on its 20-member governing bureau. “Choosing Libya and Iran to fight racism is like choosing Jack the Ripper to fight sexual harassment,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, a Geneva-based human rights monitoring organization. “Their election is a painful defeat for all who believe in the anti-discrimination agenda, and a setback for the international human rights movement as a whole. It sends the wrong message and should ring alarm bells.”
The “Durban Review” process is the follow-up to the 2001 conference in South Africa that turned into a diplomatic fiasco, with the U.S. walking out.
“Moammar Khadafy’s Libya is the same regime that gave its highest award in 2002 to convicted French Holocaust denier Roger Garaudy, that routinely brutalizes black African migrants, and that tortures Bulgarian and Palestinian medics for the crime of being foreigners,” said Neuer. “It defies common sense and morality to put countries with dreadful records on racism in charge of a world committee to combat racism,” said Neuer. “Libya’s long record of racism, intolerance and xenophobia clearly does not merit such a reward.”
In 2003, when Libya ran for chair of the now-defunct UN Commission on Human Rights — represented as today by ambassador Najat al-Hajaji — 20 out of 53 members refused to support the Khadafy government, with Canada, Guatemala, and the U.S. voting against, and 17 abstaining, including all European Union members. However, said Neuer, “this time we’re seeing total silence, with countries apparently more interested in trading oil and weapons than upholding fundamental principles and the integrity of the anti-discrimination agenda.”
Iran was elected to the 20-member bureau after being nominated by the Asian group. “Ahmadinejad’s Iran has been condemned by the UN for its denial of the Nazi genocide, and for oppressing its own ethnic and religious minorities,” said Neuer. “How can the international community choose the most hateful government in the world to sit on an anti-racism committee?”
The governing bureau is comprised of Armenia, Estonia, Russia and Croatia, as nominated by the Eastern European group; Greece, Turkey, Norway, and Belgium from the Western group; Libya, 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.
In addition to reviewing the 2001 program adopted in Durban, the review process is expected to see Islamic states introduce new accusations against the West for “religious defamation.” Similar statements have made their way into UN resolutions in recent years. A March 2007 resolution at the Human Rights Council passed over the objections of Western democracies.