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U.N. rights chief praises Durban II

The U.N. human rights chief slammed countries threatening to skip a U.N. conference over unfair criticism of Israel.

In her first address to the U.N. Human Rights Council, the new U.N. high commissioner for human rights, Navanethem Pillay, praised the world body’s preparations for a follow-up to the 2001 Durban conference on racism and criticized those threatening to walk out of the conference. Several countries have announced they might skip the conference if it unfairly singles out Israel for opprobium, as the 2001 conference in Durban did.

Pillay rejected that approach.

“I do not believe that ‘all or nothing’ is the right approach to affirm one’s principles or to win an argument,” Pillay said. “Should differences be allowed to become pretexts for inaction, the hopes and aspirations of the many victims of intolerance would be dashed irreparably. For these reasons, I urge those governments that have expressed an intention not to participate to reconsider their position.”

Among the countries that may skip the conference are Canada, the United States and Israel. France, Britain and Holland also have expressed reservations.

U.N. Watch, a pro-Israel U.N. watchdog organization, expressed concern over Pillay’s praise of the racism conference, scheduled for April 2009, which some have dubbed Durban II.

“Why is the high commissioner aiming her fire at the world’s most tolerant democracies, instead of at racist tyrants like Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir and Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who, under the chairmanship of Muammar Gadhafi’s Libya, have already begun to hijack the conference?,” asked U.N. Watch executive director Hillel Neuer.

Meanwhile, in a letter to the U.N. undersecretary-general for communications and public information, Kiyo Akasaka, the Simon Wiesenthal Center protested a recent workshop co-sponsored by an anti-Semitic NGO that was active at the 2001 Durban U.N. World Conference Against Racism.

The workshop, “Human Rights and Armed Conflict: Principles and Practices,” was co-sponsored by the Arab Lawyers Union of Egypt and took place at a U.N. human rights conference at UNESCO headquarters in Paris.

The Arab Lawyers Union of Egypt  “in Durban in 2001, distributed a booklet of violently anti-Semitic cartoons and has, since then, continued its incitement to Jew-hatred,” said the Wiesenthal Center’s director for international relations, Shimon Samuels.

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