Durban II and the UN / Casualty levels in Iraq

May 7, 2008 | AIJAC staff

Update from AIJAC

May 7, 2008
Number 05/08 #02

This Update reports on the problematic deliberations last week at the UN in Geneva, as preparations, chaired by Libya, are made for a follow-up conference to the infamous 2001 Durban conference on racism. The original conference degenerated into a festival of antisemitism and anti-Zionism, and there are concerns that the second conference looks like it could be at least as problematic.

First up, Anne Bayefsky, law professor and head of “Eye on the UN”, reports on the week of deliberations she attended. She reports that not only was the session dominated by bragging by states like Iran, Syria and Algeria of their perfect record on racism matters, but it also featured an attempt to redefine antisemitism, recently recognised for the first time at the UN, as discrimination against Arabs and Muslims on the grounds that they too are “semites”. When Bayefsky sought to answer this silly claim as an accredited NGO representative, she was repeatedly denied the opportunity as the Libyan chair invoked spurious procedural grounds for refusing her permission to complete her argument. For Bayefsky’s troubling description of what occurred, CLICK HERE. Bayefsky’s earlier piece on the deliberations, focusing on day-long efforts to exclude a Jewish NGO, and with more detail on the drive to redefine antisemitism, is here, plus video of her attempt to testify is here. Finally, additional video of the deliberations is here.

Next up, Joel Brinkley, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist formerly at the New York Times, takes on the general problem of the abysmal performance of the UN on human rights and especially the failures of the new Human Rights Council. He is particularly concerned about the Human Rights Council’s demand that its envoys investigate “abuses of Freedom of Speech”, meaning speech not approved by governments, as well as their interventions on Darfur, which seem to consist largely of congratulating the Sudanese government for its supposed assistance in resolving the problem. In the end, he calls for the Council’s abolition. To read why, CLICK HERE. Also, Hillel Neuer of UN Watch has penned a brilliant and detailed dissection of the UN Human Rights Council’s new expert adviser,  Jean Ziegler, a Swiss academic who has made a career out of radically politicising human rights. Additional articles detail UN peacekeeper abuses in Congo, and possible involvement in ivory poaching in Africa.

Finally, American foreign policy expert Max Boot analyses the uptick in military and civilian casualty figures in Iraq in April, being portrayed in some media as a sign that the situation is deteriorating after the “surge’s” initial successes. Boot argues this is not the case, and the uptick mostly relates to the renewed Iraqi government initiated offensive against the Mahdi army of radical Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Moreover, he says the end results of this effort were much better than many realise, and this bodes well for Iraq’s future stability. For Boot’s complete argument, CLICK HERE. Some similar arguments come from embedded reporter Michael Yon. Meanwhile, a New York Times staffer returns to Iraq from exile in Syria and finds his Baghdad neighbourhood vastly improved.

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Durban II Double Standard

Discussions of anti-Semitism are silenced, while Iran’s benevolence remains unquestioned

By Anne Bayefsky

National Review, April 28, 2008

The first week of preparations for the U.N.’s racist anti-racism bash, the “Durban Review Conference” (also known as Durban II) has drawn to a close. It now looks like the latest U.N. effort at painting Israel and America as the enemies of human rights — with Iran, Libya, Algeria, and Syria on the side of the angels — won’t be held in Durban, after all. On the list of prospective sites is New York: Apparently, considerations of the number of Jews in the neighborhood may be outweighed by the U.N. dollars that would pour in if it was held on U.N. premises. U.N. premises in places with fewer Jews, like Geneva and Vienna, are also in the running.

