Pillay urges states to take part in anti-racism conference

UN Watch in the News

Dharam Shourie
Press Trust of India
Sept. 9, 2008

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Nayanethem Pillay, has urged States not to let “diverging points of view” deter them from taking part in an anti-racism conference in Durban next year.

Durban Review Conference in 2009 will review 2001 World Conference Against Racism Durban, which dealt with several controversial issues including compensation for slavery and actions of Israel.

“I do not believe that ‘all or nothing’ is the right approach to affirm one’s principles or to win an argument,” Pillay said.

“The process will certainly benefit from active participation by all States. Should differences be allowed to become pretexts for inaction, the hopes and aspirations of the many victims of intolerance would be dashed perhaps irreparably,” she said.

But the first major statement of the South African lawyer of Indian origin to 47-member Human Rights Council came in for sharp criticism from some human rights organisations, including the Geneva based UN Watch which monitors the world body activities.

Though Pillay did not name any country, UN Watch said that she was criticising the absence in the UN deliberations of Canada, the US and Israel, as well as similar threats to walk out of the already controversial April 2009 conference made by the French, UK and Dutch governments.

Pointing out that her statement was promptly praised by Pakistan on behalf of Islamic States, Egypt on behalf of African States, Cuba, South Africa and Russia, the UN Watch accused Pillay of “shooting in the wrong direction.”

“Why the commissioner aiming her fire at the world’s most tolerant democracies, instead of at racist tyrants like Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir and Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who, under the chairmanship of Muammar Qaddafi’s Libya, have already begun to hijack the conference?” asked UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer. “We remind the high commissioner that in 2001, the most virulent and inciteful language of the Durban declaration was removed only under the pressure of European threats to walk out, as the US and Israel did,” said Neuer.

“So now too, the threat of Western non-participation remains the only force of preventing the conference from degenerating into an out-and-out fiasco,” she warned.

The UN Watch also took objection to Pillay praising the African States’ preparatory conference held in Abuja, Nigeria, in August.

She had described it as “productive” but the rights watchdog said it”utterly failed” in its stated mission, and was a major setback for the anti-racism cause and millions suffering around the globe.

The Abuja text calls on states “to refrain from condoning incitement to racial and religious hatred and violence under the pretext of free speech”. It also expresses “concern about the plight of the Palestinian people under foreign occupations” Addressing the Council yesterday, Pillay stressed the need to address discrimination and inequality, and to do more to prevent genocide.

“Genocide is the ultimate form of discrimination,” she told the delegates at the opening of the ninth session of the Council in Geneva.”We must all do everything in our power to prevent it.”

Copyright 2008, The Press Trust of India

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