PRESS RELEASE

Geneva, January 23, 2009 — UN Watch, an independent non-govermental organization headquartered in Geneva, today called on UN chief Ban Ki-moon and human rights high commissioner Navi Pillay to condemn Iran’s “shocking endorsement of Holocaust denial” during a U.N. meeting on racism that concluded this week. (See text below, or click here for recording of Iran defending Holocaust denial at Durban 2 session.)

In addition, UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer said many of this week’s speeches on the draft declaration called to restrict free speech — to prohibit expression deemed offensive to Islamic sensitivies — and portrayed counter-terrorism efforts by the U.S., Western states and Israel as esentially “racist.”

“Ban Ki-moon and High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay — the most vocal defender of the Durban 2 process — have a moral obligation to condemn this ugly display of anti-Semitism within a conference supposedly opposed to racism,” said Neuer.

“So far, High Commissioner Pillay has for some reason reserved all of her criticism for Western states that expressed concerns about the conference’s direction. We trust that she will not give a free pass to Libya, Iran, Cuba, and other anti-democratic regimes who this week attacked free speech and misused human rights principles. She must end her silence and resist the campaign by the world’s most intolerant regimes to hijack the anti-racism cause for dangerous political ends,” said Neuer.

A summary of objecitonable comments by Iran, Syria and other states follow below.

 

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Highlights from Durban II Drafting Committee Meeting, Jan. 19-23, 2009

 (Intersessional open-ended intergovernmental working group to continue and finalize the process of negotiations on and drafting of the outcome document, first session)

A Russian-chaired U.N. committee met this week to revise the Draft Outcome Document of the Durban Review Conference, the upcoming sequel to the 2001 World Conference Against Racism. With countries commenting on each proposed article, the session was dominated by a vehemently anti-Western agenda, with Islamic and Third World countries equating counter-terrorism with racism, calling to restrict free speech in the name of Islamic sensitivities—the so-called “defamation of Islam”—and focusing on the practice of slavery in the West but barring mention of the slave trade in the Arab world and elsewhere.  Worst of all, Iran and Syria used the forum to engage in Holocaust denial, while many countries demanded new provisions to condemn Israel as a racist and criminal state. The EU, a minority voice, played defense.  Following are highlights.

Iran Defends Holocaust Denial:

  • Discussing proposed Paragraph 29 which provides that the Holocaust must never be forgotten and mentions that it resulted in the murder of one third of the Jewish people, South Africa for the African Group asked that the paragraph be minimized, conforming to the Durban I declaration, to simply say, “Recalls that the Holocaust never be forgotten,” without mentioning that it resulted in the murder of one third of the Jewish people. South Africa’s proposal was supported by Jamaica and Iran. Syria also supported the proposal, saying, “I don’t think we should get into a kind of statistical debate. As far as I know that there is no agreement on the consensus on the percentage of those who perished in the Holocaust.” 
  • When the EU proposed adding that “remembrance of the Holocaust is critical to prevent further acts of genocide,” Iran said, “There is a notion inside this paragraph where there is talk about condemning without reservation any denial of Holocaust. This entails with it implicit restriction on elaboration and review, or critical examination and review and study of Holocaust—which is a very clear example of a violation of freedom of expression, a fundamental principle right for a democratic society. We suggest deletion of this paragraph.” 

Singling Out Israel as Racist, Referring to Gaza:

  • After the EU said that it wants the paragraphs on the Middle East deleted, Syria replied that such paragraphs are very important saying, “We are giving all attention to the Palestinian people…in light of the massacres from a few weeks ago.” Sudan also supported the inclusion of the paragraphs, as did Indonesia, stating “This is bloody colonialism…deletion of this paragraph is unacceptable to us.” Libya claimed that it is “astonished” at the request to delete these paragraphs, considering that “the question of Palestine is the most important question on the international scene.” Cuba asked for additional language to address the Gaza situation.
  • Pakistan asked why a specific issue like the Holocaust can be in the document, but the Palestinian issue is not allowed. Likewise, Iran said that if there can be a paragraph singling out the Holocaust, there should be a paragraph singling out the Palestinian victims. It added that the “racism” in the occupied Palestinian territories is the worst of “crimes against humanity and contemporary forms of apartheid, and a serious threat of international security.”
  • South Africa said that the Palestinian issue was an important issue of the 2001 DDPA, and thus should be an important issue of the Review Conference. China agreed.
  • Switzerland expressed its desire to reach “a consensus” on these paragraphs, stating, “We would like to endorse the Palestinian comment [which initially expressed hope to work constructively to reach an agreement on the paragraphs] and not have this conference hijacked by this paragraph.” Saudi Arabia, Cuba, Egypt and Algeria praised the constructive approaches of Palestine and Switzerland. Algeria asked that this issue not be made one that “would block the review conference.”
  • Iran proposed an amendment to add more harsh language against Israel: Israeli actions “totally contradict the purposes and principles of the charter of UN and constitutes a serious violation of international human rights and humanitarian law, a crime against humanity, contemporary form of apartheid, and serious threat to international peace and security.”

African Group:

  • The African Group advocated deletion of a reference to the trans-Saharan (Arab) slave-trade, and instead urged emphasis of provisions on the trans-Atlantic slave trade and the need for reparations.
  • South Africa and Nigeria advocated deletion of a paragraph that “deplores militias to oppress ethnic populations” because this could be seen as condemning African countries.

Islamic Agenda:

“Defamation of Religion”

  • The Islamic Group (Pakistan) stated, “Defamation is not about freedom of expression, but the abuse of this freedom.”
  • Iran was very active throughout the week, taking the floor more than any other country on this issue. It consistently advocated “elaborating” legislation to fight racism, proposing further, “Model legislation on the necessity of upholding respect for…reputation, public morals as well as incitement to racial and religious hatred [code for defamation].”
  • As the debate on defamation was getting underway, the chair asked two journalists to leave the room, explaining that members of two regional groups had requested that the cameras be removed from the room in that they have had adequate time for filming.  The journalists were from the French-German cultural channel ARTE and were making a documentary about the human rights debate at the UN. Pakistan, South Africa, and Egypt expressed their concerns that these journalists would engage in “selective interpretation” of the discussion.

Counter-terrorism, Islamophobia

  • Pakistan wanted to include even more language to equate counter-terrorism with racism. Pakistan, Algeria, and Iran also wanted the words, “Islamophobia” and “anti-Arabism” to remain in the document.

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