Internet Centre Anti Racism Europe
|Intersessional Working Group for the Durban Review Conference|
Geneva, January 19 to 23, 2009
Have a look at the current working document , or as it is called in UN-ese: the Technically reviewed version of the compilation of proposals submitted by delegations at the second substantive session of the Preparatory Commitee under each of the five sections of the draft outcome document as contained in document A/CONF.211/PC/WG.2/CRP.1 submitted by the Chairperson-Rapporteur of the working group
UPDATE: The latest Negotiation Document -the result of this WEEK's Intersessional Working Group Meeting- Revised version of CRP.2 on 23-1-2009 at 6 pm.
Monday, January 19 - Tuesday, January 20 - Wednesday, January 21 - Thursday, January 22 - Friday, January 23
Quotes of the day
I've got sort-of a proposal here, I think
Chair: ‘NGO's should not talk about procedures! That is what we decided!'
The first plenary started late since the chair of the meeting, the Russian Yuri Boychenko was still on a plane which was delayed. Later on in the meeting he complained bitterly about the perils of air travel and specifically about the quality of German airline Lufthansa. Anyway - we started at 11.45 and today's negotiations were pretty dull. The real fireworks are in sections 1 and 5 of the document, and those sections come to the table later in the week.
The atmosphere is more charged then it was during the pervious meetings it is clear we are entering a make or break stage. EU delegations tell us that they are still firmly behind the red lines, meaning the 5 paragraphs on Palestinians and the paras on Religious defamation, with the Netherlands and the Denmark in the forefront of this battle. It is however expected that the EU will stay on at least until the next intersessional just before the Last PrepCom and Durban Review Conference itself, before they decide to pull out. Which is wise, putting up a fight is better than just walking out early. It is still not clear if the United States will engage with the process. The inauguration of Barack Obama is tomorrow and it seems the new Obama administration has other things on its mind - which is not surprising J. What was surprising was that there was hardly anything on the situation in Gaza - maybe because of the cease-fire, but rumblings in the corridors suggest that some delegations might come with something later.Ronald Eissens
Report from the plenary
Note: since we are not able to work on a 100% level due to illness, the notes from the plenary this week will be short and at times sketchy. Don't worry; we'll still cover the real important stuff.
Not much to say - it started late, due to the fact that the Chair's arrival in Geneva was delayed. At 11.45 we began and right away the working document was adopted as a basis for all future negotiations*. Then the order of the sections to cover was changed around a bit. It was decided to start with the ‘easy sections' 2, 3 and 4 and try to finish those first before going into the ‘more difficult'sections 1 and 5, and spend the rest of the week on those. Ambitions as the diplomats are today, they even thought they could finish 2, 3 and 4 tomorrow before lunch. Well, this did not exactly happen but at the end of the day they came as far as Para 134. Not bad at all. Most interesting remark today: the EU wants to talk about the Durban follow-up mechanisms and possibly re-assess them to prevent duplication. The rest of it was pretty lame. Tomorrow they will try to finish the rest of section 3 and 4.
*Which brings up a legal question with us. Since this is not a Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) meeting but only a Working Group meeting, and only a PrepCom is allowed to make decisions like that, what's the status of this decision?
From the NGO front
At the end of the day, at 5.15 pm, the floor was given to a few NGOs that had registered to speak. It has now become custom to give NGOs the floor at the end of the day, each day, for 45 minutes. Four interesting contributions out of 6. One from Human Rights Watch, recommending (a.o.) to the meeting to recognize ICERD as the core international instrument to address racism et cetera, one from the NGO Tupacamaru which was, as per usual, somewhat difficult to understand ('Nothing is insufficient to combat, nothing is sufficient to combat, until you have, well, you don't have the colonization...") one by the intrepid Ronald Barnes, well known to the UN Geneva regulars, who wanted to talk about self-determination, and asked the chair is this was ok, since it was not yet covered today. The Chair politely asked him not to. Lastly a contribution by Civicus which can be read here . All in all, NGO contributions were somewhat meager today.
Quotes of the day
'It would be good if the UN also had a president'
'Whatever happens, I will be out of here in time to see the inauguration on TV!'
