NEWS - Archive December 2006

End of the year special news edition 2006


By Marina Uspenskaya, Kiev, Ukraine

Preface (short history of skinheads in Ukraine)
First groups of skinheads appeared in Ukraine on 1989 (in accordance with police reports). The specialty of Ukrainian skinheads is that they were simply copied from western and Russian examples. They did not arise in Ukraine historically. We have Nazi skins, S.H.A.R.P – skinheads against racial prejudice and R.A.S.H. – red and anarchist skinheads. S.H.A.R.P and R.A.S.H take part in actions against Nazi. We have 50 members of S.H.A.R.P and R.A.S.H Now they are active in such big Ukrainian cities as Kyiv, Kharkiv, Odessa, some activity of skins is taking place in Lviv (this happened very seldom). Little number of skins is active on the Eastern Ukraine, in the Crimea act Russian chauvinists. We have at least 400 skins in Kyiv and at least 1500 skins in Ukraine (information of antifa)

What they do.
They have groups of young members that gather on the streets and organize attacks on people that are considered to be enemies of white race. They attack people who look like Caucuses dwellers, black people, Chinese people, Jewish etc, they also attack representatives of other subcultures, for example, punks, rappers, hippies, they don’t like communists, anarchists, socialists. They have place in bedroom communities of cities, where groups of 10-15 skins go to find a new victim and beat or even kill. First murder by Skins in Ukraine was committed in 1989. They fought with hippies and killed one of them. It was in Kyiv. The last murder was committed about month ago when professor of medicine from Nigeria was killed near Kiev metro station Osokorki. He had been living in Ukraine for 25 years. They start such ‘patrolling’ at 9 p.m. and finish at 1 a.m. They also draw swastikas and other Nazi-symbols in different places.

Skinheads have favorite music RAC – Rock Against Communism, NSBM – National Socialistic Black Metal, Hate core,). Other type of Nazi-activity is organizing of music festivals of ultra-right groups. In Ukraine the Perun-fest takes place in Kharkiv almost every year. Groups from Poland, Germany, Belarus, Baltic States, and Ukraine etc. come. Usually about 2-3 thousand of people are present at this festival. The most famous Ukrainian Nazi groups are Sokyra Peruna, Whites Load, Nachtigal, and White Squall. They promote their own activity in Internet. They try to participate in different events to prove that Nazism is part of Ukrainian history. For example, Nazis joined UPA parade on the 15-th of September this year. UPA – Ukrainian army that fight against soviet army, first they where a member of SS Galichina (some members), but then they began to fight also against Hitler’s army. They visit different events connected with fight against racism, anti-Semitism, anarchism etc and try to spoil them. They are present in football matches. They organize fights between different football team supporters.

About organizations of Ukrainian Nazis
They have not one unique organization that united all Ukrainian skins. Mostly they have groups that gather Nazis from separate cities, even separate districts of cities. Recently appeared ultra right political party UNDP – UNLP – “national labor party”, this party declared that they have a task to join together all ultra-right groups from Ukraine. They have at least 70 active fighters. We also have two branches of skins – one is oriented on Slavic unity, another declare that they are patriots of Ukraine and try to connect own activity to activity of UPA, the Ukrainian army that first was a part of SS in Ukraine. They are connected with World Nazi organization Blood and Honor and with other international skin organizations. On the official site of Russian skins that declare Slavic unity you can find news about Ukrainian skins activity. It shows that Ukrainian and Russian skins have collaboration. We also have university MAUP that is famous for its ultra-right activity. Skins take part in many events organized by this university. In addition, in Kyiv we have a group that gathers football hooligans.

How they look
Ukrainian skins copied the classical image of skins. They put on boots Grinders, Busta Grip, sometimes Dr. Martens, black droved jeans Levis, checked shirts, braces, ’bomber coats’. They shave heads; have a lot of tattoos with Nazi symbols.

Portraits of Ukrainian skins
There are such people connected with Nazi organizations: Ideological middle-aged leader (like Lenin for communists), the intellectual elite that have shown themselves in previous affairs (they are usually about 25-27 years old) and last but the largest group – street fighters. Street fighters are usually 13-18 years old, they belong to low social class, they are in general from poor families. Mostly they are pupils of schools or professional schools, unemployed, sometimes they are students of university. The usually belong to very poor families, and they live in bedroom communities of cities. Mostly they are male, but we also have some female skins. Intellectual elite usually consists of students of famous universities – Taras Shevchenko University, Kyiv Mogila academy, University named after Dragomanov, and of course MAUP. They are usually from middleclass, from high middle class or from rich families.

