Gaining a better perspective on Durban II

Maurice Ostroff
Friday April, 17, 2009

For a better perspective and broader understanding of the forthcoming Durban II conference, be sure to log in to the web site of the Geneva Summit for Human Rights, Tolerance And Democracy, on Sunday April 19, from 09.30 to 18.30, that is the day before the Durban II conference is due to open. It will be broadcast live on

The cardinal sin of the 2001 Durban World Conference Against Racism (Durban I) was the cynical manner in which the intense focus on Israel was used to distract attention away from horrific human-rights violations in the countries of the organizers and elsewhere. Zimbabwe, Darfur, Libya, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Rwanda were ignored as were Russian adventures in Chechnya and China’s ongoing repression of Tibet.

The overt intention of the Durban II conference is to replicate and even intensify the hate-fest atmosphere of Durban I, and to avoid discussion of the blatant human rights violations in the countries of the planners and sponsors of the event.

The lack of balance in the Durban II program is nowhere better revealed than in the frantic cosmetic efforts to prettify the original text of its official statement in an attempt to mollify the USA, Canada and other countries who have threatened to stay away because of the objectionable wording of the draft text.

The conference�s credibility is hardly enhanced by the human rights records of its main sponsors such as Libya, Iran and Cuba. Saudi Arabia contributed $150,000 to the event, China $20,000 and Iran $40,000. Russia, which has chaired the committee on the draft text, donated $600,000.

In a speech at the U.N. Human Rights Council, on March 3, Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Maxime Verhagen, said of the text, �What is not legitimate is holding the entire UN human rights system hostage to those differences. Take the Durban Review Conference as an example. � the draft outcome document is not acceptable in its present form. It does not focus on the main challenges to address the problem of racism. Instead, the thematic world conference is used by some to try to force their concept of defamation of religion and their focus on one regional conflict on all of us�.

According to an editorial of March 10, 2009 in the Japan Times �Meetings like this undermine the U.N. and empower its critics�� and German member of the European Parliament Alexander Graf Lambsdorff was quoted in the International Herald Tribune, March 8, 2009 as saying �The West cannot accept a text that places religion above individuals, fails to condemn discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and fails to condemn anti-Semitism, while equating Zionism with racism�

Unlike the Durban conference the Geneva Summit will address genocide, ethnic cleansing, racial, ethnic, religious, sexual, and political discrimination wherever they occur.

It is a sad reflection on our media that while they generate huge publicity for the narrowly focused and widely discredited Durban II event, they ignore the more credible and widely serving struggle for human rights promoted by the Geneva Summit, a global coalition of organizations dedicated to improving human rights on behalf of the millions of voiceless victims around the world, who suffer from racism, discrimination, and persecution and who have been all but ignored by the UN sponsored Durban conference.

It is unforgivable that this summit, organized by 40 human rights NGOs and that will include well-known human rights heroes, genocide survivors, prisoners of conscience, anti-racism activists, and scholars of international law has received so little mention in the media.

Interestingly, Iran has expressed serious concern about the intention of the Geneva Summit to feature former Iranian prisoner of conscience Ahmed Batebi, who became famous after his picture appeared on the front cover of The Economist, holding the bloodied T-shirt of a fellow student demonstrator.

The speakers at the Summit will include the former governor of the Sudanese province of Darfur and current head of the National Redemption Front alliance of rebel groups in the Darfur conflict as well as Foreign Ministers of France, Italy, Britain, India and Rwanda, Canadian MP Irwin Cotler, former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky, film star Mia Farrow and Darfur activist and Ahmad Ibrahim Diraige.

The media will surely fail in its duty to keep the public properly informed if it continues to sideline the Geneva Summit while paying disproportionate
attention to Durban II.