Th subject of the symposium was "The Limits of Tolerance and Intolerance." There were eight speakers formed into two panels and a keynoter (Roger Wilkins). I spoke on the second panel on the subject "Diplomacy and Intolerance." I was allotted 20 minutes and used fifteen. The text follows, and you can read it in less time than that, if you are interested.
Cosmos Club Symposium
I may be guilty of naiveté or presumption, but I have chosen to interpret the title of this symposium as meaning that we should be promoting tolerance and limiting or reducing intolerance. If I am wrong about that, I beg your forgiveness and indulgence of what follows. My assignment was to discuss the diplomatic implications of this struggle. I have neither the ability nor the time allotment to try to address the many conflicts around the world that have resulted from clashes over intolerance, so I have chosen to talk about what our country and the international community are trying to do to promote tolerance.
Diplomacy is what national states practice in their dealings with one another in an effort to advance their mutual welfare. I will certainly not rehash the questionable performance of the American government in this area over the past eight years, when the use of a large military force advantage over actual and potential adversaries was the preferred tactic instead of diplomacy. But I will mention one low point back in January 2002 when the president, in his State of the Union speech to Congress, or perhaps it was his speechwriter, used the unfortunate formulation of the existence of an “axis of evil” made up of Iran, Iraq, and North Korea. Never mind that the former two states had engaged in a bloody war for eight years in the 1980s, or that North Korea was a continent distant and much more concerned with its immediate neighborhood. This was not an axis by any stretch, and look at what transpired. We clandestinely supported Iraq against Iran and then attacked and invaded Iraq twice, while we refused to talk with Iran for some 30 years after its revolution, which included holding a host of our diplomats hostage for 444 days. As for North Korea, we first abandoned an agreement negotiated by the prior administration and then spent years negotiating a new agreement that did not succeed in its purpose of preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons there, while in Iraq the alleged WMD were not found as promised, and while in Iran major sanctions have not stopped its nuclear enrichment program. So much for that axis.
This has not been diplomacy at its best or even least. In fact, diplomacy was often dismissed as appeasement, a reward for misbehavior, or futile and a waste of time. Our new administration has jettisoned what has rightly been termed the unilateralism of its predecessor, and has shown early signs of pursuing a different course, that is, traditional diplomacy through engagement with adversaries as well as allies, for example by making an opening with Syria and offering the same to Iran. The latter offer unfortunately included a reference to terrorism and arms buildup, scratching the sensibilities of the Iranian regime as it beckoned them to the table. While not exactly threatening, as in the past, the president’s Persian New Year’s message to the Iranians was at least lecturing and condescending, and probably viewed as insulting by the recipients. Despite an error in translation, our government has even pressed the reset button in our critical relations with Russia. Two days ago the press reported that we had sent a senior career diplomat to talk with the leaders of Burma, otherwise known as Myanmar. These small, not yet ripe adjustments seem almost miraculous, like the decision of the French government to rejoin the NATO military alliance. Change, however minimal, is coming about.
I would like to focus on the now and the future, and to highlight what our government is doing or not doing to promote human rights throughout the world, for that is what replacing intolerance with tolerance is all about. Not unilaterally, but by one means bilaterally and by another means multilaterally.
For many years the State Department has been required by laws passed by Congress to report to the House and the Senate on February 25 of each year “a full and complete report regarding the status of internationally recognized human rights in countries that receive assistance from the U.S. and in all other foreign countries which are members of the United Nations.” State has added other countries not covered by these laws. There is nothing secret about these reports. They are published and available to anyone. You can read them in their entirety on the State Department website. You can rest assured that they are read -- no doubt immediately -- by the governments being assessed. They are very long and very detailed. They are remarkably candid. They do not mince words. One of the reporting requirements levied on our embassies throughout the world is the material contained in these reports. Obtaining that information is no easy task in many places. The State website lists by name 81 officials whose job it is to draft and edit the final reports for publication. They work in the Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, created in 1994. The reports are grouped by geographic regions. The number of countries covered is 194.
How effective is this project? It is hard to tell, but the real situation must be much better than if it did not exist. Here is the justification from the introduction to the website: QUOTE. The United States is a country founded on human rights and the rule of law. In publishing these reports, we seek to be a source of information, hope and help to people everywhere who are oppressed, silenced, and marginalized. We are inalterably committed to working at all levels -- national, regional, and global -- to ensure that the human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration are protected and respected. END QUOTE.