How they involve people, what is attractive for youth in this organization?
Usually skinheads involve people by friends. They try to involve fans of different football teams to the organization. Nazis promote the idea that real football supporter must be a racist. They promise people from poor families football tickets if they will take part in football fight. Sometimes people can find them intentionally. Lesha, former skin told how he became involved in the skinhead organization.
-I was seriously interested in the history of the Second World War, symbols, connected with national-socialist party in Germany before the war. I was looking for meeting with them. I wanted to explore them, to be involved in their organization. I knew how they look like. I knew places where different subcultures came together. I went to one such place. My attention was drawn by a man who said something about Nazism. I told him that I disagree. I argued my point of view. He accepted my opinion and told me that his organization has regular meetings and invited me to the next one. I came once, and then I came second time. Step by step I became a member of the one of skins organization. I have to add that our schools have no lessons about the Holocaust; we have little time on the lessons of history to tell about the Second World War history. It causes that sometimes children have only one possibility to get information about the war. This is information delivered by Nazis. We have books that promote Nazi point of view in free sale. You can see them on Petrivka – the largest book market place, we also have a lot of bookstalls of MAUP.

The words of Antifa: ‘The propaganda of Nazi is very impressive for uneducated people, for people who have little information about the Second World War’. They have some features that attract youth. First of all they attract people with low self-estime. If a boy from poor family was considered as a stupid at school, he had no authority in his class. Now he belongs to such powerful organization. If someone will humiliate him new friends can protect him. He has a lot of new knowledge about the Second World War, racism. Now he considers himself very intelligent and educated. He knows much more that his classmates. Skinheads can give you some skills. Lesha, for example, was taught to work with explosives. They give some people money if these people need money. They give possibility to travel if you want to travel.

How to stop activity in Nazi organization
Possibility to leave the skin’s organization depends on level of involvement into the organization’s affairs. If you are just a beginner it is easy to leave the organization. If you were involved in many affairs you will be punished for leaving. They can seriously beat you (it means that you will be in a hospital for a few weeks); they can destroy your property.

About financial support of skinhead organizations
It is an open question who helps our skins with money. Antifa suspects that some people of Ukrainian Diaspora help them. They can be supported by money from MAUP, from ultra right political parties – Trizub, UNLP (Ukrainian National Democratic Party – Ukrainian National Labour Party). They gather some money from selling music CDs, from concert tickets. But it is a little money and they have sufficient resources to pay bribes if police arrested someone, they can pay a fine for someone.

Reaction of Ukrainian state on skinhead’s organizations
Official Ukrainian authority doesn’t recognize that Nazi organizations exist in Ukraine. Another problem is the lack of punishement for hate crimes committed by Ukrainian skins. For example a student of yeshiva was beaten by a group of skins in 2005. Then the police arrested them. They told that they beat him because he was a Jewish. They told how they beat him (a man will be captivated after this attack for the rest of his live). They had swastika on arms. Despite the facts mentioned above they were recognized as “hooligans”. No case was open on racial hatred...



By Rafal Pankowski, Warsaw

2006 was a sad year for anti-racists, anti-fascists and those who work against discrimination in Poland. Instead of developing gradually into a full-fledged democratic society respecting diversity and human rights as many expected, Poland has actually turned backwards since joining the European Union in 2004. “National and traditional values” are in fashion among mainstream politicians today, not human rights. The current prime minister even declared in an interview that he considers civil society itself “a dangerous idea”.
This year brought into existence a new government coalition that besides the conservative-populist Law and Justice party includes two radical nationalist parties. One of them (‘Self-Defence’) has among its members some nazi-skinheads turned politicians, such as Mateusz Piskorski, its foreign policy spokesman. The other (League of Polish Families) has a tradition that goes back directly to the antisemitic brawls of the 1920s and the 1930s. It is the League of Polish Families leader Roman Giertych who was put in charge of the Ministry of Education. A mass protest movement of teachers and students has not succeeded in forcing his dismissal. Neither has the pressure from the media constantly exposing numerous nazi antics of the League skinhead activists.

