UN Rights Chief Must Clarify Endorsement of Arab Charter with Anti-Semitic Provisions
Geneva, Jan. 28 — In a letter sent today to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour, UN Watch urged her to clarify a recent endorsement of the Arab Charter of Human Rights, which contains several provisions that promote classically anti-Semitic themes. “We trust that Ms. Arbour was not aware of its contents, but this must be made clear, and the responsible person in her office must be held fully accountable,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of the Geneva-based monitoring organization.
The full text of today’s UN Watch letter follows below.
Her Excellency Louise Arbour
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
January 28, 2008
Dear Madame High Commissioner,
We commend you for your statement of January 27, 2008, recognizing the current dangers of racism and anti-Semitism. We are concerned, however, by your statement of a few days earlier, dated January 24, 2008, welcoming the entry into force of the Arab Charter on Human Rights. We trust that you were not aware of the blatantly anti-Semitic statements contained in that charter, as described below. We urge you to issue a clarification on this matter. We also urge you to hold accountable any members of your Office who were or should have been aware of, but failed to call your attention to, these racist provisions.
“Rejecting all forms of racism and Zionism, which constitute a violation of human rights and a threat to international peace and security,” forms part of the opening preamble of the Arab Charter of Human Rights. Article 2 goes further and calls for the outright elimination of Zionism: “All forms of racism, Zionism and foreign occupation and domination constitute an impediment to human dignity and a major barrier to the exercise of the fundamental rights of peoples; all such practices must be condemned and efforts must be deployed for their elimination.”
As you know, Zionism is the movement for Jewish self-determination and asserts the inherent and internationally-acknowledged right of Israel to exist. A text that equates Zionism with racism, describes it as a threat to world peace, as an enemy of human rights and human dignity, and then urges its elimination, is blatantly anti-Semitic.
We recall that in June 2004, former Secretary-General Kofi Annan described the UN General Assembly’s 1975 “Zionism is racism” resolution—which was repealed in 1991—as a low-point of the UN’s record on anti-Semitism. In 1975, when that odious text was adopted, Andrei Sakharov, the late Soviet dissident and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, said the resolution would “contribute to anti-Semitic tendencies in many countries, by giving them the appearance of international legality.” We fear that the Arab Charter does the same.
These provisions cannot be dismissed as harmless rhetoric. When Syria signed the Arab Charter in 2006, its state-controlled SANA news agency expressly cited these provisions. Agence France Presse reported as follows, on August 18, 2006: “In an obvious swipe at Israel, the [SANA] agency recalled that the text ‘considers military occupation, Zionism and all forms of racism and foreign domination as a basic obstacle to the fundamental rights of peoples and underlines the need to condemn and suppress them.’” In other words, these provisions are hardly considered marginal.
Accordingly, first, we urge you to issue a clarification. Your January 24 statement described the text as an important step in helping strengthen the enjoyment of human rights, and talked about the monitoring of its provisions. We believe that even if the Arab Charter may contain other, constructive provisions, nothing can justify any endorsement of a text with such hateful language, language that has been thoroughly disowned by the United Nations in 1991.
Second, we urge you to hold accountable any members of your Office who were or should have been aware of, but failed to call your attention to, these racist provisions. We note that the odious language of the preamble is published on your Office’s website (http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/compilation_democracy/arabcharter.htm). We also note that a newsletter published by your Office on March 15, 2004 expressly recognized “the language in the Charter related to Zionism” as a “contentious issue.” (This is available at http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/docs/Issue%20Nr%201+.pdf). Consequently, it appears that one or more members of your Office may have been aware of the anti-Semitic language in the text, but failed to call this to your attention prior to your statement. These individuals should be held to account.
This is a time when racism and anti-Semitism are raising profound concerns around the world. As you know, the government of Canada, in a decision last week that was supported by parliamentary parties across the political spectrum, announced that it will not participate in the upcoming Durban Review Conference, based on concerns that the preparatory process would fail to remedy the “open and divisive expressions of intolerance and anti-Semitism” that characterized the original 2001 gathering. As Secretary-General of the Conference, with responsibility for its preparations, we trust that you will uphold the values of the UN Charter by acting immediately and forcefully to oppose any such language if and when it is introduced.
Again, we commend you for your statement yesterday regarding anti-Semitism, and thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.
Ambassador Alfred H. Moses
Hillel C. Neuer