The United Nations General Assembly opens tomorrow with the theme of the general debate for the 66th session being "The role of mediation in the settlement of disputes by peaceful means." At the same time Durban III, the informal name for a high-level United Nations General Assembly meeting to mark the 10th anniversary of the adoption of The Durban Declaration and Programme of Action will be held in New York City on Thursday, September 22, 2011. The Durban meetings are supposed to address the issue of racial discrimination but at times have been hijacked in the service of other less lofty agendas and rhetoric.
At the surface this all seems laudable but in reality there are a number of profound inconsistencies between the values propounded by the founders of the United Nations in documents such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and what is taking place at both the UN General Assembly and especially within Durban III. CBS News on September 15 outlined some of the past outrages at the Durban gatherings:
- At the first Durban meeting in 2001, Yasser Arafat, the then Palestinian leader, described Israel as having "a supremacist mentality, a mentality of racial discrimination," while Cuban leader Fidel Castro accused it of perpetrating "genocide against the Palestinian people."
- At the second Durban meeting in 2009, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad suggested the Holocaust never happened and called repeatedly for Israel's destruction.
What can one expect of Durban III? At the same time Human rights defender, Dr. Yang Jianli, in a September 19, 2011 oped in the The New York Daily News outlined some of the recent outrages from past General Assembly meetings:
- Few, for example, will forget Libyan Col. Moammar Khadafy's 2009 appearance, when he delivered a rambling, 1-1/2-hour speech, tossed aside a copy of the UN charter and called the Security Council a "terror council."
- When the world body does make the news, it's about the outrageous theatrics of its participants: Ahmadinejad denying the Holocaust, say, or Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez suggesting that former President George W. Bush was Satan.
- The UN's bloc of authoritarian states are all too powerful to prevent the democratic impulses sweeping the world from surfacing in the world body. Back in March, after Libya was finally suspended from the UN's Human Rights Council, I had occasion to address that body. Recalling the case of Liu Xiaobo, a writer serving an 11-year jail sentence for advocating freedom, I asked how China's Communist regime, whose victims run into the millions, could remain as a member. I was interrupted by China and Cuba and never received an answer.
In practice the United Nations General Assembly has been a tragic failure, as has been described by the Jerusalem Post, with its disproportionate focus on Israel and shameful silence or complicity with brutal dictatorships around the world. Twenty anti-Israel resolutions versus five or six others for the rest of the world is a sign that something is wrong with the institution.
Faced with this reality in which a bloc of authoritarian, and totalitarian, states cooperate to frustrate and bloc not only the democratic aspirations of people around the world but also there fundamental human rights people of good will must find alternatives. One such alternative will be taking place over September 21 and 22nd at the W Hotel 541 Lexington Avenue and draws its inspiration from Martin Luther King Jr., it is the We Have a Dream Global Summit Against Persecution and Discrimination.
If you are not in New York City and want to watch the Summit live via video stream starting at 9:30am on Wednesday then visit the website http://ngosummit.org/stream.php