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UN Watch Briefing

Analysis and Commentary from UN Watch in Geneva
April 28, 2010 — Issue 227

Letter to UN High Commissioner of Human Rights Navi Pillay

April 28, 2010

Dear High Commissioner Pillay,

We wrote you on March 24, 2010, requesting that the UN Human Rights Council website cease hosting an anti-Semitic text (A/HRC/13/NGO/23) that, in a modern adaptation of the medieval blood libel, falsely accuses Israeli doctors of a racist conspiracy to steal Palestinian organs.

We are grateful to have recently received a reply, sent from Chief of Human Rights Council Branch Eric Tistounet. This response, however, rejects UN Watch’s request while ignoring our argument. We urge you to overturn this decision, for the reasons explained below, and to immediately remove all such hateful material from the UN website. We also call on you to speak out against the moral inversion that, in its mere four years of existence, has already become the hallmark of the UN Human Rights Council.

First, we address your office’s reply. It justifies doing nothing about the text submitted by the “International Organization for Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination” (EAFORD)—a group created in Libya and closely tied to Col. Kaddafi’s regime—on grounds that the UN purportedly plays no screening role, simply publishing all submissions as received.

That premise is demonstrably untrue.

Mr. Tistounet quotes from the footnote of the UN cover sheet affixed to NGO written statements, which indicates that the latter are “unedited.” This quote, however, is selective, incomplete and misleading.

The same cover sheet indicates at the top that such statements are circulated “in accordance with Economic and Social Council resolution 1996/31.” As your officers well know, Article 31 of that resolution requires them to engage in a process of “appropriate consultation” with the submitting organization, with the latter required to give “due consideration” to any “comments” that your officers may make “before transmitting the statement in final form.”

In other words, contrary to the premise that forms the basis of Mr. Tistounet’s decision, the rules say explicitly that your office does play a screening role.

Not only is this the official procedure, it is also standard practice. As already stated in our complaint, your office carefully screens all NGO submissions before deciding whether or not to publish them. Following are three examples.

UN Watch recently submitted a written statement—indeed to the very same March 2010 UNHRC session in which the organ-stealing blood libel was readily circulated—and your office refused to publish it as received. We were told to remove the word “regimes” where we had referred to the regimes ruling Burma, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Sudan and Zimbabwe.

Second, we were then informed that our reference to “Burma” was not allowed—only the military junta’s adopted name of “Myanmar.”

The third example concerns a 2005 submission, in which UN Watch submitted a written statement to the now-defunct Sub-Commission on Human Rights. It featured excerpts from an article I had published in The New Republic. Our statement questioned the propriety of such serial human rights violators as Cuba, Zimbabwe and Saudi Arabia sitting on the UN Commission on Human Rights, and noted that “Havana, Harare, and the House of Saud” controlled the committee that ruled on victim petitions.

It further pointed out that Ms. Halima Warzazi, then head of the Sub-Commission—and today chair of the UNHRC Advisory Committee—was personally responsible for shielding Saddam Hussein from UN censure after Iraq’s 1988 genocidal gassing of Kurds in Halabja.

All of this was unacceptable to your office, which duly informed UN Watch that “when referring to certain States, Heads of States, or even certain members of the Sub-Commission, the language used was not entirely in accordance with accepted United Nations standards.” NGO submissions, we were told, had to be “imbued with the appropriate level of dignity and respect.” Until we made the required changes, your office informed us, processing of our statement was “suspended.”

Therefore, it is clear that not only does your office screen and, when so inclined, suspend NGO submissions, but its editorial policy appears, from a moral perspective, to be upside down: Pro-democracy statements that expose the serial human rights violators who sit in judgment on others at the UNHRC are rejected as being “not entirely in accordance with accepted United Nations standards” and not “imbued with the appropriate level of dignity and respect”; whereas hateful statements, which demonize Israelis as Nazi-like perpetrators of “ethnic cleansing” and “pogroms against Palestinians,” and accuse “Israeli physicians, medical centers, rabbis and the Israeli Army” of a conspiracy to steal organs of “dead, kidnapped and killed Palestinians,” are approved, and, by necessary implication, deemed to be entirely in accordance with “accepted United Nations standards.”