To add insult to injury, the government paid for and built a huge monument to Roman Dmowski, unveiled in November 2006 despite another wave of antifascist protest. Located in the centre of Warsaw, the monument honours the man known as the father of 20th century political antisemitism in Poland. It was Roman Dmowski who wrote, for example: “The Polish Commonwealth pursued a fatal policy in the course of a couple of centuries prior to the partitions, a policy which led to such Judaization of the country that it had more of them than all the rest of the world and won for Poland some kind of title as the European fatherland of Jews. So it seemed in the eyes of Jews. They regarded it as a new Palestine, and in it they destined Poles for a future role more or less similar to that which in biblical times the non-Israelite majority of the population of Canaan had. ... The achievement of this aim was easiest by bringing about the collapse of the Polish state and the passage of Polish territory to foreign rule, which could avail itself of Jewish assistance for domination in Poland. So far our historiography has not yet explained the role of Jews in the disintegration of the political life of the Commonwealth and its partitioning. But what we already know is that in the period of captivity the power of Jews in Poland rose quickly and their political behaviour was often more than tellingly contrary to Polish aims. ... The struggle against the obstacles placed in the way of the Polish question by the Jews became henceforth, the most diffucult task of Polish politics”. This is not an isolated quote – Dmowski in fact wrote hundreds of such pages and antisemitism was a core feature of his political credo.
President Lech Kaczynski and his twin brother Jaroslaw like to claim the heritage of Jozef Pilsudski, another early 20th century politician credited with the rebirth of the Polish state. Pilsudski was an authoritarian leader who orchestrated a military coup d’etat but he never uttered an antisemitic phrase. In fact he even banned Dmowski’s quasi-fascist organization, the Greater Poland Camp in 1933. The erection of the Dmowski monument is a pathetic testimony to the deep crisis of the Polish political leadership today.



Youth League for Intercultural Cooperation (YLIC) is the first domestic NGO focused primarily on celebrating cultural diversity and promoting intercultural dialogue and collaboration in Azerbaijan. It was established in August 2006 inspired by the European Campaign for Diversity, Human Rights and Participation. YLIC’s activity is devoted for monitoring of hate motivated actions, education of national and international principles and laws on equal rights, respect of diversity, promotion of multiculturalism, and elimination of all forms of discrimination in a result.

In August-October 2006, YLIC conducted a three-month Media Tolerance Monitoring program to observe the coverage of diversity and tolerance issues in Azerbaijani media. In partnership with Association of Football Federations of Azerbaijan, YLIC prepared and disseminated 3500 flyers: “Red Card for Racism in Azerbaijan” in three matches of the first football league in the frame of FARE Action Week (October 2006).

In October 2007, YLIC is hosting UNITED’s conference “Break our limits” through Intercultural Youth Action to be held in Baku, Azerbaijan. YLIC will organize seminar “Media Tolerance in GUAM countries” for participants from Georgia, Azerbaijan, Ukraine and Moldova as well. Integration of Roma youth into local communities is also in the area of our interest.



By Tatiana Zaitseva on behalf of BLL

I was registered by the Belarusian Lambda League (BLL) for the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA) conference in Sofia recently. I was selected by the organizational committee as a participant (the only person among Belarusian applicants), awarded a scholarship and sent an official invitation from the hosting organization, BGO GEMINI. But the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bulgaria rejected TWICE my visa application without any official explanation of the reasons, although GEMINI provided them with all necessary documents and guarantees. Informally, a source from the Ministry let slip that probably "the Bulgarian state authorities would not like to interfere with the national policy towards LGBT issues of Belarus". But this fact is a clear contravention of commitments made by Bulgaria as part of the process of entering the EU. And especially in such situation Belarusian LGBT community is exposed to double humiliation: from the side of our own state and... from the European side as well.

