Thursday, January 31, 2008

UN High Commissioner Backtracks on Endorsement of Arab Charter on Human Rights

Lois Arbour, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, was forced to backtrack on her prior endorsement of the Arab League's Arab Charter On Human Rights. The Charter, originally passed in 1994 by the Arab League, officially came into force this month with its ratification by seven Arab League Members, all stout defenders of human rights [readers, please recognize sarcasm], namely United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Bahrain, Algeria, Syria, Libya, and the Palestinian Authority. High Commissioner Arbour lauded the ratification, saying:

“In this celebratory year of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, I welcome the 7th ratification required to bring the Arab Charter on Human Rights into force."


Apparently, certain, shall we say, idiosynchratic aspects of the Arab Charter were subsequently pointed out to High Commissioner Arbour. The text of the Arab Charter appears here. The opening recitals include the declaration that the Governments of the Arab Nations, in enacting the Charter, are "Rejecting racism and zionism, which constitute a violation of human rights and pose a threat to world peace." Article I(b) then states, "Racism, zionism, occupation and foreign domination pose a challenge to human dignity and constitute a fundamental obstacle to the realization of the basic rights of peoples. There is a need to condemn and endeavour to eliminate all such practices." In other words, the Arab Charter for Human Rights expressly rejects the principle of national self-determination for the Jewish people, which is the foundation of Zionism and the basis for the existence of the State of Israel, a member state of the United Nations.

Yesterday, the High Commissioner issued a clarification of her earlier statement of endorsement. The new statement acknowledges that certain provisions of the Arab Charter are "not in conformance with international norms and standards," such as "the approach to death penalty for children and the rights of women and non-citizens." She then continued, "Moreover, to the extent that it equates Zionism with racism, we reiterated that the Arab Charter is not in conformity with General Assembly Resolution 46/86, which rejects that Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination. OHCHR [Office of the High Commmissioner for Human Rights] does not endorse these inconsistencies."

In perhaps related news, Canadian Foreign Minister Maxime Bernier and the Secretary of State for Multiculturalism and Canadian Identity, Jason Kenney, issued a statement on January 23 in which they announced that their country would not be taking part in the UN's 2009 World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in Durban, South Africa. The reason for their decision, they said, was the prospect that the conference would again degenerate into a festival of anti-Semitism, as occurred in 2001.

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