Time to turn out lights on UN’s Durban fiasco Read Rabbi Cooper's "Las Vegas Sun" op-ed

Time to turn out lights on UN’s Durban fiasco
Abraham Cooper

Las Vegas Sun
September 21, 2011

This week, the United Nations is throwing itself a party: It’s celebrating the 10th anniversary of the “Durban Process,” which was launched by the U.N. with the 2001 Durban World Conference Against Racism, the first international human rights conclave convened in Africa.

The conference made headlines but the wrong kind. Instead of providing an international stage for silenced minorities around the globe, Durban I allowed itself to be hijacked by extremists who unleashed a racist vitriol against Israel and the Jewish people before a largely silent and complicit 3,900 nongovernmental organizations.

It was at Durban I where the canard that Israel is an apartheid regime was codified. It was at Durban I where I and other Jewish delegates had to withstand physical assaults from Iranian “activists” and stand behind police protection as 17,000 people railed against the Jewish state amid a banner proclaiming “Hitler was right.” It was at Durban I that we witnessed human rights activists from the jungles of South America to the hovels of India, many of whom used their last kopek to get to Durban, watch in bewilderment as their hoped-for moment in the international human rights spotlight, never came.

If Israel was the main victim of Durban I, the long-suffering Iranians were the big losers at Durban II, which was held two years ago in Geneva. Instead of highlighting the plight of the Baha’i, Christians and gays, the U.N. bestowed its opening speech to serial human rights abuser Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. I watched as the Iranian president accompanied by an entourage of 150 was barely able to conceal a smile as he strode to the podium to spit in the face of the founding principles of the world body.

Now the United Nations is set to mark the 10th anniversary of the Durban Process. Originally planned for the morning after 9/11, the bureaucrats decided to delay it by 10 days. But are they celebrating? Did Durban ever help one victim of racism in Africa? Did it ever crank out a single news release to offer hope to the people who launched the Arab Spring? Will they have a moment of silence for the disappeared Syrian human rights activists?

To their credit, many nations, led by Canada and including the U.S., the U.K. and Germany, are boycotting the Durban celebrations. Some European countries are ducking their responsibilities by hiding behind the diplomatic skirt of the European Union.

But they should know better. In 1948, with the wounds of World War II and the ashes of Auschwitz still dominating civilization’s collective conscience, the U.N. General Assembly enshrined the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. It’s worth a reread:

“Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,

“Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people ...

“Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law,

“Whereas it is essential to promote the development of friendly relations between nations,

“Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,

“Whereas Member States have pledged themselves to achieve, in cooperation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms,

“Whereas a common understanding of these rights and freedoms is of the greatest importance for the full realization of this pledge,

“Now, Therefore THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY proclaims THIS UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms …”

No, this is not the time to leave the U.N. But it is time for the nations writing the biggest checks to demand accountability of how our money is being spent in the name of human rights. We should leverage our checkbooks to ensure that today’s U.N. begins to live up to the 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights, not provide cover for tyrants and bullies whose deeds mock its hallowed words.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. In 2001, he served as a spokesman for Jewish nongovernmental organizations at the ill-fated U.N. Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa.