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The fight for rights
By Ben Cohen
Sept. 21, 2011
All sides of the human rights spectrum are descending on New York City this week.
At one end, the tyrants, thugs and terrorism-enablers are here for the 66th session of the United Nations General Assembly. Tomorrow, many will also hit a UN conference that promotes hate even as it pretends to be combating racism.
At the other end, you have their victims. More than 20 survivors of genocide, torture, mock executions and similar horrors come together today for a summit to highlight continued human-rights abuse.
They includes former Iranian political prisoners and a former inmate of North Korea’s gulags, but invitations to speak in the hallowed halls of the UN have not been extended to any of them.
Instead, delegates to the General Assembly will be treated to the ravings of Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for the sixth year in a row. They’ll also hear from Ahmadinejad’s rival for the leadership of the Muslim world, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. While his army violently crushes the aspirations of the Kurdish minority back home, Erdogan will be screeching about Israeli “war crimes” at the United Nations.
Then there’s the human-rights summit — “We Have A Dream: Global Summit Against Persecution and Discrimination,” today and tomorrow at the W Hotel. There, two of Syria’s leading Internet dissidents will relate their experiences of organizing protests under the nose of Hafez al-Assad’s bloodstained regime.
At the UN, talk of Syria will focus on Russian and Chinese attempts to insulate Assad from further sanctions.
Meanwhile, Assad’s Iranian patron, Ahmadinejad — a serial Holocaust denier — will attend the racism conference.
The gathering is known as “Durban III,” because it’s the UN’s third attempt to promote the agenda drawn up at its 2001 “conference against racism” in Durban, South Africa.
The shrill outbursts of anti-Semitism that defined the first Durban confab shocked the delegations of Israel and the United States into walking out. Barely a month later, al Qaeda glorified its 9/11 atrocities with hateful rhetoric that would have been perfectly at home at the Durban parley.
Fourteen countries, all democracies, have withdrawn from Durban III before it even convenes. They refuse to affirm the declaration against racism adopted by a conference that pushed the oldest prejudice of all — hatred of Jews.
Indeed, Durban III will be a platform for some of the world’s most heinous abusers of human rights to hijack the language of tolerance. If there is such a thing as moral terrorism, this is it.
The farce on display tomorrow won’t sanitize the reputations of Ahmadinejad and those like him. It can’t deliver any answers either.
Back at the human-rights summit, courageous dissidents and exiles from China, Zimbabwe, Vietnam, Iran and North Korea will offer perspectives on fighting racism and persecution that are actually worth listening to.
Moreover, they’ll send two messages.
* One to the dictators: We will not be silenced.
* And one to the countries that pulled out of Durban III: You won’t defeat the Durban legacy of lies and hate just by withdrawing. A new agenda is needed — one that places human rights, not warped ideology, front and center.
Ben Cohen is a political analyst and writer, based in New York.