Commentary and Newsletters

Anne Bayefsky

Durban II Alert - Durban II Preparations: The Assault on Rights and Freedoms Continues

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

This is opening day of the next Durban II planning meeting and the disinformation campaign is in full swing. The obfuscation starts with the title: Intersessional open-ended intergovernmental working group to continue and finalize the process of negotiations on and drafting of the outcome document.

"What we do know, despite the UN-eze," says Anne Bayefsky, Editor of EYEontheUN, "is that Durban II is widely perceived to be a serious threat to the successful international protection of human rights."

"Extremists, both governmental and non-governmental, are continuing to push the substance to the limits, while weak European states are unable or unwilling to push back. The overall strategy is to keep the Durban II plan under wraps as much as possible, until just days away from the April conference itself, so that it will be too late for many democratic states to pull out," Professor Bayefsky pointed out. "They are being entrapped like spiders in a web, under the charade of combating racism."

"One thing is certain," said Bayefsky, "this is no place for the United States."

The first thing diplomats did on opening day was agree that the draft document before them would formally become "the basis for further negotiations as the final document for the review conference."

Diplomats then deliberately worked at a snail's pace, making their way through two dozen paragraphs of the 250 paragraph document. Particularly active in these "anti-racism" discussions was Iran, whose President is a leading advocate of genocide against the Jewish people. Iran lectured: "This whole conference is to identify sources, root causes, perpetrators of racism and defend and compensate and help the victims. This should continually be borne in our mind."

Iran also objected to European efforts to limit the creation of new international norms at Durban II. Iran said "We don't want to prejudge the high possibility of new forms of ideas, and doctrines based on supremacy of one race over others, or other contemporary form of racism. Then we find ourselves in lack of legislative international norms to address them properly. So let us adopt an open-minded approach to this." Everybody watching knew this was part of an attempt by Islamic states to focus on Islamophobia, insert allegations that counter-terrorism activities are racist, and invent limits on freedom of expression, but the public conversation was conducted in vague generalities, for and against new standards.

In addition, there was an obvious effort by Islamic states to gang up on Denmark. Algeria responded to a Danish suggestion that a provision was not relevant with: "It's that very comment that is not relevant."

Cuba made the stakes at Durban II even plainer, when it claimed erroneously that the "document we adopt at the Durban Review Conference will be a legal document." When European Union countries sought to stress existing standards and the 1965 Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Cuba responded "We understand the EU doesn't want to accept other norms in the area of racism." Whereupon, European countries retreated.

Here is what we also know:

1) The UN reissued the current draft of the "outcome document" with a January 12, 2009 date. This has now formally become the basis of negotiations. The draft on the table has the following glaring, objectionable provisions (exact quotes below):

    (a) It has only one section - called the "Middle East" - dedicated to naming only one country as racist, namely, Israel,
    (b) It includes a series of claims aimed at undermining counter-terrorism efforts by tarnishing them with the allegation of racism,
    (c) It contains provisions intended to limit freedom of expression, the heart of a democratic society. They include an attack on the Danish cartoons and any alleged defamation against religious personalities and holy books, as well as a call for a code of conduct for journalists,
    (d) Religion and religious themes are mentioned in the Durban II draft 62 different times. This has never occurred in the guise of an "anti-racism" global forum. The contexts are "defamation of religion" and a hierarchy of victims of xenophobia, beginning with Muslim victims.

2) The Palestinian UN delegation is working with extreme Arab and Islamic states and NGOs to insert Gaza-related issues into the text.

3) Extremist NGOs, and other NGOs who view the Durban II process as a means to get their own issues on the international agenda regardless of xenophobic content directed at others, are working together to plan an NGO Forum. An NGO Forum at Durban I was a hotbed of radicalism and antisemitism. No details have been announced.

4) States are continuing to further radicalize the Durban II process - demanding even more provisions which would stifle freedom of expression in the name of protecting Islam. Monday morning South Africa and Syria demanded references to the UN's Ad Hoc Committee on Complementary Standards. That body is now considering so-called complementary standards on "defamation of religion, Islamophobia, as well as racial and religious profiling in the context of anti-terrorism."

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Provisions in the January 12, 2009 draft of the Durban II "outcome document":

(a) section on Israel:
  • "Expresses deep concern at the practices of racial discrimination against the Palestinian people as well as other inhabitants of the Arab occupied territories"
  • "...the Palestinian people...have been subjected to... torture..."
  • "...a foreign occupation founded on settlements, laws based on racial discrimination... contradicts the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations..."
(b) counter-terrorism as racism:
  • "...obstacles hampering progress in the collective struggle against racism and racial discrimination...including...counter-terrorism"
  • "Draws attention to the impact of counter-terrorism measures on the rise of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance..."
  • "Acknowledges that a most disturbing phenomenon is the intellectual and ideological validation of Islamophobia...[W]hen it is expressed in the form of profiling, it hides behind the war against terrorism..."
  • "Urges States to prohibit by law the practice known as racial profiling and profiling based on any grounds of discrimination..., to adopt other necessary measures to eliminate this practice, to provide sanctions for those who violate the law..."
  • "Calls on States to ensure that any measures taken in the fight against terrorism do not discriminate, in purpose or effect, on the grounds of race, colour, descent, national or ethnic origin, nor on the grounds of culture, religion, belief, names, appearance or language..."
(c) limiting freedom of expression:
  • "Acknowledges that a most disturbing phenomenon is the intellectual and ideological validation of Islamophobia...[W]hen it is expressed in the form of defamation of religions, it takes cover behind the freedom of expression...Believes that...publication of offensive caricatures and making of hate documentaries, would purposely complicate our common endeavours to address several contemporary issues, including the fight against terrorism and the occupation of foreign territories and peoples"
  • "Urges States to take effective measures to address contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, and to take firm action against negative stereotyping of religions and defamation of religious personalities, holy books, scriptures and symbols"
  • "Calls for a voluntary ethical code of conduct to be elaborated...in association with the International Federation for Journalists, to address racism in the media and other modern information and communication technologies, while taking into account fundamental issues such as the right to freedom of expression..."
(d) Islamophobia and the Muslim victim:
  • "Notes with concern instances of defamation of religions...in particular Islam..."
  • "Acknowledges that a most disturbing phenomenon is the intellectual and ideological validation of Islamophobia..."
  • "A framework is needed to provide guidelines for States - aimed at countering defamation of religions"
Bayefsky commented "It is incontrovertible that Arab and Islamic states are using Durban II to demonize Israel and the West, and dramatically reverse gains in the world of international human rights and freedoms. How many more so-called red lines have to be crossed before western democracies get the message that Durban II is an offense to universal values? It is imperative that they refuse to legitimize this endeavour immediately."