So the conditions for our activities become unfortunately steadily less favorable, both on the national and on the international level, that's especially disappointing... And bearing in mind the recent unprecedented (faked-up by Belarusian authorities) scandal on homophobic grounds and the criminal affair against a Latvian diplomat in Belarus (he was charged with pornography diffusion), we are afraid that there is even less chance to get a Latvian visa on the invitation to attend an LGBT conference. Because the Belarusian-Latvian July conflict ended with restarting "bilateral relations" after the Belarusian side just brought no apologies for all this savagery, only informed Latvian officials that the criminal case had been stopped. And moreover, as our experience shows, the inviting organization can't guarantee any help in such situation. Till the last moment we expected that ILGA is able to sort out this Bulgarian visa rejection issue, but their letter of protest to Bulgarian Embassy in Belarus and to Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign affairs still hasn't received any reaction.



The aims of ‘One Voice’ group projects, is to work with the Gypsy and Traveller communities and service providers, in order advance the support to overcoming the hardship and distress associated with violence. This is fulfilling a real need in such marginalized communities where women, young people and children face considerable barriers to health and well being, and to equality of opportunity. The work is of necessity simultaneously concerned with building capacity of community members and to empower them in the process to advancing their education.
We are confident that all the core members of our group have both the skills and experience to carry out the Project. Trust is very hard to gain from a community who are so marginalized and are used to facing discrimination and hostility. Two volunteers who work as project co-ordinators and advisors are both Learning Champions and they already have the confidence and respect of community members. We have undertaken specific training around domestic violence and in addition are using appropriate resources for continuing training with other group members. We have accessed resources and relevant research around the issues of violence and also related issues of racism, identity, social and emotional development of children and young people. We are also in contact with a well-established and respected organisation for Travellers.
A major step is being together women and young people from different Gypsy and Traveller communities in a positive co-operative way to work together for the overall aim of reducing violence. Also the fact we are supporting each other and this is a community-based group who work with the Gypsy and Traveller communities not At or To them. We have worked to build strong links with service providers such as pre-school learning, education, and councils etc to allow partnership working to be established. We are not political and do not work for the election of any specific political candidates, we hope our work will influence legislation and public polices through looking at our good practice etc.
Out work for 2006 has consisted of everything to site fun days for children to drama work and discussions by women and young people, media work and presentations by all of group, story telling by the over 65's to name but a few of our activities. Also undertaken research and development work. In 2007 we will be continuing out work and progressing and expanding the group, we are also hoping to secure more funding to allow more projects to be undertaken.  



During 2007, English International will continue focusing on opinion building and education of youth in the anti-discrimination practices in other countries. On the anniversary of Martin Luther King's birthday, January 15, we are supporting an educational event in Malmö that is mainly sponsored by the Martin Luther King Committee of Malmö. The even will show a film, and have speakers address the importance of Martin Luther King's work in the United States, his Nobel Peace Prize and the results of his work so far in that country. The event will take place at IMER, a division of Malmö College, at 6pm. More details will be on our website on January 1:  ON March 8, we will join up with others to honor International Women's Day; and on March 21 we shall work with other organisations in Malmö and Lund to honour the International Day Against Racism.




Established racism in the stadiums
In 2003, fans at a Romanian stadium displayed a huge banner reading “Die Gypsy” during a football match. There was no reaction whatsoever from authorities or the Romanian mass media. Banners with pictures, or referring to the former Romanian fascist leader Antonescu, responsible for the death of hundreds of thousands of Jews and tens of thousands of Roma, were regularly displayed in the stadiums and were seen idiotically and ironically as lessons of history by leading personalities in the Romanian politics and football.

In 2005, speaking up against racist incidents in the stadiums made me a “traitor” against my country in the opinion of high level football officials. I received hundreds of hate mails and threats. Mr Csaba Asztalos, President of the National Council against Discrimination, who also dared to speak up and act against anti-Gypsyism in the stadiums was also targeted. Despite what seemed obvious, some of the leading football officials seemed unable to see the rampant racism and violence in the Romanian stadiums.

On March 19, 2006, Steaua Bucharest played against FC National in the national football league in Romania. Mr Razvan Lucescu, the coach of Rapid Bucharest, was forced to leave the stadium under protection after 80 minutes of racist abuse. Throughout the game, Steaua’s gallery chanted racist slogans directed at him: “get out you stinky crow,” “die gypsy,” and “we hate the gypsies.” Fans displayed a banner with “Razvan son of a Gypsy”. During the same game, the captain of Steaua Bucharest, Mirel Radoi, racially abused the Nigerian player of FC National, Agunbiande Abioudun, whom he repeatedly called “crow” and “gipsy.”

