Comments by David G. Littman, NGO Representative of the Association for World Education (AWE) and World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) to the UN:
The website of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights states that:
Preparations for anti-racism conference move forward
High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay lauded remarkable progress made in the preparations for the upcoming anti-racism Durban Review Conference. At a meeting in Geneva of the working group established to negotiate a draft outcome document for the conference, the High Commissioner told delegates that “the fight against racism and intolerance demands prompt and sustained action.”
“I am firmly convinced that the current text contains all the elements that would foster and underpin a consensual outcome of the Durban Review Conference,” the High Commissioner said in her opening address to the working group, which is meeting from 6 to 9 April.
The Durban Review Conference, which will be held in Geneva from 20 to 24 April, will assess implementation of commitments made by governments at the 2001 World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance held in Durban.
At its session on 6 April, the working group formally adopted the most recent version of the draft outcome text, proposed by its Chairman last month as the basis for further negotiations.
The current session of the working group will be followed by a Preparatory Committee meeting, from 15 to 17, before the conference begins on 20 April.
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During the intersessional open-ended working group on 9 April (first day of Passover and the eve of Easter), during discussions on the aptly-designated “˜Rolling text“, the Iranian ambassador suggested that the controversial (for Iran and OIC countries) Holocaust article be deleted. This proposal was not accepted. Article 64 still reads:
“Recalls that the Holocaust must never be forgotten and in this context urges all UN members to implement GA resolutions 60/7 and 61/255.”
I had only gone to this meeting at the request of my NGO colleague, Roy Brown, who was travelling and could not participate. He had prepared a very fine “˜Briefing Note” (for the International Humanist and Ethical Union), to which we had made small additions which were accepted, allowing AWE and WUPJ to join IHEU on this text concerning article 10 of the “˜Rolling text” (under discussion), which currently reads:
10. Recognizes with deep concern the negative stereotyping of religion and the global rise in the number of incidents of racial or religious intolerance and violence, including Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, Christianophobia and anti-Arabism;
There was one major snag: an NGO can only refer to articles being discussed at the current meeting, not those on the previous day which was the case for article 10. Fortunately, Iran then referred to article 10 requesting that the word “˜stigmatizing” replace “˜stereotyping”. This was an unexpected bonanza and I scribbled a note to the secretary asking to speak for AWE, WUPJ and IHEU when a brief period would be allotted to NGOs at the end of the meeting. This led to a highly dramatic moment. As I walked toward the podium, wandering how I could get my message into his hands, I almost tripped on a lose wire connecting a computer, which should never have been placed there. A “˜big bang” stopped the meeting abruptly, and also the Iranian ambassador in his tracks — he was speaking again on another subject, barely three metres in front of me. He looked around nervously, then frowned when he recognised who had stopped him. But there was a bounty to this near-fall: two friendly guards suddenly surrounded me, and one of them then agreed to carry my message up to the out-of-bounds podium. A half an hour later, I was called to speak — the first NGO — by the very efficient and fair Russian Chairperson, Yury Boychenko.
I was able to read the whole text which was made available on the back table to all participants on the official notepaper of IHEU (with contacts). It was received with much appreciation and several Western representatives, as well as the Russian ambassador, made positive comments. 100 copies of the note were quickly picked up.
The crucial question is whether this important modification to the text will be accepted or not. This will only be known next week when the Preparatory Committee meets. Here is the note:
Human Rights of Non-believers, Apostates and Free-thinkers
“The terms belief and religion are to be broadly construed”.
General Comment 22 on Article 18, United Nations Human Rights Committee, 1993.
We find paragraph 10 of the draft outcome document to be deeply flawed in that it singles out only Christians, Jews and Muslims as named victims of “phobias”. Furthermore, while the term “Islamophobia”, for example, is undefined, it is used to falsely equate disdain for or opposition to Islam with intolerance of, or violence and hatred towards the believer.
Secondly, no mention is made in paragraph 10 of discrimination, intolerance and violence towards non-believers, Polytheists, apostates, and free-thinkers. Yet the human rights of non-believers, free-thinkers and those of other faiths are systematically denied in many parts of the world, and many face discrimination, abuse and even death.
