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Anne Bayefsky

Durban II Alert - Iran and Syria Dominate Day 2 of Durban II Planning

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Iran and Syria dominated the second day of the planning meeting for Durban II which is now taking place in Geneva. On day 2 of the week-long session, January 20th, Iran took the floor more often than any other single state. Iran's attempt to dominate Durban II planning, " says Anne Bayefsky, Editor of EYEontheUN, "is not surprising. They are a Vice-chair of the Durban Preparatory Committee and have long understood Durban II as the playing field of Islamic and Arab states." Both countries are actively shaping the outcome document of the Durban Review Conference, hailed by its supporters as an important international effort to address racism. "Today's meeting, dominated by these two rights-abhorring, terrorism-supporting countries, resulted in a circus that is a slap in the face to anyone serious about human rights and racism" said Bayefsky.

By the end of day two the meeting had completed 9 out of 37 pages. The strategy of all those states who seek to bolster support for Durban II - particularly Arab and Islamic states and various African states such as South Africa - is to bury the real agenda under a mountain of UN verbiage and avoid getting to any issue of real importance. European governments admit (albeit behind-the-scenes) that the goal is to make it harder for them to walk out, since superficially there does not appear to be anything objectionable. What they're not saying is that efforts to keep a short-term lid on the Durban II hate-mongering until the conference itself, suits them just fine. The EU then avoids any pressure back home and the diplomats life is made a lot easier.

As a consequence of Iran and Syria's participation (with the help of Algeria, Nigeria, South Africa, Pakistan, and Egypt in particular) the following ensued on day 2:

  • Iran objected to the Durban document's "welcoming" of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination's (CERD) "early warning and action procedure." Under this procedure the Committee makes recommendations to the Security Council for the prevention of serious violations of the Racial Discrimination Convention. As a result, the paragraph was put on hold.
  • A paragraph on the implementation of the CERD Convention was put on hold due to Iranian "confusion" concerning whether or not CERD should be able to follow-up on a recommendation it makes in response to a complaint from an individual whose human rights are being violated. The Iranian delegate's long-winded intervention managed to get this paragraph "postponed."
  • The European Union attempted to delete draft provisions which might interfere with the independent operations of the human rights treaty bodies. When it appeared that most states were willing to accept the suggestion, Iran and Syria vehemently objected. Their goal was to insist these bodies start concentrating on "elaborate[ing] model legislation on incitement to racial and religious hatred and freedom of expression" - with Iran proposing even further "model legislation on the necessity of upholding respect for...reputation, public morals as well as incitement to racial and religious hatred." Syria made the Islamic motives even plainer claiming : "the paragraph is of concern to Islamic and non-Islamic countries." When states began to appreciate that the real battle at Durban II was about to burst into the open, the issue was quickly deferred.
  • Iran objected to EU attempts to describe the victims of discrimination as individuals rather than groups. The Islamic agenda is to put "defamation of religion" and "Islamophobia" front and center and to displace rights and freedoms of individuals. After protracted objections by Iran, the matter was deferred.
  • In a long list of "best practices" to fight racism being recommended, South Africa sought to include the following, among others: "formal apologies on colonialism and other historic injustices for reconciliation."
After much discussion all participants, including the EU, agreed to "reaffirming the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action [DDPA] as it was adopted at the World Conference Against Racism...in 2001..." This means that the provision in the Durban I Declaration claiming that Palestinians are victims of Israeli racism - will be reaffirmed with the blessing of the European Union.

In the hallways, European Union representatives admit that they do not expect this will be the end of the provisions adopted on Israel. They even defend such an outcome. Their argument is that language on the "Middle East" [a euphemism for criticizing Israel] will be included because the precedent was set at Durban I. Commented Professor Bayefsky, "in their minds evidently, two wrongs do make a right."

Sprinkled throughout the day was the following UN "anti-racism" conversation:
    Chairperson: Is that acceptable to Syria?
    ...
    Brazil: We support the delegation of Syria.
    ...
    Norway: I never opposed the proposal of Syria...
    ...
    Nigeria: Iran ... is making deep and incisive contributions here...
    ...
    Iran: We are fully satisfied with this.
    ...
    Chairperson: Can we add the amendment of Iran?
    ...
    Nigeria: ...we want the paragraph as it is, or as proposed by Iran.
    ...
    European Union: we can get along with the Iranian proposal in the fight against racism.
The half-hour allotted at the end of the day for NGO contributions included the following two interventions:
    BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights
    Palestinians have been subjected to an unlawful collective punishment , torture, economic blockade, severe restriction of movement and arbitrary closure to their territories. ...the draft declaration is silent as to ... sanctions in the context of the Palestinian people. Palestinian people were omitted from the list of victims of racial discrimination. ... in line with atrocities taking place in Gaza.

    Tupaj Amaru
    ...western country should apologize to victims of racism, including the Palestinian people ... the World Conference on Racism should ... recognize the right to just compensation to indigenous peoples, Palestinian peoples and all of the other victims of colonialism and neo-colonialism for the immeasurable damage caused by wars of aggression and colonialism of Africa, America and Asia.
Nigeria requested the meeting adjourn at 5pm so that delegations could watch the inauguration of Barack Obama as President of the United States. Said Professor Bayefsky, "hopefully this flattery will not blind Obama to the sheer hypocrisy of the Durban process, where the racists are running an "anti-racism" conference."