One year ago, the European Commission included the following paragraph in its country reports for Romania and Bulgaria:             “The Romanian/Bulgarian authorities should demonstrate, at all levels, that the country applies a zero-tolerance policy on racism against Roma or against any other minority or group and that this policy is effectively implemented.” Ironically, on the same day, Romanian football fans displayed a banner calling for “zero-tolerance, in this case as a radical measure against Romanian Roma. In mid-2006, most of the players and the coach of Steaua Bucharest were recorded at the stadium and broadcast on Romanian TV yelling: ”We have always hated Gypsies, we have always peed on them.”

Challenging Racism in the Stadiums
From these examples to what happened last week in Romania promised to be a long and difficult road. But I was to be proven wrong. Last week, at the end of October 2006, the Steaua Bucharest team opened their game wearing T-shirts and carrying a banner calling for an end to racism in the stadiums. In Dinamo’s stadium, which in the past hosted some of the worst displays of racism, including the display of Nazi-related banners, the team also carried the banner and wore the T-shirts reading “Racism breaks the game”. This “miracle” was the result of a anti-racism campaign carried out through cooperation between UEFA, the Romanian Football Federation, the European Commission Delegation in Romania, the National Council against Discrimination, a good part of the Romanian mass media, the OSI, and many Romanian and Roma civil organisations in Romania. The footballers themselves clearly backed the campaign. The campaign reached an estimated 3 million people. In order for such campaigns to reach maximum effectiveness, the footballers need the backing of politicians, public personalities, national governments and high level bureaucrats of intergovernmental organisations. Unfortunately, up to this point this has simply not been the case. In particular, the European Commission has failed to support initiatives or campaigns which promise to realise the words of their recommendations.

European Backing?
European Commission reports contain great rhetoric, but they are largely empty when it comes to solutions. Moreover, few Europeans actually read any of the technical reports of the European Commission, including those focused on anti-discrimination. The same situation holds with the racism-related documents of the national governments, the OSCE, the Council of Europe and the UN. The awareness-building campaigns of the European Union on anti-discrimination are notoriously expensive and inefficient. These institutions seem mired in the inept attitude of many of their leaders which confuses diplomacy with cowardice when it comes to member states, and produces only tough talk which is quickly dismissed as double standards and patronizing when it comes to candidate countries or rogue states in Asia or Africa. Commission gatherings on anti-discrimination issues are attended mostly by third grade and junior diplomats and representatives of the governments. They receive little attention from mass media and, accordingly, make more or less no impact on public opinion.

In Romania, we have seen an alternate example. The former head of the European Commission Delegation, Mr Jonathan Scheele, became one of the most known and quoted officials in Romania, never missing a chance to speak up against corruption or racism. Few doubt the results of his stand: in the last few years Romania has made significant progress in addressing both corruption and racism. Since then, the European Commission has “rewarded” Mr Scheele by offering him the post of a third rank bureaucrat in Brussels dealing with transportation issues. Maybe the European Commission discovered the same problems faced many years ago by Afro-Americans on busses in Brussels? Surely, a major change in the attitudes of Europeans and the support of influential national institutions could be achieved through a long-term European campaign against racism in partnership with European mass media and involving respected public personalities, starting with the Presidents of European Commission and Parliament. Indeed, that would require flexibility, courage and passion from the high level bureaucrats in Brussels and elsewhere, which may be incompatible with the job description.

What happened between October 27 and 29, 2006, in Romania was possible because of the cooperative involvement of UEFA, the Romanian Football Federation, the European Commission Delegation in Romania, the National Council against Discrimination, a good part of the Romanian mass media, the OSI, and many Romanian and Roma civil organisations in Romania. It will be followed by other campaigns involving business, Bucharest-based diplomacies, and, we hope, the Romanian presidency and government. There is little chance that the famous intergovernmental institutions will listen; they are more used to preaching. But this may be a good time turn up the volume, as alienation between European societies and the bureaucratic institutions at the front is increasing.
ERGO Network



Leading German social scientist Wilhelm Heitmeyer spoke to Toma Tasovac of DW-WORLD.DE about German patriotism, soccer and the dangers posed by national identity campaigns. Wilhelm Heitmeyer is a professor of social science at the University of Bielefeld and chair of the Institute for Interdisciplinary Research on Conflict and Violence. He is an expert on right-wing extremism, xenophobia, ethnic and cultural conflicts. For the past five years, he has been conducting an empirical study of hostile attitudes in the German population.

