From its name—the UN Durban Review Conference, which begins April 20 (Hitler’s birthday, appropriately enough)—one might assume the conference is being held in Durban, South Africa. It isn’t. It’s in Geneva. From its most eager participants’ pious public statements, it would seem to be about countering racism. It isn’t. It’s about perpetuating the same vendettas we saw at Durban I (grandiosely known, for official purposes, as “the UN World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance”) in 2001.
Since 2007, preparation has been guided by the UN’s ironically named Human Rights Council (HRC). What member countries such as Saudi Arabia (a theocracy practising gender apartheid), Libya (an eccentric dictatorship where black migrant labourers are treated with open contempt) and Cuba (”[We] don’t think that [freedom of expression] is really a subject matter for the conference”) really seek is distraction from their own abuses. The successful 2001 formula they will repeat is to scapegoat Israel and America, with the added goal this time of furthering international laws that would muzzle any critique of Islam.
With so many ominous harbingers in play for so long, no democratic country should have given its imprimatur to this upcoming circus. Canada set an admirable moral example by withdrawing in 2008 when it was clear Durban II would be a replay of Durban I. Stephen Harper understood that further cooperation would not mitigate the conference’s hypocrisy, it would only serve to legitimate an evil agenda. Israel, the United States, Australia and Italy have also announced boycotts (though U. S. officials have left open the possibility of attending if the conference agenda is altered).
The European Union made encouraging noises of protest throughout the snail’s-paced preparation process, but clearly will not step up to the plate; such a virile statement of principle is beyond them. The appalling charade will go forward.
Few jobs can be more depressing than Hillel Neuer’s. Neuer is director of UN Watch, an NGO that monitors the HRC. It is Neuer’s muckraking task to wheel out the council’s daily groaning barrow load of hypocrisy, so the world glimpses it before it is disseminated as anti-Western and anti-Semitic agitprop under UN letterhead.
I spoke with Neuer recently in Montreal, his home town. A McGill law school graduate with a specialty in human rights, Neuer has intervened on behalf of victims in Sudan, and is all too familiar with the shortcomings of the Human Rights Council.
Every day, Neuer crosses the street from his Geneva-based UN Watch office to observe the farce in action, as resolution after resolution against Israel is passed, none against blood-soaked Sudan or Congo. (Of the UN’s 193 countries, 180 have never once been censured by the HRC.) Every day, he stands up to counter the lies and bias. Every day he is cut off or lambasted by the chair, invariably the representative of a human-rights-abusing country. Every day he is cold-shouldered to remind him he is an enemy, simply because he reminds the council their mandate is to apply the same standards to all countries.
Naming and shaming is a frustrating job, but the payoff is access to the media: Neuer’s appearances on CNN, Fox News, in online magazines and even Al Jazeera keep the flame of truth alive.
Neuer notes the irony behind the democracies’—particularly the EU’s—seeming unawareness of their own moral power: “If the EU pulled out, there would be no conference, and the world would be a better place.”
Neuer—and other human-rights activists like him—will not be observers at Durban II. On April 19, the day before the Review Conference, a coalition of human rights, anti-racism and pro-democracy activists will assemble at the International Conference Center Geneva (CICG) to place the world’s most pressing situations on the agenda.
This worthy counter-conference will feature true human rights heroes, the very people the oppressive countries that have co-opted the HRC are shamed by: Bo Kyi, Burmese dissident; Egypt’s Saad Eddin Ibrahim; Esther Mujawayo, Rwanda genocide survivor; Nazanin Afshin-Jam, founder of Stop Child Executions; and many more courageous survivors of brutal oppression.
You can read all about it at www.genevasummit.org. This, not the farce at Durban II, is the true face of the struggle for human rights.