We urge delegations to recognise that all are entitled to protection from discrimination, whatever their belief or lack of belief. We therefore respectfully suggest either that the list of specific types of discrimination be deleted from paragraph 10, or the list be expanded to include non-believers, polytheists, apostates and free-thinkers.
We are equally concerned that anti-Arabism is included in the list, while no mention is made of the anti-Westernism endemic in many parts of the world. Again, we would respectfully suggest that either the reference to anti-Arabism be deleted or that the list should be extended to include anti-Westernism.
Our preferred text, which we respectfully offer to delegations, then becomes:
10. Recognizes with deep concern the negative stereotyping of religions, beliefs and non-beliefs, and the global rise in the number of incidents of racial or religious intolerance and violence.
With, as an alternative:
10. Recognizes with deep concern the negative stereotyping of religion, beliefs, and non-beliefs, and the global rise in the number of incidents of racial or religious intolerance and violence, including Judeophobia, Christianophobia, Islamophobia, anti-Arabism, anti-Westernism and intolerance and violence towards non-believers, polytheists, apostates and free-thinkers.
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As this is a festive weekend, I shall conclude on a playful glance at other “˜happenings”.
Prior to this meeting, NGOs were invited to a briefing with the Coordinators of the DRC. The meeting concerned technical questions (side events, accreditation, badges, etc.) Suddenly, a very competent and friendly Arab NGO from Egypt addressed the Chair non-stop (5 to 10 minutes). He was at pains to convince the UN staff and up to 70 NGOs that Durban I had been a great success (the antisemitic incident at the beginning was very minor) and it was intolerable to hear so much criticism from the usual quarters. He developed this theme with much repetition and an authoritative manner — this is the same nice fellow who agrees that the Holocaust article should remain, but that there should be another one on the Palestinians. He didn’t even bother to mention Cambodia, Rwanda, Darfur, etc. — just one word: “˜Palestinians”.
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My conclusion: There is a great effort and much hope by many — especially the High Commissioner for Human Rights, as she stated on 6 April (“I am firmly convinced that the current text contains all the elements that would foster and underpin a consensual outcome of the Durban Review Conference”¦”) that the Durban Review Conference will be a success. Time will tell, but my instinct tells me that some States members (especially from the OIC) will remain true to form and the EU will be unable to go along with the usual additions and some omissions. One of the most glaring of these omissions is in articles 60, 61, 62 on slavery, and 63 on genocide:
60. Welcomes actions undertaken to honor the memory of the victims of slavery and the slave trade, in particular the transatlantic slave trade, apartheid, colonialism and genocide;
61. Notes actions of those countries that have, in the context of these past tragedies, expressed remorse, offered apologies, and/or restituted [sic] cultural artifacts [sic] since the adoption of DDPA, and calls on those who have not yet contributed to restoring the dignity of the victims to find appropriate ways to do so;
62. Urges States to implement General Assembly (GA) resolutions 61/19 AND 62/122 on the transatlantic slave trade;
63. Urges States to combat impunity for crimes of genocide in accordance with international law, and in this context urges States to cooperate fully with international tribunals.
There is no way that the African Union / OIC /Arab League will accept to put in a single mention of the “˜Arab Slave Trade”, one of the best-documented historical phenomena in the field of slavery, and without which the various Arab empires could never have been maintained. This silence at the United Nations is a great shame. But equally serious is the fact that modern slavery in certain countries, including southern Sudan and even worse in Darfur, will not receive a mention.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) at the Hague (not the International Court of Justice (ICJ), an organ of the United Nations) has indicted President Omar Al-Bashir of Sudan, implicating him in the murder, torture, and rape of the people of Darfur — the first time that a sitting President has been indicted by the Court. Yet he was recently received in Qatar with open arms by the Arab League.
What more need be said? One thing, perhaps: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is scheduled to address Durban II at the Palais des Nations. It may help him to get elected, but it certainly won’t provide the Durban Review Conference with the aura of respectability that it is desperately hoping to achieve. Sadly, once again, I am reminded of Frankenstein on his trek across Lake Geneva up to the North Pole.