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U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillay, a native of Durban, South Africa, is on a mission. She is the secretary-general of the U.N.'s latest "anti-racism" extravaganza, known as "Durban II."
Durban I was the 2001 U.N. world conference on racism, most famous for spreading anti-Semitism rather than defeating it. Pillay is engaged in a frenzied attempt to silence critics of round two.
Now in high gear, her office is penning opinion pieces and letters to major news outlets from Jerusalem to Sydney, as well as circulating press releases around the globe courtesy of the U.N.'s vast public relations machine. In an article published on Forbes.com on December 4, 2008, Claudia Rosett detailed the disturbing lead-up to Durban II, which is scheduled to take place in Geneva in April 2009. Taking umbrage at Rosett's account, Pillay issued a response on Dec. 18 via Rupert Colville, her spokesman.
The facts matter because the decision to attend Durban II will be one of the first major foreign policy decisions of President Obama. The U.N. is making every effort to hype U.S. participation as a key yardstick for judging Obama's multilateral bona fides. Given the wild inaccuracies of Pillay's pitch, however, concerns that the U.N.'s anti-American, anti-Israel and anti-democratic playbook is about to be rewound are more justified than ever.
No doubt the Durban I conference was an unmitigated PR disaster for the U.N. Guest speakers included such human rights luminaries as Yasser Arafat. The U.S. and Israel eventually walked out, refusing to sign on to its final outcome "The Durban Declaration and Programme of Action." Since the first objective of Durban II is "to foster the implementation" of that declaration, Pillay knows that to sell Durban II, she needs to resurrect the reputation of Durban I. So begins her historical revisionism.
Durban I had two parts, a non-governmental forum and a governmental conference. Pillay claims that the bad guys were all non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the white knights were U.N. member states that protested anti-Semitism. In her words: "The controversy that tainted the 2001 Durban Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance ... was caused by the anti-Semitic behavior of some non-governmental organizations at the sidelines of the conference. Yet the document that emerged from the conference itself, the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (DDPA), transcended divisive and intolerant approaches."
I attended both the NGO and governmental conference, including the drafting committees, as a representative of the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists. The "transcendent" text of the governmental declaration claims that Palestinians are victims of Israeli racism. This is the only country-specific accusation of racism in a document that purports to address racism and xenophobia around the world.
Durban's racist Israel mantra is the 21st century version of the old General Assembly "Zionism is racism" canard. But it doesn't bother Pillay; elsewhere in the declaration she retorts there is a mention of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. Indeed, the twinning of these two themes is not accidental. In the closing days of Durban I, the European Union cut a deal with the Organization of the Islamic Conference to allow provisions on anti-Semitism and the Holocaust in exchange for also including the charge of Israeli racism.
The formula permitted Durban I participants to profess concern for Jews who died 60 years ago but avoid caring about the anti-Semitism killing Jewish Israelis today. Pillay defends this U.N. "framework" for driving a wedge between the Jewish people and Israel as "thorough" and "wide-ranging." But as a victim of apartheid herself, her feigned ignorance of the significance of the racism charge is hardly credible.
Regardless of the substance, maintains Pillay, the Durban Declaration was "agreed by all the states present at the end of the 2001 conference." Not true. On closing day, Canada said that the parts of the Declaration on Israel were "outside the jurisdiction and mandate of this conference" and "the Canadian delegation registers its strongest objections and disassociates itself" from that text. Since then, U.N. authorities have consistently ignored the Canadian reservations. In January 2008 Canada became the first country to declare it had no intention of going to a second conference dedicated to implementing the subject of its objections.
One after another, the High Commissioner's Office belittles the obvious criticisms. There is no problem having a Libyan chair for Durban II's Preparatory Committee, claims Pillay. Libyan Najat Al-Hajjaji is just a functionary and "not in a position to push [her] own country's agenda."
Having been at both sessions of Al-Hajjaji's committee, this distortion is astounding. She has interrupted my NGO statements on the subject of anti-Semitism four times alleging they were irrelevant; together with the Iranian delegation she concocted delays that successfully denied participatory rights to a Jewish and Israel-advocacy NGO; she has manipulated the schedule to minimize NGO speaking opportunities; and she contrived to slow down the drafting process so as to ensure the General Assembly coughed up more funds for more meetings of her committee in 2009.
Pillay is not annoyed that a Libyan was appointed to chair a U.N. human rights executive committee. Nor has she voiced any objection about other members of the committee like the Cuban rapporteur, Iranian vice chair, or human rights stalwarts Russia and Pakistan. What really bothers her is that Rosett doesn't focus on other members, whose "votes and views have equal weight."
The move is a mathematical sleight of hand. Pillay knows full well that this executive group is supervised by the full Durban II preparatory committee. Having the same composition as the UN Human Rights Council, regional blocs hand the balance of power on this committee to the Organization of the Islamic Conference.
Islamic control goes a long way to explain Durban II. Currently under consideration by the drafting committee is a provision accusing Israel of apartheid, genocide and crimes against humanity. Pillay sloughs it off, on the grounds that the "condemnatory language" is not part of a "draft declaration," just a "compilation." In fact, however, the words are included in a recent UN publication entitled "Draft Outcome Document of the Durban Review Conference."
In addition to demonizing Israel, Durban II's draft outcome document contains: eight condemnations of "Islamophobia," four more worries about Islam, 12 worries about Muslims, 11 criticisms of the defamation of religions (i.e. Islam), along with a few phrases like "Calls upon States to pay attention to the serious nature of incitement to religious hatred such as anti-Semitism, Christian-phobia and, more particularly, Islamophobia." What was that again about "equal weight"?
Perhaps most revealing is the high commissioner's ridicule of any suggestion of a linkage between hate and terrorism. In her article, Rosett said Durban II is "a vehicle for the kind of hate that leads to such horrors as the slaughter in Mumbai, or for that matter, Sept. 11." Having witnessed both Durban I and Sept. 11, I find the claim to be self-evident. But Pillay's inability to connect the dots between fanning the flames of xenophobia and the fires driven by such hate, make it even more obvious why Durban II is such a threat. Terrorists are enabled when the villains are encouraged to believe they are the victims. Durban II is the enabler. If President Obama chooses to legitimize Durban II by an American presence, he will be an enabler too.
Anne Bayefsky is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and
professor and director of the Institute on Human Rights and the
Holocaust at the Touro Law Centre in New York. She edits EYEontheUN,
which monitors the UN; its mission is to draw attention to the U.N.'s
actual record on human rights and democratic practices and how these
deviate from the U.N.'s original mission. It also provides an
information source for an accurate assessment of what the U.N. is
This article appeared December 28, 2008 on the EYE on the UN
website (email: info@EYEontheUN.org). It originally appeared in
Anne Bayefsky is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and professor and director of the Institute on Human Rights and the Holocaust at the Touro Law Centre in New York. She edits EYEontheUN, which monitors the UN; its mission is to draw attention to the U.N.'s actual record on human rights and democratic practices and how these deviate from the U.N.'s original mission. It also provides an information source for an accurate assessment of what the U.N. is doing.
This article appeared December 28, 2008 on the EYE on the UN website (email: info@EYEontheUN.org). It originally appeared in Forbes.com.
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