Madame High Commissioner, how can this be the policy of the foremost intergovernmental agency charged with promoting human rights?

Worse, as I am sure you will agree, this is not the first anti-Semitic statement by EAFORD to be published, distributed and web-hosted under the imprimatur of the UN Human Rights Council, which has been on notice for some time about the hate emanating from this group.

In September 2008, your office reviewed, approved and circulated an EAFORD written statement (A/HRC/9/NGO/1) calling Israel an “illegal state”—an even harsher term than “regime.” Far worse, however, this text, in the guise of a rhetorical question, went on to accuse “Jews everywhere” of having “forgotten the terrors of the Holocaust to such an extent as to allow Israel to pursue and inflict one on the Palestinian people.”

After it was published, UN Watch immediately requested and obtained a private audience with then UNHRC President Martin Uhomoibhi. We explained that accusing “Jews everywhere” of complicity in a Nazi-like genocide amounts to the depiction of an entire people as absolute evil, which is anti-Semitism by any definition.

Indeed, as the U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism recently testified before a committee of the U.S. Congress, “Criticism of Israel crosses the line to anti-Semitism when, for example, that criticism applies double standards, comparing a current policy of Israel to that of the Nazis, or holds all Jews collectively responsible for actions of the State of Israel, or denies that Israel has a right to exist… At the UN, anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment often overlap.”

Sadly, however, this text accusing “Jews everywhere” of absolute evil remains published on your office website to this day (see second statement listed here), in contravention of the UN’s own anti-racism principles, as found in the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

 

Beyond these particular hateful statements, however, let us acknowledge the context in which this betrayal of founding UN values is allowed to occur, a broader culture of moral inversion that extends deeper, into the very essence of the UNHRC’s work:

 

  • Since it was created in 2006, the council has issued 40 condemnations of countries—with 33 of them targeting democratic Israel. As a result, the world’s true abusers of human rights, including the most serious perpetrators, continue to go ignored.
  • Out of the council’s nine emergency sessions that criticized countries, six have been against Israel. Recent and well-publicized killings of innocents—in Iran, China, Nigeria, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Kenya, Zimbabwe—have gone completely ignored.
  • The council’s agenda, which governs every session, features a permanent item targeting Israel. No other country in the world is singled out in this fashion. The council’s anti-Israel resolutions, the one-sided Goldstone Report, the hateful statements by EAFORD—all of these appear under the rubric of this biased agenda item, which has come to symbolize the council’s systematic discrimination against Israel.

Madame High Commissioner, if the equality provisions of the UN Charter are to have any meaning, this bias—casting a shadow upon the reputation of the UN as a whole—must end. 

In his historic 2004 speech, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan acknowledged that “the United Nations’ record on anti-Semitism has at times fallen short of our ideals,” and in this context specifically cited the 1975 resolution equating Zionism with Racism as “an especially unfortunate decision.”

Secretary-General Annan pledged that “the human rights machinery of the United Nations has been mobilized in the battle against anti-Semitism.”

Madame High Commissioner, as the head of this human rights machinery, can you please tell us: Where is this mobilization, and where is this battle?

Secretary-General Annan specifically called on your office—whose resources include 982 employees and a budget in this biennium increasing from $312.7 million to $407.4 million—to “actively explore ways of combating anti-Semitism more effectively in the future.” He called on all parts of the Secretariat to be vigilant.

Madame High Commissioner, where is this vigilance?

Secretary-General Annan concluded his call to action by proclaiming that “Jews everywhere must feel that the United Nations is their home, too.”

Yet Madame High Commissioner, how can this be possible so long as your website continues to host a statement that, to a worldwide audience, declares “Jews everywhere” to be evil?

In conclusion, therefore, we urge you to overturn the rejection of our request, and to immediately remove these anti-Semitic texts from your website. 

More broadly, we urge you to use your global podium to speak out—regularly and forcefully—against all manifestations at the UNHRC of demonization, disproportionality and double standards, which violate the noble principles upon which the United Nations was founded. 

UN Watch is situated directly across from the UNHRC headquarters, and I stand ready to meet with you at any time to explore ways of achieving corrective action on these urgent matters.

Sincerely,

Hillel C. Neuer
Executive Director