While the venue issue is winding down, the struggle for participation, substance, and financing is gearing up. Iran has scored a victory in keeping a Jewish NGO out of the first substantive session of the Durban II preparatory process. Iran objected to the accreditation or participation of the Canadian Council for Israel and Jewish Advocacy and then issued a list of demands that the NGO was required to answer. The long list was an intrusive fishing expedition designed to gather data on Jewish NGOs across Canada, including membership lists, identification of any possible dual Canadian-Israeli citizens, and a list of all “financial sources and contributions.” The decision deadline was set for Monday, April 28, but as soon as the NGO responses to the Iranian list were in hand, the EU agreed to postpone consideration in the face of continued Iranian “dissatisfaction” and rubber-stamped an Iranian demand for more answers. The formal decision has now been “delayed” until Wednesday midday, knowing Thursday is a U.N. holiday and Friday involves only the adoption of a report without NGO input. So right from the start Durban II has meant to treat Jewish NGOs differently than all others.

Last week, the Libyan member of the Security Council likened Israel’s bombing in Gaza to “what happened in the concentration camps.” With another Libyan in position of authority here in Geneva, the Durban PrepCom has also been vintage U.N. NGOs are permitted to speak during the proceedings, but acting as a representative of the Touro Institute on Human Rights and the Holocaust, here’s a sample of what I encountered.

April 23, 2008 Morning Session

Anne Bayefsky, Institute on Human Rights and the Holocaust… this Committee has heard from a number of U.N. members purporting to claim an interest in the phenomenon of anti-Semitism. Such statements must be clearly understood in context. The context is their simultaneous redefinition of anti-Semitism as directed against Arabs and Muslims. In the words of the Ambassador of Algeria yesterday, anti-Semitism targets Arabs because they are also Semites. Anything less, he said, would be a false dichotomy between Jews and Arabs. The dichotomy about which he speaks might be described somewhat differently. Six million Jews were murdered by the Nazis in the Holocaust. This is anti-Semitism. It isn’t about Arabs. It isn’t about Muslims….

Chairperson, Najat Al-Hajjaji, (Libya) – POINT OF ORDER Distinguished Madame, distinguished representative of an NGO Institute on Human Rights and the Holocaust, please be committed to the item under consideration which is Item 5. Item 5 is entitled “Reports of preparatory meetings and activities at the international, regional and national levels.” …

Anne Bayefsky…To assess those preparatory meetings and to explain their appropriate activities it is necessary to talk about the substance of those activities. So to set the record straight for those preparatory purposes, the term anti-Semitism was coined by an anti-Semite in the 19th century to mean Jew hatred — not more, not less. Much has been said and written in the course of preparing for the conference about the need to address contemporary forms of racism and xenophobia.  In this context there is an acid test of the genuineness of alleged concern for anti-Semitism.  The major contemporary form of anti-Semitism is anti-Zionism, the rejection of the self-determination of the Jewish people realized in the state of Israel. . . .

Chairperson, Najat Al-Hajjaji, (Libya) — POINT OF ORDER

Distinguished Madame, you are still talking not under the item under consideration. …

And so it went. Over three attempted statements, I was interrupted by the Libyan Chair repeatedly, with additional points of order coming from human rights paragons Egypt, Syria, and Algeria. It made no difference whether the agenda item was preparation, objectives, contemporary manifestations of racism, or the effectiveness of U.N. human rights mechanisms. Over and over, the Chair deemed my remarks not to be connected to the constantly mutating agenda item under discussion.

The Organization of the Islamic Conference has spent years dominating U.N. proceedings, and Durban II — the centerpiece of the U.N.’s alleged “anti-racism” crusade — is their progeny. By the end of the week, it was with genuine exasperation that the Egyptian representative coined a new word: “Durbanophobia.” A couple of days ago he came up with Arabophobia. And we already know about the worldwide plot hatched in the Oval Office, Downing Street, and the basements of evil Danish publishers, called Islamophobia. Now there is a plot against a harmless group of diplomats who just want to hang out together and shmooze about human rights.

In contrast to attempts to speak about anti-Semitism, nobody thought to interrupt Iran’s declaration that it plays a leadership role in the battle against discrimination. Did you know that the state whose president has advocated modern-day genocide by wiping out Israel “is fully committed to eradicate any policy based on racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance and has actively struggled against this phenomena at national, regional and international levels”?  In fact, “in order to promote access of all people to social justice and to eliminate discrimination” Iran has just created “a special committee to deal with cases of discrimination.” Presumably, the women stoned for alleged adultery, and the homosexuals hanged and strung up on cranes in public places need not apply.

