Geneva, August 3, 2006 – UN Watch today condemned the U.N.’s racism panel for suspending its work to hold a special session on “the humanitarian crisis in Lebanon.” Not only is the issue completely outside the mandate of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), but its agenda revealed a lopsided approach that pointedly ignored the humanitarian suffering inflicted upon Israeli civilians by more than 2,000 Hezbollah rockets, said the Geneva-based NGO.


CERD is a body of experts mandated to oversee state parties’ implementation of the 1965 International Covenant on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. “In addressing an issue bearing no relation to its mandate, in the service of the political agenda of a few, CERD today has dangerously jeopardized its own credibility, casting a shadow upon the reputation all U.N. expert bodies,” said UN Watch Executive Director Hillel Neuer.


“It is obscene that, on the same day that Iranian President Ahmadinejad once again calls for the destruction of Israel, a U.N. body provides him moral support by slamming Israel in such a one-sided fashion.” U.N. resolutions against Israel are frequently cited by Tehran to justify its goal of eliminating the Jewish state.


Today’s special session in Geneva was the initiative of a few panel members led by Mahmoud Aboul-Nasr, a former Egyptian diplomat and Arab League official.  Aboul-Nasr is most famous for his 1998 support of convicted Holocaust denier Roger Garaudy, a move that was strongly criticized at the time by his colleague Regis de Gouttes, current Chairmain of the CERD. Aboul-Nasr had stated before the panel that the Holocaust was not sacrosanct and justified questioning the number of Jews killed. According to Neuer, “some of the U.N.’s ‘independent experts’ are, regrettably, neither independent nor expert.”


This morning’s debate began with Chairman de Gouttes listing the other U.N. entities already dealing with the crisis, and warning his colleagues that “the trust and legitimacy of the Committee is at stake. . . .  We need to take into account our limitations, regardless of the emotions.”


In response, Mr. Aboul-Nasr objected at being “lectured on our competence and what we can’t do,” and demanded the members “condemn Israel in the strongest terms.” Brazilian expert José Augusto Lindgren Alves accused Israel of “blatant racism” and asked if Israel “would react the same way to exterminate an entire population if Hezbollah launched the same attacks from a non-Arab country.”


Pakistani member Raghavan Vasudevan Pillai justified Hezbollah’s attacks as an exercise of “the right of resistance against occupation.”  This, said UN Watch, was to ignore the fact that the U.N. in 2000 certified Israel’s complete withdrawal to the international border, or that, in the words of Secretary-General Kofi Annan,  “Hezbollah’s provocative attack on July 12 was the trigger of this particular crisis.”


However, not all of the racism panel’s 18 members agreed with the decision to tackle the Israel-Lebanon issue, nor with the omission of Hezbollah’s role in provoking the crisis and attacking Israeli civilians. “CERD does not have a mandate in this matter,” said Morten Kjaerum of Denmark. “We’re not a free-floating body,” said expert Ralph F. Boyd, Jr.,  former Civil Rights Division chief at the U.S. Department of Justice.  “What is the doctrinal nexus? Where is our mandate here?”


Boyd noted that the session had made no mention of Hezbollah, and criticized expert Lindgren Alves for adopting a “de minimis” interpretation of Security Council resolution 1559, which requires the disarming and dismantling of Hezbollah. Nor, Boyd said, did anyone mention that Hezbollah was launching hundreds of missiles per day at Israeli civilians. As Boyd spoke, said Neuer, who attended the session, Mr. Aboul-Nasr kept laughing in response, “which I found to be a shocking display of disrepect.”


“CERD’s one-sided session today focused only on the tragic situation in Lebanon, but ignored the devastating humanitarian impact of Hezbollah rockets on Israeli civilians—men, women and children,” said Neuer.  “An excess of 2,000 rockets have been fired into Israel, a million Israelis are either displaced or living in and out of bomb shelters, and more than 50 have been killed while a further 1,700 were injured or required hospital treatment.”


Neuer expressed amazement that Brazilian member Lindgren Alves accused Israel of racism while making “no mention of  the vicious incitement of racial and indeed genocidal anti-Semitism that Hezbollah spreads around the world, including via its Al Manar satellite TV network.” Al Manar was banned by France and the U.S. for regularly broadcasting anti-Semitic programs, including a series based on the “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” a 19th-century tract the Nazis later used to incite hatred against Jews. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has described Israel as “a cancer that needs to be removed at its roots.”


Neuer said that today’s decision “threatens to infect the CERD with the anti-Israel virus that has long plagued the UN’s political bodies, particularly the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council. Those who will suffer the most are the world’s genuine victims of racism, who need the assistance of an impartial and professional expert body like CERD.”

UN Watch