Nervous anticipation seemed to invade the mostly calm and stuffy diplomatic atmosphere of the Palais des Nations today, but it was unclear if it was caused by the inevitable 'hot paras' looming over the proceedings or by the fact that Barack Obama would be inaugurated today as 44th President of the United States. During the afternoon session the Nigerian delegate asked the Russian Chair if it would not be a good idea to end the meeting at 5pm, to give everybody the chance to 'go and watch the momentous occasion of the inauguration'. The Chair only said that he would think about it, since it brought him 'in a difficult position' (like, how?) and when we left at 4.45pm it did not look like anybody would be able to escape his steel hold :-). So did we do a lot today? Yes and no. The meeting succeeded in finishing section 2, 3 and 4 and even started on 5, but grinded to a halt pretty soon, squabbling over inconsequential language. Stategy? (EU) Obnoxiousness? (Iran). Who knows. Tomorrow is a new round and new chances, or so it seems. We're still not into the real contentious stuff. Latest is that the EU is still firmly behind their 'red lines' and it looks like they will stay on in the process until the second Intersessional in April, to show that 'they tried and put up a good fight'. Not exactly a 'Yes we can' attitude but better than nothing, since the working document as it is now is pretty unbalanced, biased and plainly unacceptable, especially on the issue of Religious defamation/Blasphemy.
Meeting of the chair of the intersessional and the NGOs
Some 15 NGOs were present to meet with Yuri Boychenko, the suave Russian chair of the intersessional. This was a question and answer session where unfortunately the questions were very relevant but the same could not be said about (most of) the answers.
NGO Briefing Wednesday January 21, 2009.
On Wednesday a Bureau info meeting for NGOs took place at 1 pm, chaired by PrepCom chair Najat Al-Hajjaji. Some thirty NGOs were present.
+ On the time table of the DRC, he said that governments would be working on this in the coming weeks.
Quotes of the day
Iran: ‘we should not get into deep and time-consuming arguments'
Pakistan: ‘We are not going into this intellectual debate, we need to deal with the language'.
A nauseating day
Some days at the UN are like chemotherapy. A lot of nasty chemicals are pumped into you and you get all nauseous. There is a difference though. Chemotherapy is designed to get rid of cancer cells, while the venom that was spewed out today by a number of countries, most importantly Syria and Iran, is only meant to harm and not to destroy tumors but to spread mental cancer.
This morning the delegates started with the section on Freedom of religion, incitement to religious intolerance, hatred, or violence , defamation of religion, freedom of expression.
A highly contentious section and it may come as no surprise that no consensus was reached on the paragraphs of this section, number 23 to 28. Basically, the OIC States and some of the African Group countries are (rightly) concerned about the increase of Islamophobia (which we prefer to call anti-Muslim discrimination or Muslim-hate since that is more apt) but their idea is to counter this by wanting to stifle any criticism on religion, its tenets or practices, by making ‘religious defamation' illegal. Moreover, they just don't want (their) religion to be criticized. Which goes against the Freedom of Speech and has nothing to do with human rights. Human Rights are for Humans and defamation of religion is not a Human Rights concept. This was stressed by the Netherlands, who was immediately attacked by Syria, saying that the stance of the Netherlands was strange since the Amsterdam court of appeals had just ruled that criminal prosecution of Dutch MP Wilders must be instigated by the prosecutor's office, because of the MP's ‘defamation of Islam'. The Dutch delegation retorted that Syria was in error; Wilders will be prosecuted because of incitement to hatred against individuals who are of the Muslim faith.
Mainly the EU had problems or reservations with most of the paragraphs in this section and a lively debate, at times with nasty undertones, developed.
In the end, it was all put into the icebox. That's what happens right now when consensus can't be reached. The discussion on a para is ‘put on ice' to be talked about again later. ‘Later' meaning the informal consultations, starting next week, and the next intersessional Working Group meeting in April, just before the last PrepCom and the DRC.
So the icebox got quite full today. The Czech Republic, who has the EU presidency, speaks on behalf of the EU and is doing an excellent job. Problem is though, when are they going to really demand a vote over the Para's they have decided are ‘red lines'? Putting it all on ice is just postponing the inevitable.
After Lunch we arrived at the small section ‘Holocaust', which has only one paragraph, number 29, on...Holocaust. It reads as follows.
‘Affirms that the Holocaust, which resulted in the murder of one third of the Jewish people, along with numerous members of other minorities, will forever be a warning to all people of the dangers of hatred, bigotry, racism and prejudice, recalls again that the Holocaust must never be forgotten.'
So, who could have a problem with that one? Well, the hate-mongers of course. Although the problems started with South Africa who wanted a more compact Para. Here we go, blow-by-blow, read it and weep:
Mr. Yuri Boychenko (Chair) : now we come to Paragraph 29...who wants the floor?
South Africa: We want to replace this paragraph by para 58 of the DDPA. That one is more compact and says it all: ‘The Holocaust must never be forgotten'.