Meanwhile Algeria had the neat idea of misrepresenting the language of a U.N. resolution in order to beat the anti-Semitism-is-us drum. They declared “resolution 64 of the Human Rights Council of February 1994 requests consideration of ‘discrimination against Blacks, anti-Semitism including discrimination against Arabs and Muslims, xenophobia, negrophobia and related intolerance.’ ” Actually, the resolution requests examination of “any form of discrimination against Blacks, Arabs and Muslims, xenophobia, negrophobia, anti-Semitism and related intolerance.”

The fabrication was particularly preposterous in light of the fact that back in 1994 — I was a member of Canada’s U.N. Human Rights Commission delegation at the time — it was an OIC member that insisted “anti-Arab and anti-Muslim” be added before the word “anti-Semitism” so as to create the appearance of a hierarchy. And every member of the OIC refused to vote for the paragraph that contained only a reference to anti-Semitism.  But then historical revisionism at the U.N. is an old favorite.

A representative of Syria announced: “first of all, I should like to draw your attention to the fact that my country in general does not suffer from problems relating to racism.” It so happens that Syria has had a declaration of a state of emergency since 1963, which effectively suspends constitutional rights. But that didn’t stop the “distinguished representative” from announcing there is no racism in Syria because “the constitution Article 25 insists on the fact that freedom is a sacred right and guarantees individual freedoms for all citizens. It swears that it will protect their interests.” Durban II participants also learned that this conduit for Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon “has set up a national commission on international humanitarian law entrusted with the task of coordinating and sensitizing public opinion to human rights and humanitarian law principles.”

The nonstop campaign by Islamic states against freedom of expression has been most striking. Pakistan, on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic conference, claimed “the most serious manifestation of racism is the democratic legitimization of racism and xenophobia. . . . When it is expressed in the form of defamation of religion it takes cover behind the freedom of expression and opinion.” Algeria was “deeply alarmed by . . . a selective and politicized reading of human rights and fundamental freedom exemplified by the ideological preference given to freedom of expression to the detriment to other freedoms. . . . It is indispensible [sic] for these practices to be condemned and outlawed and their perpetrators no longer enjoy impunity by ideological use of freedom of opinion and expression. . . .” [Who knew Algeria supported the Fairness Doctrine?]

Durban II preparation is not just another U.N. opportunity to distort, fabricate, and confuse. The assault on the actual protection of human rights has left the station and is now barreling along with U.N. money on U.N. premises. A newly created “working group” will start to prepare an “outcome document” in a few weeks’ time.

Hope for a united Western front against this assault is now being placed on France’s ascension to the EU Presidency in July, raising the prospect of the EU joining Canada, the U.S., and Israel in the unambiguous rejection of Durban II. Judging from its gutless behavior to date, however, it will take an earthquake to move the EU from its beloved U.N. turf. The lessons for future American foreign policy are considerable.

Anne Bayefsky is senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. She also serves as the director of the Touro Institute for Human Rights and the Holocaust and as the editor of EYEontheUN.org.

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On human rights, the U.N. once again strikes out

By Joel Brinkley

Sacramento Bee, April 26, 2008

The world’s foremost human rights organization has ordered its envoys to begin investigating people or groups around the world who abuse freedom of speech by violating certain “moral” standards. The envoys would rely on individual governments to define morality in their own states.

Imagine what would happen if Washington, London, New Delhi — even Moscow — tried to pass laws forbidding public discussion of “moral” issues like religion, alcohol or sex.

What organization is setting up this absurd investigation?

The United Nations.

Several years ago, the U.N. found itself embarrassed by its Human Rights Commission because of its unremitting attacks on Israel and light regard for other human-rights malefactors. It “cast a shadow on the United Nations system as a whole,” Secretary-General Kofi Anan lamented at the time. In 2006 the U.N. abolished the commission and replaced it with the Human Rights Council, charging the new group with reform.

