Geneva, Sept. 8, 2008 — After new UN rights chief Navanethem Pillay addressed the 47-nation Human Rights Council for the first time today, independent human rights organization UN Watch praised her “inspiring life example as an anti-apartheid advocate,” yet expressed deep concern over her remarks praising the UN’s preparations for a follow-up to the troubled 2001 Durban world conference on racism. Her defense of the Durban process was immediately hailed in the plenary by Pakistan on behalf of the Islamic states, Egypt for the African bloc, Cuba for the Non-Aligned, Russia and South Africa.
Without mentioning their names, Pillay criticized the current absence in the UN deliberations of Canada, the U.S. and Israel, as well as similar threats to walk out of the already controversial April 2009 conference made by the French, U.K. and Dutch governments.
“I do not believe that ‘all or nothing’ is the right approach to affirm one’s principles or to win an argument,” said Pillay. “Should differences be allowed to become pretexts for inaction, the hopes and aspirations of the many victims of intolerance would be dashed irreparably. For these reasons, I urge those governments that have expressed an intention not to participate to reconsider their position,” she said.
According to UN Watch, Pillay “is shooting in the wrong direction. Why is the high 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.
In her speech, Pillay praised the African states’ recent preparatory conference, held in Abuja, Nigeria on August 24-26, as “productive.”
“In fact,” said Neuer, “the Abuja conference utterly failed its stated mission, and was a major setback for the anti-racism cause and millions suffering around the globe. Its concluding declaration failed to say a word for the victims of Sudan’s atrocities in Darfur, or those other African governments perpetrating ethnic violence. Instead, it explicitly attacked free speech and singled out Israel — exactly what the UN’s highest officials promised Durban II wouldn’t do. The high commissioner ought to be taking on the hijackers of the anti-racism conference, instead of the few that seek to resist them.”
“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 U.S. and Israel did. So too now, the threat of Western non-participation remains the only force with the slightest chance of preventing the conference from degenerating into an out-and-out fiasco,” said Neuer.
An early draft of the April conference’s outcome document, released by a UN planning committee on Friday, reserves space to include provisions adopted by the African conference in Abuja. The Abuja text calls on states “to refrain from condoning incitement to racial and religious hatred and violence under the pretext of free speech” (par 13). It also expresses “concern about the plight of the Palestinian people under foreign occupations” (par. 32). The rest of the document focuses on Western practices today and in the past against people of African descent.