Czech Republic/EU: The EU does not agree with the proposal of South Africa, Mr. Chair. The sub-section on Holocaust is already much slimmer than we like so we want to maintain it as is.
Syria: We support the proposal of South Africa. We have to be reflective of the DDPA. We don't want to go into a statistical discussion, you know it is unclear what percentage of Jews were killed in the Holocaust, some say three million, some say one, some say even less.
The Netherlands: We align ourselves with the Czech Republic/EU and furthermore we are saddened by the inability of certain groups to learn the lessons of history.
Argentina: We attach great importance to the lessons of the Holocaust and to the study and investigation of the history of the Holocaust as prevention against modern genocide and racism and discrimination. With respect to the Durban Declaration, we align ourselves with the Netherlands and the EU and we support Para 29 as it is.
Denmark: we align ourselves with The Netherlands and Argentine and we are appalled by this discussion on numbers and statistics. It serves no one to start denying the facts and circumstances of the Holocaust.
United Kingdom: We want Paragraph 29 to remain as it is in its entirety. We are disturbed by this debate.
Nigeria/African Group: this issue relating to Holocaust...we in Africa did not want this discussion...this is a highly emotional debate, but that is unavoidable since this is a very emotional subject...let us try to focus...
Italy: we align ourselves with the EU/Czech Republic. South Africa was correct in referring to Para 58 or the DDPA, but we also align ourselves with the Statement by Argentina.
Iran: We go along with South Africa wanting to use Para 58 of the DDPA. Yet at the same time we refuse to let our right to come back to this issue to be blocked. We have problems with this sub-section and this Para and we will probably come with a change of the sub-section title and a new paragraph.
Czech Republic/EU: We have language for an amended para 29. I will read it to you:
‘Recalls and urges states to implement UN General Assembly Resolutions 60/7 and 61/255, observes that remembrance of the Holocaust is critical to prevent further acts of genocide, condemns without reservation all denial of the Holocaust'
South Africa: we like to thank the EU for this proposal. We can accept this.
Indonesia: the EU proposal should now no longer be in section one but in five, since it is a proposal for concrete action...
Chair: it is worth thinking about, maybe moving a part of it...
Iran: with reference to Document WG.CPR.2 (the working document), page 1 bullet number 3 (‘Duplicate provisions were deleted') we say this is a duplication plus the EU proposal is a violation of the freedom of speech and the proposal does not belong in this section'
Germany: we align with the EU proposal for the new Para and we like to thank South Africa for accepting this proposal, the DRC is also about reviewing elements of empathy with the horrible act of the Holocaust. We commend all delegations to follow the South African example.
Czech Republic/EU: Splitting our new Para 2 up between section 1 and 5 is no problem, we are looking for a good balance, since the sub-section on Holocaust was slimmer than we expected - we have to reflect on this.
After this the discussion on Para 29 was closed - goes ‘on ice' to come back to later.
And now for a 5-minute dessert...
Chair: before the NGOs take the floor for their contributions, we have 5 minutes to work on the sub-section Middle East...
Czech Republic/EU: Point of order. A remark on how we want the outcome to look, we want no specific mention of countries, we all agreed on that, so we should refrain from any country situation, in the light of this explanation, Para 30 and further deal with one single situation, those paras are not appropriate at all and should be deleted.
Saudi Arabia: On the contrary, those are very important paras on the massacre of Palestinians, just a few weeks ago, we stress the importance of all this happening in terms of massacres.
Pakistan: We are not here to negotiate the DDPA, we cannot change what was implemented or not - well, we were just discussing also something very specific, para 29!
Chair: we need to stop here and continue this discussion tomorrow...I want to give the floor to the NGOs now...
Palestinian Authority: Mr. Chair, since you opened the door on Para 30, I have to state that we will do our utmost to prevent any misuse or misinterpretation of these paragraphs, we cannot allow our issue to be removed or threatened, we want to welcome all positive and important contributions and we're looking forward to work with all regional groups. We will come wih language soon.
After this, the Chair gave the floor to the NGOs, after which he closed the meeting.
Some 25 NGOs were present today. A staggering 12 made contributions - most interesting ones by MRAP (amongst other things reminding the member states that there was little to none in the working document on discrimination and persecution of Roma and Sinti, and calling for inclusion of Roma and Sinti in the Para on the Holocaust), a Joint Statement by the World Jewish Congress (WJC), the European Jewish Congress (EJC), Jewish Human Rights Coalition - UK and CBJO, a contribution by the Jacob Blaustein institute for the Advancement of Human Rights, one by Human Rights Watch, one by MAPP and one by Civicus.
