Denmark threatens boycott of Durban II - 04 November 2008 - From Paul Lungen
Denmark threatens boycott of Durban II

Critics of the Durban II review conference may have found an ally in Europe. The foreign minister of Denmark warned last week that unless the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) removes a proposal to equate criticism of religion with racism, Denmark – and perhaps other European countries – will not attend the conference, the followup to the 2001 UN anti-racism conference in Durban, South Africa, that is slated to take place in April 2009 in Geneva.

“If the OIC pushes through the draft resolution, they shall not expect European or western countries to be present at the table,” Foreign Minister Per Stig Meller said during a visit to Jerusalem.

EuropeNews, citing Jyllands-Posten, reported the Meller made the same statement to Syrian and Egyptian foreign ministers during a recent swing through the Middle East.

His remarks came shortly after the “Draft Outcome Document” was published at the second preparatory session as a proposal for the Durban II conference. Participants at the session include Libya, Iran and Cuba.

Discussions at preparatory meetings have raised concerns that Durban II will reprise the anti-Israel agenda of Durban I, an international anti-racism conference that became notorious for singling out Israel as a racist state.

UN Watch, a NGO that has been monitoring the preparatory conferences, said that “the dominant theme of the 88-page Durban II draft declaration (Draft Outcome Document) is that the United States, western Europe, Israel and the other liberal democracies – their principles, institutions, policies, respective histories and national identities – are singularly racist and discriminatory against Islam. Free speech, wealth, globalization, security measures to combat anti-western terrorism, all of these are attacked as causes of racism, discrimination and the ‘defamation of Islam.’”

In a telephone interview from Geneva, UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer said the Draft Outcome Document repeats some of the language from a 2001 preparatory conference in Tehran that was introduced in Durban. It was moderated only after Israel and the United States walked out and the European Union threatened to do the same. “Only under the pressure of non-participation did the conference remove the most obscene language,” he said.

The draft declaration reserves some of its most aggressive language for Israel, accusing it of practices that “constitute a serious violation of international human rights and humanitarian law, a new kind of apartheid, a crime against humanity, a form of genocide and a serious threat to international peace and security.”

In all, eight provisions in the draft declaration single out Israel. “This kind of language did not surface until now. It’s obscene and anti-Semitic,” Neuer said.

The Danish warning, Neuer continued, “is a reminder and a wake-up call that the current draft is even worse than in 2001… It’s far worse on the issues affecting the free world – the bedrock of democratic free speech coming under all-out assault.”

The draft would in effect impose Islamic anti-blasphemy standards on western nations, he said.

Section 1 of the draft warns against “defamation of Muslims” while part of the section claims freedom of expression is used to mask religious defamation. The section goes on to criticize “offensive caricatures” that link Islam with violence.

The caricatures are a clear reference to a series of Danish editorial cartoons of Muhammad that triggered outrage in Muslim countries.

“The Danes are being singled out” and their opposition to the draft document “is more courageous than others,” Neuer said.

Other European countries have warned against crossing EU “red lines.” In mid-September, France cautioned the UN Human Rights Council, under whose auspices the preparatory meetings are held, against singling out one region in the world, attempting to prohibit the defamation of religion in order to restrict free speech and drawing up an order of priority among victims.

Neuer said that despite the warnings, “there is a well-grounded fear that the Europeans will make a compromise that will remove some of the offensive language on free speech but which will allow even more offensive language versus Israel.”

York University professor Anne Bayefsky, editor of Eye On The UN, said: “The Danish foreign minister has signalled he is going to expect the OIC to back off its efforts to use the Durban II conference for an assault on freedom of expression.”

However, Bayefsky said that the “EU has shown no backbone to stand up to this intimidation… The OIC is using Durban II to attack Denmark very specifically, and Denmark is sick and tired of being the whipping boy for the OIC. They know it’s an attack on freedom of expression in every democracy.”

Bayefsky doubted France would pull out of the conference or even be willing to moderate the worst language directed at Israel. Israel can expect little from other European states.

“The history of Europe selling Israel down the drain is a long and undistinguished one,” she said.

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