Toma Tasovac: What are the "weak minorities" in Germany that are being excluded by the society?
Wilhelm Heitmeyer: We operate with the term "group-focused enmity syndrome," which means that people are devalued, discriminated against and sometimes even attacked not because of their individual conduct, but because of their belonging to a group. And it's not only people of foreign origin -- for example, immigrants, Moslems, or in a somewhat different way, Jews -- who are devalued, but also homosexuals, the homeless and the disabled.

What could Germany do to eliminate group-focused antagonisms?
Well, that's a hard question, but, first of all, we can start by saying that the common root of all types of group-focused hostility is inequality. Which is why we must take action against all forms of inequality in public debates or everyday discourse. Secondly, we have established that those who are hostile, discriminatory, etcetera, have a specific relationship to their own social situation. Processes of disintegration -- whether they're professional, political or social -- are accompanied by a sense of disorientation in the affected population. These two elements -- disintegration and disorientation -- foster the devaluation of weak groups, which is always an attempt at ascribing positive values to one's own positions.

You have been critical of Germany's national identity campaigns such as "Du bist Deutschland" (You are Germany) and the ongoing debate about Germany's "leading culture." Why?
Indeed, I find them to be exceptionally problematic. It's certainly worth exploring the theory which suggests that such identity campaigns, calls to patriotism and national pride or debates about what constitutes a "leading culture" are aimed at providing surrogate solutions to the problems of a disintegrating society. Such campaigns are meant to become a kind of binding material that keeps the society together. But each of these campaigns creates borders by marking what is one's own and what is foreign. This, in turn, means that all these identities have their "opposites," which various mobilization experts can then make to seem hostile.

Were you, personally, not at all proud during the World Cup? Germany had probably never before experienced such a fun and friendly street carnival.
You have to differentiate these things -- the World Cup was about soccer and the national team's joy of playing soccer. That has nothing to do with pride. Or you would have to define what you're proud of. Personally, I simply enjoyed the sport -- that a cross was made, a pass received and goals scored -- that was it, but it was nice.

The media were in love with the World Cup, not only because of the soccer but also because -- as it was said at the time -- Germans "found the way back to their national flag." Are the media responsible for a kind of surge in national pride that overcame the country this summer?
I do believe that the media fell for the surge of emotions that was apparent at the time. Media are always amplifiers of certain developments and in that sense it would have been better if they had approached certain events with more subtlety and from a critical distance. But I can't say if the media were causal in these events, because I don't have the empirical data to support that.

Does the emphasis on German national identity have to go hand in hand with the exclusion of minorities? Is there no such thing as healthy patriotism?
Well, it's extremely important to note that our analyses over time have clearly shown that national pride generates xenophobia. This is different from patriotism, although, quite frankly, I don't like the term "healthy patriotism." Patriotism, according to our analysis, does not cause damage if one defines it as being proud of German democracy, for example, or the society's achievements in the development of social security. But if the national pride is all about German history or the cliché "I'm proud of being a German," then one has to be extremely careful. 

Is patriotism the same everywhere or should we really be talking about patriotisms? Are there differences between, say, US American and German national pride?
Indeed, both the place of origin and historical context of patritoism make a difference. As far as the situation in the US is concerned, we know of some very problematic developments there, especially in terms of American provincialism and a religiously tinted patriotism. I think that these kinds of patriotism are not receptive to rational enlightenment and, in that sense, appear to be extremely dangerous.
Deutsche Welle