BITS AND BYTES
In the morning, all African countries took their signs and went to sit together at one side of the room. The Chair did not seem to want to ask them to go back to their assigned places. The African countries stayed together all day...
Quotes of the day
Chair: "Can we at least adopt one paragraph this morning?"
Germany: "A country won't criticize itself, we are not masochists, this is no diplomatic language"
Chair: "Diplomacy is like making sausages, you don't want to know how it's done."
NOTES FROM THE PLENARY
The session begins at 10h50, with the Chair coming back to the journalist incident of the day before, to announce that accredited journalists (which they were) are allowed to work and film during open public sessions (which was the case) and conclude that they could resume their work. A bit late as the crew had gone home the day before. Pakistan, on behalf of the OIC, insists that it never was their intention to censor the journalists, it was all a big misunderstanding. The EU and France express their regrets about the incident. Nigeria on behalf of the African group proposes a full public broadcast of the procedures, "so as to prevent revisionism on the issue". The Chair concludes the subject by stressing that the incident of yesterday was not an attempt to curb the freedom of the press and that he would talk to representatives of the press to explain the whole thing.
The session goes on and the delegates resume their work with:
Section 1, Sub-section Middle East, Paragraphs 30 to 34
This is one of the dreaded controversial sub-sections. In this one, Israel, without ever being named, is singled out as being the only nation practicing a policy of "racial discrimination".
Here a clear split between the delegations is visible: on the one hand the Czech Republic on behalf of the EU, the UK, France, the Netherlands, Poland an Germany oppose the paragraphs 30 to 34 and want them suppressed from sections 1 and 5 as they single out one particular country as sole perpetrator of racism, they introduce a confusion about the terms and issues (appartheid, a Palestinian race) and highjack this whole procedure on a single issue.
On the other hand, Pakistan on behalf of the OIC, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Indonesia, Lybia, South Africa, Jordan, Cuba, China, Egypt, Algeria, Morocco and Nigeria support the inclusion of the articles with arguments varying from "it is mentionned in the DDPA, so it can't just be ignored (Nigeria)" to "but paragraph 29 of Section 1 (the Holocaust paragraph) also speaks of one single people, while these paragraphs speak of more (Sudan and Iran)". Some also want to modify the text by, for example, mentioning "the Syrian nationals living in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights" or the name of Israel and the year 1967, or that the occupation "constitutes a serious violation of international human rights and humanitarian law, a crime against humanity and a contemporary form of appartheid (Iran)" or "the segregation wall (Syria)" or the "recent aggression against Gaza (Cuba)".
The Chair concludes this chapter by postponing the discussion about it, as no consensus can be reached on the issue.
Sub-section B, Paragraph 35 about the victims of racism:
The discussion on this paragraph goes mainly about editorial changes: the same treatment or appropriate treatment, mention affirmative action or not, etc. It is concluded without taking any decisions on it.
The Chair moves on to the next cluster (people of African descent) paragaphs 36 and 37.
After questions by the EU on paragraph 36 (recent attempts of intellectual and scientific legitimization of racism) and some editorial corrections (pseudo intellectual and scientific) paragraph 37 is adopted (Chair: can we at least adopt one paragraph this morning?).
Before the lunch break, India, with the support of Singapoor, the Philippines and South Africa, propose to add a paragraph on people of Asian descent.
The last 15 minutes are for the NGO's which didn't have the time to speak yesterday.
The afternoon session begins 30 minutes late with the end of the discussion on paragraphs 36 and 37, with Brazil supporting the Indian proposal and the EU reserving its right to intervene later. The Chair postpones the decision on this paragraph.
The rest of the session goes on in quite a soporific way, with endless discussions about formulation and wording (not "stresses" but "also stresses") and disagreements on the simplest of terms: "in reference to human rights", and not "applies to human rights"... They have reached paragraph 43 without taking a decision on it. The only highlights of the afternoon are the quick adoption of paragraph 42, and the positive votes on paragraphs 23 and 27 at the end of the day. As there still is some disagreement on paragraph 38, it is also postponed.
To conclude with a quote from the Chair, there are still "many things to resolve", the rest of section 1 and the whole of section 5, not to mention the "controversial paragraphs". They have two weeks in April to round it up, before the Review Conference itself begins. We will be there, faithfully reporting the whole thing as usual.
Until then, it's a goodbye from the ICARE reporting team in Geneva.
UPDATE: The latest Negotiation Document -the result of the Intersessional Working Group Meeting- arrived: Revised version of CRP.2 on 23-1-2009 at 6 pm.