EU and UN Rights Chief Must Reject Proposal Against Free Speech, Zionism, at Today’s Durban II Session

PRESS RELEASE

Geneva, Sept. 5, 2008 — UN Watch urged European Union members and UN rights chief Navanethem Pillay to take the floor at a UN anti-racism session today to denounce a proposal by African states that attacks free speech, singles out Israel, and indirectly advocates the elimination of Zionism. The African recommendations, adopted last week in Nigeria, go before the UN working group that meets today to continue drafting the outcome declaration for the April 2009 “Durban II” racism conference.

“The offensive provisions of the Abuja declaration undermine the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, encourage Middle East extremism while harming the cause of Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation, and now threaten to become UN law in April,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of the Geneva-based UN Watch, an independent human rights organization. South Africa, the main organizer of the Durban Review Conference, drafted last week’s declaration in Abuja.

The African text veers from human rights principles by calling on states to avoid “inflexibly clinging to free speech” in defiance of others’ “sensitivities” and “religious feelings,” and by supporting the demands of Islamic states that international human rights law be altered to prohibit satirical cartoons or other expressions that question Islamic tenets.

Omitting mention of Darfur or any other African human rights situation, the declaration singles out the “plight of Palestinians,” a thinly veiled dig at Israel. Also, the preamble of the Abuja proposal endorses the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, a 1981 text that commits to the elimination of Zionism, which it likens to Apartheid and colonialism. South Africa objected to the provision when it signed the document in 1996.

In an similar episode in January, former rights commissioner Louise Arbur founder herself in hot water after she lauded a new Arab human rights charter, calling it “an important step forward,” but then backtracked when it was pointed out the charter equated Zionism and racism.

“With the Abuja proposal now on the table, the French government, as EU chair, cannot remain silent at today’s session, nor can High Commissioner Pillay. If the language of totalitarianism and the rhetoric of demonization are met with a business-as-usual attitude, then we are surely headed toward a replay of the 2001 Durban debacle,” said Neuer.

“Tragically, the UN is squandering a golden opportunity to defend human rights and hold perpetrators accountable for genocide, ethnic cleansing and persecution of minorities,” said Neuer.

“Instead, the Durban II process is lending international credibility to repressive governments such as Libya, which was chosen last year to chair the process, with Iran and Cuba among the vice-chairs. Last week, Libya was accused by a Palestinian doctor of gruesome torture practices when he and five Bulgarian nurses were imprisoned as scapegoats for the deaths of HIV-infected children.

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