In an unprecedented reversal, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour has backed off from her earlier endorsement of an Arab text calling for the “elimination” of Zionism, in response to a UN Watch protest. News of the controversy was covered internationally, sparking a series of Canadian newspaper editorials critical of Ms. Arbour’s initial statement and her overall handling of the affair. Following is a timeline of the events as they unfolded around the globe.
Jan. 24, 2008, Geneva: High Commissioner Arbour issues an official statement: “I welcome the 7th ratification required to bring the Arab Charter on Human Rights into force… the Arab Charter on Human Rights is an important step forward [to] help strengthen the enjoyment of human rights.” At U.N. headquarters in New York, Marie Okabe, spokesperson for Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, highlights Arbour’s statement. When asked, she does not have the text of the charter.
Jan. 29, 2008, World: UN Watch’s exposÃ© of the Arab Charter is published around the world, including in Canada’s National Post, Switzerland’s Le Temps, the Jerusalem Post, the Montreal Gazette, and Argentina’s Agencia de Noticias Judia.
Jan. 30, 2008, Geneva & New York: Arbour changes course. Now she asserts that various Arab Charter provisions are “incompatible” with international norms. The UN headquarters in New York issues a new release, entitled “Arab rights charter deviates from international standard.”
Arbour’s new statement:
“Throughout the development of the Arab Charter, my office shared concerns with the drafters about the incompatibility of some of its provisions with international norms and standards. These concerns included the approach to death penalty for children and the rights of women and non-citizens.”
“Moreover, to the extent that it equates Zionism with racism, we reiterated that the Arab Charter is not in conformity with General Assembly Resolution 46/86, which rejects that Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination. OHCHR [the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights] does not endorse these inconsistencies.”