Five months after its creation, the United Nations' human rights watchdog is deadlocked by political splits that are stonewalling efforts to tackle abuses. Switzerland's Walter Kälin, who drew up the blueprint for the Human Rights Council, tells swissinfo where it is going wrong and what needs to be done. Hailed as a new dawn for the rights of the oppressed when it started work in June this year, the successor to the widely discredited Human Rights Commission has so far failed to live up to its billing. Divisions between developed and developing countries on the 47-strong body have been skilfully exploited by Muslim and Arab countries, leading to strong condemnation of Israel on several occasions but weak action on other pressing issues such as the crisis in Sudan's Darfur region. On Thursday the council finally voted to hold a special session on Darfur, a day after UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan criticised the body for failing to do so. Kälin, a professor of constitutional and international public law at Bern University, is Annan's representative on the human rights of internally displaced people.
swissinfo-interview: Adam Beaumont

swissinfo: It appears the council is no better or even worse than the old commission. Is this a fair assessment?
Walter Kälin: No. I have seen improvements in the way the council deals with reports presented by special rapporteurs. In most cases there has been serious discussion and many states took a very constructive approach – and that's a real improvement on what I experienced in the commission. Second, the special sessions have shown that it is possible to react quickly to situations. I wouldn't blame Muslim states for raising issues related to Israel because human rights problems there have been real. The problem is the council is working along the same regional lines as the commission. One of the hopes was that cross-regional coalitions of states with common interests would dominate rather than regional blocks.

swissinfo: Does the council risk becoming irrelevant as long as the US remains outside and it is dominated by Muslim countries?
W.K.: It is not dominated by Muslim countries in terms of numbers. They make up about one third. If you combine the western European group with eastern Europe and the Latin Americans with similar interests, then this group is equally strong. It's really down to defining positions and advancing them forcefully. If you look at some of the states from the South, they are great at doing this. They are very clever at defining positions well in advance, in creating unity among themselves and in finding allies from other regions. The western group is not doing that.

swissinfo: It has been suggested that because western diplomats tend to rotate every three years they are no match for their more experienced Arab and Muslim counterparts. Is this also a factor?
W.K.: I think this is a relevant aspect. The Human Rights Council is very demanding on diplomats. It meets almost continuously because in between sessions there are informal and formal working groups and special sessions, and this means you need to have savvy diplomats who know the system and the subject matter.

swissinfo: Right now the council is clearly not functioning properly. Do you believe it can do so in the future?
W.K.: The start has been rather bad, that's very clear. But what we are experiencing now is a reflection of the present state of the world in general, with international relations in disarray. This is having an impact on all international bodies. Having said that, the council will only be able to assert its authority and fulfil expectations if it manages to define its own working procedures rather quickly. I do expect that once these are in place things will, to a certain extent, calm down. What I fear is that the present political atmosphere in the council will have a negative impact on decisions regarding the mandates of special rapporteurs and what the universal periodic review will look like. If the new framework for these important mechanisms turns out to be a weak one, then we have a very serious problem.

The 47 members by region:
Africa (13 seats): Algeria, Cameroon, Djibouti, Gabon, Ghana, Mali, Mauritius, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Tunisia and Zambia.
Asia (13 seats): Bangladesh, Bahrain, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Jordan, Malaysia, Pakistan, Philippines, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and Sri Lanka.
Eastern Europe (6 seats): Azerbaijan, Czech Republic, Poland, Romania, Russia and Ukraine.
Latin America and the Caribbean (8 seats): Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Peru and Uruguay.
Western Europe and other states (7 seats): Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland and Britain.

The Human Rights Council, which is based in Geneva, will eventually carry out periodic reviews of the human rights situation in member countries. Much of its first year is expected to be spent on defining its working procedures, including mandates for UN special rapporteurs. The council meets at least three times a year for a minimum of ten weeks and can convene emergency sessions to respond to crises. So far there have been three special sessions – all on Israel. The council's third session, which opened on November 29, is due to wrap up on December 8. Switzerland was elected to the council with a three-year mandate on May 9.



By Gerard Baker

As you enjoy your non-denominational pageants, trim your holiday trees and yell season’s greetings at each other, the defiantly secular among you could be forgiven for feeling a little smug about celebrating Winterval after all that has happened in 2006. As years go it has hardly been a great commercial for the idea that religion is balm for the soul. Depressingly it has rather reinforced the impression, developed over the centuries, that religious belief only deepens and strengthens Man’s propensity for hatred and self-destruction.

