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The United Nations and Israel

Views of a UN "Human Rights" Body

Anne Bayefsky - March 31, 2003

In 1948 the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a far-sighted document that spoke of universal values and limiting state sovereignty by legitimate international interest in the protection of human rights.

Just a half a century later, the UN's primary human rights body, the Commission on Human Rights, now meeting in Geneva, is a place where the perpetrators of human rights abuse are able to cast themselves as victims, the victims are the enemy, and universal norms are unrecognizable.

Witness the commission's handling over the last few days of the issue of racism. The end game is victimhood, and the reward UN approval and resolutions galore.

So the Organization of Islamic Conference told the commission, "[t]he events of September 11... brought about an increase in the gravity of Muslims' suffering."

The Saudi Arabian representative complained about "exploitation of the events of 11 September." Palestinian spokesperson Nabil Ramlawi described September 11 as a failure to heed Palestinian "warnings" that their demands come first.

Last year the commission appointed Doudou Di ne as the chief UN spokesperson on the issue of racism, xenophobia and related intolerance.

The appointment of Di ne, a former Senegalese diplomat, marked the first time that the commission had interfered directly in the appointment of a "Special Rapporteur" (supposed independent investigator), who was specifically named in the resolution itself.

Although the resolution had to be adopted by a vote (Algeria, China, Cuba, Libya, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Syria et al on one side, and all Western states on the other), Di ne is now ensconced for the next three years.

He has not disappointed his sponsors. His report to this year's commission states as one of his main priorities: "the situation of Muslim and Arab peoples in various parts of the world in the aftermath of the events of 11 September 2001."

Di ne also produced, at the commission's behest, a report on post-9/11 suffering of Muslims and Arabs from the "direct consequence of the events of 11 September." He says that in the US post 9/11: "the Arab-American community was gripped by a terrible fear."

He describes "blatant acts of violence... physical aggression... by some police officers... beatings that [had] the intention of killing" and finds "in fact, American citizens of Arab origin or who are simply Muslims have not been spared discriminatory treatment, physical or verbal aggression or... attempts to murder Arabs and Muslims in general."

Such facts were unaffected by statements of President Bush "intended to calm fears."

By contrast, Di ne's report on racism and xenophobia in general makes one mention of anti-Semitism, in which he acknowledges having received information that "a private television channel has allegedly produced and shown the Protocols of the Elders of Zion in a 41-episode series."

Di ne says he is awaiting information on the "allegation" from the unnamed "authorities of the countries concerned."

The strategy of denying, and then appropriating, victimhood in a UN forum is not new. At the UN Durban World Conference Against Racism which ended three days before September 11, the words "anti-Semitism" and "Holocaust" were the subject of fierce controversy.

Syria and Iran raised objections to references to the "study of the Holocaust"; Barbados and Cuba insisted the word Holocaust begin with a small "h" and end with an "s" at the end because there had been more than one holocaust.

Arab delegates repeatedly claimed that anti-Semitism, a word coined in the 19th century to mean Jew-hatred, referred to them. In the end, the words holocaust and anti-Semitism were deleted from the Durban Declaration in almost every context, from education to legal and judicial cooperation.

A week ago an intergovernmental working group of the commission met to plot the next phase of Durban or, the UN's response to the Durban fiasco, to institutionalize it through so-called "follow-up."

The US and Israel walked out of the conference, which characterized the Palestinians as victims of Israeli racism and chose not to mention the other 190 states in the UN. Since then, the UN has made Durban the centerpiece of its anti-racism agenda.

The result of Friday's session? A new UN document which "emphasizes," of all 341 paragraphs in the Declaration and Program of Action, "the importance" of the paragraphs "concerning the situation in the Middle East."

Back at the plenary session of the Commission on Human Rights, the Algerian delegate told delegates in the last few days: "Kristallnacht repeats itself daily... Israeli soldiers are the true disciples of Goebbels and of Himmler, who strip Palestinian prisoners and inscribe numbers on their bodies... Must we wait in silence until new death camps are built, new massacres like at Babi Yar?... The Israeli war machine has been trying for five decades to arrive at a final solution."

When Israeli and American delegates tried to call the speaker to order, the chair the Libyan ambassador refused to interrupt or control the language of the delegate and ensure that the commission itself not be a platform for racial hatred.

Similarly, no one but Israeli Ambassador Ya'acov Levy said anything about the outburst of Ramlawi, (whom the Libyan chair calls "His Excellency, the distinguished Ambassador of Palestine"), at the commission on Thursday: "The world condemned the old Nazism in the past... during the Second World War... The world also condemned Zionist Israel for the same criminal crimes it has been perpetrating against the Palestinian people... for over 50 years now, starting... in 1948... [T]he world... has not yet eliminated the New Zionist Nazism."

Americans as racists. Muslims as victims. Israelis as Nazis. Palestinians as victims. The harmless hyperbole of a UN "human rights" body?

Somehow, after September 11, hundreds lost in suicide bombings, Saddam's rewards for the killers, and the blood of American soldiers now added almost daily to those of Israelis, I don't think so.

Racism is a powerful accusation. When false or twisted, it inflames irrational passions and threatens peace and human security.

Where is the UN in all this? Lighting the fuse.

The writer is an international lawyer and professor at York University, Toronto, Canada. She represented the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists at the Durban NGO Forum, and UN Watch at the World Conference Against Racism.

©2003 Jerusalem Post

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