During a quarterly meeting three weeks ago, this new “reform” council passed the resolution ordering its envoys, or “rapporteurs,” to set off on the feckless investigation intended to repress freedom of expression. Not surprisingly, that prompted a torrent of complaint. As an example, the World Association of Newspapers called the council’s action “intolerable” and “part of a dangerous, backward campaign.” But a close look at the new Human Rights Council shows that its effort to suppress freedom of speech may be the least of its failings.

The Council works by sending envoys to world trouble spots. These people are supposed to bring back reports for Council consideration. Its choice of nations for study offers a clear picture of its priorities. Last year, it decided that neither Cuba nor Belarus had human-rights records worthy of interest. At the meeting just ended, the Council ruled that the Congo deserved no further attention. An article in the current issue of Foreign Affairs magazine notes that “Congo is now the stage for the largest humanitarian disaster in the world — far larger than in Sudan.”

Might that crisis engender a human-rights concern or two?

Speaking of Sudan, I would hope the Council considers genocide a genuine human-rights problem. It does have an envoy working there, Sima Samar. At the recent meeting, she told the council that “technical assistance by the international community is needed in Sudan.” Good work!

That set off an interesting discussion. The Malaysian representative said he “welcomed the progress achieved by the Government of Sudan in improving legislation and the rule of law.” Saudi Arabia praised Sudan “for the positive steps it has taken to improve the situation in the country.”

China’s representative, too, heaped warm words on Sudan for recent “positive developments.” We can hope he wasn’t referring to the scorched-earth campaign under way in Darfur as he spoke. Sudanese military aircraft bombed clusters of villages and, in coordinated ground attacks, looted and burned homes. Hundreds of people were killed; tens of thousands fled to Chad.

The United Arab Emirates representative congratulated Sudan for “making great efforts to resolve the Darfur conflict.”

If Sudan is not worthy of a serious human-rights inquiry, then who is?

Israel, of course.

On its founding two years ago, the Council declared that scrutiny of “human rights abuses by Israel” would be a “permanent feature” of every council session. But what of Palestinian rocket attacks and suicide bombings?

Not interested.

Since then, all but three of its 16 condemnations have been directed at Israel.

The United States ceaselessly criticized the old Human Rights Commission for its “pathological obsession with Israel,” as Alejandro Wolff, an American representative to the U.N., put it.

Perhaps to assuage those concerns, the new Council fired its permanent envoy for Israel, John Dugard. He had repeatedly compared Israel to South Africa’s apartheid regime.

In his place, at the meeting just ended, the Council appointed Richard Falk, a retired professor of law at Princeton University. He is infamous for his penchant to equate Israel’s treatment of Palestinians with Nazi Germany’s treatment of Jews.

Falk’s views should play well in the Council chambers. Discussion there seems to be dominated by Arab states and their sympathizers, including Cuba, Angola, Pakistan. The Arabs were the ones, after all, who convinced the Council to enact that detestable resolution to restrict freedom of speech. Arab states argued that the world too often disparages Islam — equating the religion with terrorism. Rather than finding ways to discourage their citizens from strapping on suicide bombs, the Arab states want to prosecute people for talking about the problem.

The United Nations wisely shut down the first Human Rights Commission. It’s time to abolish this one, too.

Joel Brinkley is a former Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign correspondent for The New York Times and now a professor of journalism at Stanford University.

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The Truth About Iraq’s Casualty Count


Wall Street Journal, May 3, 2008; Page A11

The newspapers are predictably filled with articles about how 52 U.S. soldiers died in Iraq last month – the highest toll since September. Iraqi civilian casualties are also said to be at the highest level since August. These losses are being used to cast aspersions on claims of progress in Iraq.

Even one death is too many and 52 deaths is tragedy multiplied 52-fold. But let’s keep some perspective. As the icasualties.org website makes clear, for better or worse, April was still one of the lighter-casualty months during the long war in Iraq.

