Geneva, June 21, 2007 — Libya today was designated head of an anti-racism panel of the United Nations Human Rights Council, to oversee two years of preparatory meetings leading up to a world conference in 2009. “Choosing Colonel Khaddafi to head a world anti-racism conference is like appointing a pyromaniac to be fire chief,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch. “It is obscene that the same racist government that awarded its highest prize in 2002 to convicted Holocaust denier Roger Garaudy is now in charge of fighting racism.” According to UN custom, Libya may also become host of the 2009 conference.
It seemed yet another sign that the newly reformed Human Rights Council was repeating the practices of its discredited predecessor, the Commission on Human Rights, which suffered fatal consequences after it chose Libya as its head in 2003.
The first meeting of the panel is expected in late July, postponed from its original June 25 start date at the request of South Africa. Other countries on the 20-member bureau of the Preparatory Committee for the Review of the Durban Conference are Argentina, Armenia, Belgium, Brazil, Cameroon, Chile, Croatia, Cuba, Estonia, Greece, India, Indonesia, Iran, Libya, Pakistan, Norway, Russia, Senegal, South Africa and Turkey. Armenia was a contender for the presidency but withdrew its candidacy.
The 2009 gathering will deal with review and follow up of the 2001 World Conference Against Racism , which took place in Durban, South Africa a few days before 9/11, and was mired in controversy. The NGO Declaration said that Arabs were the victims of anti-Semitism and condemned Israel for its “brand of apartheid and other racist crimes against humanity.” During the conference, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson denounced the distribution of anti-Semitic cartoons by groups such as the Arab Lawyers’ Union. The United States and Israel walked out in the last days, with the conference described as a “festival of hate” by former Canadian Minister of Justice Irwin Cotler.
Neuer added the following statement:
With Khaddafi as Chair—supported by allies Fidel Castro and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was condemned by the UN General Assembly this year for his regime’s discrimination against Arabs, Azeris, Baluchis, Bahai, Kurds and other minorities—the UN is dangerously on course to repeat the mistakes of the past.
How can Libya, a regime that consistently ranks as one of the most notorious violators of human rights—a government that sentenced to death five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor only because they were foreigners and therefore easy scapegoats—be charged with promoting fundamental principles of human dignity and equality?
We have reached the lowest point of the UN human rights system since its founding in 1946. The edifice seems to be crumbling before our eyes.
On Tuesday, the Human Rights Council adopted a reform package that drops from its blacklist Belarus and Cuba, two of the world’s worst regimes; imposes Algerian-drafted restrictions to gag the council’s human rights investigators; impedes resolutions criticizing violators by now requesting 15 country sponsors instead of one; and, finally, singles out Israel as the only country indicted in a permanent agenda item, and singled out by the council’s only one-sided, indefinite and non-reviewable investigative mandate.
On Wednesday, contrary to the plea of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for balance, the council initiated its second year by slamming Israel for the tenth and eleventh time—the only country in the world it has condemned since its June 2006 inauguration—while adopting a Sudan-approved text on Darfur that called for yet more reports but was silent on atrocities.
And today, Libya was designated to chair the council’s anti-racism committee. The fight against racism is the defining human rights struggle of our time and we cannot allow the sacred and universal goals of human dignity, tolerance and mutual understanding to be hijacked or defiled by the enemies of human rights.
More and more, the Human Rights Council is tragically becoming the very opposite of what its founders intended.
UN Watch was founded by Morris B. Abram, a lawyer from Georgia who in the 1950’s became an early advocate of the civil rights campaign led by Rev. Martin Luther King, and later headed the United Negro College Fund. The Geneva-based NGO is currently headed by Alfred H. Moses, an advocate and former diplomat.