All year in Iraq, Sunni and Shia Muslims have been busy replaying the message that Christians have so effectively articulated through the ages ­ that intrareligious intolerance can be more bloody and murderous even than that between the followers of the great Abrahamic faiths. Rising Shia power across the Middle East, led by a resurgent Tehran, is causing friction and alarm among Sunni-dominant regimes in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and elsewhere. A millennium-old dispute about caliphs and imams can resonate as violently as the theological disputations about the validity of Martin Luther’s religious critiques 500 years ago.

Not that the traditional interfaith hatreds have been quiet this year. On the contrary. In Israel, Lebanon and Gaza, a political conflict that has religious differences at its core raged for much of the year. Within Lebanon, yet another civil war edged threateningly closer between a bewildering array of sects and ethnic groups that all seem to have religious affiliation as their defining point of difference. Across Africa, religious-ethnic warfare consumes swaths of the continent. The outrage of Darfur, with its roots in a Sudanese war between Muslims and Christians, continues to mock the conscience of the world. Only this week, the embers of religious conflict in Somalia have burst into flames as extremist Muslim militias try to drive out the moderate Government. Across the border predominantly Christian Ethiopia appeared to be girding itself for outright war against its Muslim neighbour.

Before we congratulate ourselves that, in the developed world, we have left all this medievalist nonsense behind, we should remember that our own recent history continues to condition our present. In Europe ugly anti-Semitic sentiment seemed to be drifting from the lunatic fringes towards the mainstream of public discourse. Anti-Muslim attitudes and behaviour are on the rise too, stoked by a combination of crass apologetics for terrorism on one side and thuggish racism on the other. And the Pope looked for a while as though he might get the cartoon treatment after his mild disquisition on the philosophical differences between Islam and Christianity. To the pathos of divisive religious politics around the world we can add the bathos of popular culture. Mel Gibson got caught ranting anti-Semitic bile at a Californian police officer. Judith Regan, controversial publishing maven, left her job at HarperCollins after allegedly making some objectionable observations about Jews. In the cinematic hit of the year, Borat, aka Sasha Baron Cohen, lampooned religious intolerance in the backwoods of Central Asia and the Deep South. Critiques of the movie dissolved into a fierce debate about who had the right to be more offended by it ­ evangelical American Christians or Muslim Kazakhs.

Even the most memorable sporting event of the year, the World Cup final, somehow seemed to provide an iconic stage for interfaith misunderstanding ­ when the Roman Marco Matterazzi clashed with the Algerian-Frenchman Zinédine Zidane over some uncivilised remarks tied apparently to the latter’s supposed religious background. It’s all enough to make the disinterested observer inclined to endorse the age-old view, expressed again this year with renewed ferocity by Richard Dawkins, that religious belief is not only the irrational product of simple minds but positively life-endangering. So what do those of us who still believe in the saving mystery of Christmas have to say for ourselves? How do we respond to the charge that we’re responsible, in our own sectarian way, for all this misery and suffering? The first, obvious point that needs restating is that you don’t need to be religious to have a dangerous inclination to want to bend others to your own views. Professor Dawkins provided a timely reminder that belligerent intolerance of the beliefs of others is by no means the sole preserve of the faithful. This is not the place for a discussion about jihad, but it is fair to say that human beings will claim divine sanction for their violence when at root their motives are more often distinctly to do with the kingdoms of this world than the one that may await in the next.

The two great global conflicts of the 20th century were not truly religious at all, despite some of the claims made for them. It was twisted ethnic, rather than religious, ideology that principally animated the Nazis. And it is worth noting that the narrowly avoided conflict which would have trumped even these tragedies ­ a nuclear war with the Soviet Union ­ would have been launched and prosecuted in the name of militant atheism. And yet, as Christmas comes again to a world in religious strife, Christians cannot deny a particular responsibility ­ to ensure that religion is not used as a political tool. That was after all the very essence of the Christmas story. The prophets had foretold the birth of a king who would, it was assumed, rout his earthly enemies in a reign that would represent the ultimate embodiment of worldly power. In the words of Isaiah, he was the Wonderful-Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father ­ sonorous titles that convey power and authority. But the true message of the manger was different. A baby born in abject poverty and anonymity, attended only by a devoted mother and her husband, recognised at first, not by kings and generals but by shepherds and distant wise men. And in addition to all those titles he held the one that to this day, should resound across a violent world: Prince of Peace.
The Times Online


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