More important, casualties cannot be looked at in a vacuum. A spike in casualties could be a sign that the enemy is gaining strength. Or it could be a sign that tough combat is under way that will lead to the enemy’s defeat and the creation of a more peaceful environment in the future.

The latter was certainly the case with the casualty spike during the summer of 2007. (More than a hundred soldiers died each month in April, May and June.) Those losses were widely denounced as evidence that the surge wasn’t working, but in fact they were proof of the opposite.

At the time, troops were engaged in hard fighting as part of Operation Phantom Thunder that eventually cleared most terrorists out of Anbar, Baghdad, Diyala, Babil and other provinces, leading to dramatic reductions in violence over the last year (more than 80% before the recent fighting).

The latest increase in casualties is the result of another coalition offensive: Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s decision to break the grip of militias in Basra. At first the results did not look promising: Iraqi troops were rushed in without adequate preparation, and shortly after the March 25 offensive began appeared stymied in their battles against the Mahdist Army. Mr. Maliki seemed to agree to an Iranian-brokered cease-fire with Moqtada al Sadr that left the Mahdists in control of much of the city. But as April progressed it became clear that the results of the initial clashes were more beneficial than most (including me) had initially suspected.

Iraqi security forces have not suspended their operations in Basra. In fact, since the “cease-fire,” they have continued to increase their area of control. An April 25 article by a London Times correspondent who visited Basra finds: “Raids are continuing in a few remaining strongholds but the Iraqi commander in charge of the unprecedented operation is confident that his forces will soon achieve something that the British military could not – a city free from rogue gunmen.”

The political repercussions in Baghdad have been just as positive and just as unexpected. First, by taking on Shiite militias, Mr. Maliki has gained new-found respect from Kurds and Sunnis who had viewed him as a hopeless Shiite sectarian. Not coincidentally, the main Sunni party has now announced plans to rejoin the cabinet.

Second, Mr. Maliki has managed to mobilize the other Shiite parties into an anti-Mahdist bloc, demanding that Moqtada al Sadr disarm his militia if his party expects to wield political power. Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the senior Shiite cleric in Iraq, has backed that demand.

Mr. Sadr has so far refused to comply, but nor has he staged a major uprising across the country, probably because he knows it would not succeed. His plan to hold a “million man” anti-American protest in Baghdad on April 5 fizzled out at the last moment. Mr. Sadr appears increasingly isolated – as symbolized by the fact that he chooses to remain in Iran.

Finally, by exposing Iranian machinations in Basra, the recent offensive has sparked an anti-Iranian backlash even among Shiite politicians with longstanding links to Tehran. Thus a high-level Shiite delegation has gone to Iran to present the Iranian leadership with evidence of the nefarious activities of their Quds Force (as if they don’t already know!) and to demand that they knock it off.

The Iranian answer, notwithstanding some soothing words about wanting stability in Iraq, is coming in the shelling and rocketing of the Green Zone and other Iraqi and American bases. The Iranians have been providing longer-range rockets to their allies in the Special Groups and the Mahdist Army.

U.S. and Iraqi troops have been forced to push deeper into Sadr City than they have previously gone in order to take away launching sites. The Mahdists have had years to prepare defenses, and the subsequent battles account for much of the increase in casualties among Americans (and Iraqis) that have so disturbed the press.

The ongoing operations could still fail. But if they succeed, the result would be greater fracturing of the Mahdist forces and more government control of Sadr City, an area of some two million people that has been effectively run by the Sadrists since 2003.

This would represent a major achievement, because, as al Qaeda in Iraq has lost strength in the past year (thanks in large part to the surge), the Shiite extremists have become the major remaining threat. Unfortunate as the latest deaths are, they are in all likelihood a sign of things getting worse before they get better.

Mr. Boot is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and author most recently of “War Made New: Weapons, Warriors, and the Making of the Modern World” (Gotham, 2006).

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