Ronald S. Lauder: Show event of bigots and anti-Semites
German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, March 14, 2009
The United Nations are inviting to a conference which only serves as a platform for those who hate Israel – and all that on Hitler’s birthday.
April 20th this year will be the 120th anniversary of the birth of Hitler, the most notorious mass murderer and racist in the history of mankind. Coincidentally, this year April 20th will also be the opening day of a United Nations conference on racism in Geneva, Switzerland. Its task will be to review the conclusions of the World Conference on Anti-Racism held in Durban, South Africa, in September 2001, and their implementation. It would normally be a positive sign to hold an event like this on such a symbolic day. Alas, the history of the Durban process weighs against this.
Many diplomats and human rights activists will remember with horror the events that occurred in Durban in September 2001. It was turned into a grand show of unity of bigots, despots, anti-Semites and declared enemies of Israel. The Jewish state was denounced as racist and its right to exist – once guaranteed by the United Nations – questioned.
The Durban Review Process has shown that may participating states are not there to discuss ways of combating racism and intolerance but to cover up own failings by launching unfair attacks against Israel and the Jews. Repeatedly, resolutions have been tabled which do not address issues of racism but demonize Israel as racist. Israel is the only country to be singled out for criticism – a unique form of cynicism! If Israel really were the main sponsor of racism and intolerance, wouldn’t we all live in a near-perfect world?
The Durban Review Conference in Geneva will be under the motto ‘Dignity and Justice for All’. One could ask ironically if countries such as Iran, Cuba, Libya, or Pakistan have signed up to this motto. However, irony is lost once you come to realize that it is these very countries that play crucial roles in the run-up to the event. Libya chairs the Preparatory Committee, and the rapporteur is from Cuba.
Given the human rights situation in these countries that makes a mockery of the event. In Pakistan, the Taliban were recently granted the right to introduce Islamic Sharia law in the Swat Valley, which they brought under their control. Once again, women there risk their lives when striving for better education or personal freedom.
Iran’s role is a particularly bad one: the event will provide the preachers of hate in Tehran with another international platform. In Iran, ethnic and religious minorities such as the Bahai suffer from discrimination, and human rights abuses are rife. Iran even executes minors because of their homosexuality, and women are regularly stoned to death for allegedly having committed adultery.
The genocide in Rwanda took place only 15 years ago, and yet there are ominous signs that it could again happen elsewhere in Africa. In Darfur, hundreds of thousands of people were killed in ethnic violence because Sudan’s dictatorial president and the neighboring countries simply didn’t give a damn. The Libyan ruler Kaddafi recently blamed the mass killing in Darfur on Israel. Yet the African Union, whose current president Kaddafi is, doing precious little to solve the conflict.
The country reports on human rights recently published by the US State Department make it crystal clear: the very countries which at the United Nations are supposed act as fighters for human rights and against racism have the worst record when it comes to state-sponsored violations of human rights at home.
The bodies of the United Nations – especially the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council – have been become popular forums for those bigots who like to denounce others in order to deflect from their own failings. In the less than three years of its existence the Human Rights Council has already condemned Israel 15 times. Worse conflicts were not dealt with at all, or diplomatically and discretely dealt with.
There is a danger that the UN anti-racism conference will once again be exploited to pursue aims that have nothing to do with the fight against racism and intolerance. Some Muslim countries event want draconian restrictions of freedom of speech pretending a “defamation of religion.”
Lately, even UN Human Rights Commissioner Navanethem Pillay, who acts as the review conference’s organizer, felt obliged to call on the participating states to be objective and focus on the real aims of the conference. This is honorable, but it also speaks volumes about what to expect from the forum.
As things currently stand, the objectives of the Durban Review Conference cannot be achieved. Before more damage is done, Mrs. Pillay should therefore cancel the event. Otherwise, Western governments must stay away. More than a year ago, the Canadian government announced its boycott. Lately, the US administration and Italy joined them. Unfortunately, others – including the German government – are still hesitant.
Last year, the EU presidency defined clear “red lines”, which, once crossed, would trigger the withdrawal of European governments from the Geneva conference. Although the red lines have been crossed the European governments, except the Italian, are still reluctant to take a decision.
Diplomats always seek to make small progress and find a compromise. However, there are moments when we need political leadership in order to avoid one’s agenda being hijacked by disingenuous actors. Diplomacy is not an end in itself, and the ambition to get some form of consensus on a final declaration must not compromise the respect for liberty and human rights.
This is a test for Europe. It is not too late yet to avoid a repeat of the Durban disaster of 2001. One can only hope that Europe’s leaders do not naively walk into the same trap that was already laid out for them by the self-appointed fighters for human rights. German in particular should make a stand and not attend the Geneva conference on April 20th. Such a decision would be a strong signal.
Ronald S. Lauder, 65, is president of the World Jewish Congress.