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Libya Set to Head UN Anti-Racism Conference

Libya Set to Head UN Anti-Racism Conference

Libya is the sole candidate for the post of Chair of a United Nations anti-racism conference to be held in Geneva later this month, upsetting human rights groups who recalled the fatal consequences to the Commission on Human Rights when it chose Libya in 2003. According to diplomats, a meeting yesterday by the Human Rights Council’s five regional groups also named Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Russia as among the 15 bureau members who will oversee preparatory deliberations for a 2009 gathering to follow up on the controversial Durban conference of 2001.

Some human rights groups are expressing alarm at the conference leadership, which is to be voted in before the June 25 session. “Choosing Colonel Khaddafi to head a world anti-racism conference is like appointing a pyromaniac to be town fire chief,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, a human rights monitoring organization based in Geneva, Switzerland. “How can a regime that consistently ranks as one of the most notorious violators of human rights—a government that sentenced to death five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor only because they were foreigners and therefore easy scapegoats—be charged with promoting fundamental principles of human dignity and equality?”

The 2001 World Conference Against Racism that took place in Durban, South Africa, a few days before 9/11, was mired in controversy. The NGO Declaration said that Arabs were the victims of anti-Semitism and condemned Israel for its “brand of apartheid and other racist crimes against humanity.” During the conference, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson denounced the distribution of anti-Semitic cartoons by groups such as the Arab Lawyers’ Union. The United States and Israel walked out in the last days, with the conference described as a “festival of hate” by former Canadian Minister of Justice Irwin Cotler.

“With Khaddafi as Chair—supported by the Wahhabist Saudi regime and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was condemned by the UN General Assembly this year for his regime’s discrimination against Arabs, Azeris, Baluchis, Bahai, Kurds and other minorities—the UN is dangerously on course to repeat the mistakes of the past,” said Neuer.

UN Watch was founded by Morris B. Abram, a lawyer from Georgia who in the 1950’s became an early advocate in the civil rights campaign led by Martin Luther King, and later headed the United Negro College Fund. The Geneva-based NGO is currently headed by Alfred H. Moses, an advocate and former diplomat.

“The fight against racism is the defining human rights struggle of our time,” said Neuer, “and we cannot allow the sacred and universal goals of human dignity, tolerance and mutual understanding to be hijacked or defiled by the enemies of human rights.”

ENDS

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