Before moving on I’d like to read you the introductory statement by our new Secretary of State. I think it says a lot about why we try to work hard on the promotion of human rights.
Human progress depends on the human spirit. This inescapable truth has never been more apparent than it is today, when the challenges of a new century require us to summon the full range of human talents to move our nation and our world forward.
Guaranteeing the right of every man, woman, and child to participate fully in society and live up to his or her God-given potential is an ideal that has animated our nation since its founding. It is enshrined in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and was reflected in President Obama's Inaugural Address, when he reminded us that every generation must carry forward the belief that "all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness."
Our foreign policy must also advance these timeless values, which empower people to speak, think, worship, and assemble freely, to lead their work and family lives with dignity, and to know that their dreams of a brighter future are within reach.
The promotion of human rights is an essential piece of our foreign policy. Not only will we seek to live up to our ideals on American soil, we will pursue greater respect for human rights as we engage other nations and people around the world. Some of our work will be conducted in government meetings and official dialogues, which is important to advancing this cause. But we will not rely on a single approach to overcome tyranny and subjugation that weaken the human spirit, limit human possibility, and undermine human progress.
We will make this a global effort that reaches beyond government alone. We will work together with nongovernmental organizations, businesses, religious leaders, schools and universities, and individual citizens -- all of whom play a vital role in creating a world where human rights are accepted, respected, and protected.
Our commitment to human rights is driven by faith in our moral values, and also by the knowledge that we enhance our own security, prosperity, and progress when people in other lands emerge from shadows and shackles to gain the opportunities and rights we enjoy and treasure.
In that spirit, I hereby transmit the Department of State’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2008 to the United States Congress.
Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
So now let’s move on to the multilateral or international level of this struggle, and specifically to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948, just over 60 years ago. The State Department noted in its Human Rights Report summary that in the past 60 years there have been remarkable gains in human rights on every continent. Well, yes. But where are we today?
The scheduling of today’s symposium at the Cosmos Club is very timely, for we find ourselves in the run-up to what has colloquially been termed “Durban Two.” “Durban One” was the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance” held in Durban, South Africa, from August 31 to September 8, 2001. I should note in passing that the latter date was three days before the world-changing and horrendous terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. The Declaration and Plan of Action that emerged from that conference are available on the Internet and run to 62 pages and no fewer than 341 numbered paragraphs. It is much too long to be useful and apparently was compiled to address every single contingency or possibility of a violation of the human rights mentioned in the title, what one might be tempted to term a bureaucrat’s love letter in its repetitiousness and redundancy. Nevertheless, it launched a planned decade-long campaign to fight against the practices in the title.
“Durban Two” is to be held in Geneva under United Nations auspices from April 20 to 24, 2009, that is, about three weeks from today. Its purpose will be to review progress made in the Plan of Action since “Durban One” and its outcome will be a new declaration that is now being drafted by a preparatory committee based on inputs from various regional actors and organizations. As with the earlier conference, the principal outcome will be this new declaration, achieved by a process of consensus in advance of the meeting and as it may be modified at Geneva. A so-called rolling draft of the declaration dated March 17, 2009, is now available on the Internet, and displays great wisdom, for it is only 17 pages long, in five sections, and with only 141 numbered paragraphs.
The United States, by its own choice, is not a member of the UN Human Rights Council, something I believe is a serious error. You should also be aware that the U.S. and Israel walked out of the Durban Conference of 2001 because the proceedings displayed anti-Israel bias. There has been some limited press coverage, notably by the Washington Post’s UN correspondent, Colum Lynch, that the same two countries, as well as Canada and Italy, and perhaps other countries, are planning to boycott the upcoming Geneva conference out of a similar concern.
A State Department official told Lynch in late February that the current declaration text was “unsalvageable” and the U.S. “would reconsider its position only if the negotiators stripped out provisions criticizing Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands and recommendations for restrictions on the defamation of religions, an initiative by Islamic states that Washington fears could undercut free speech. The United States also opposes any language requiring reparations for slavery.”
Our government did send some official representatives to Geneva to provide input to the draft, but I have not been able to determine our current stance on attendance and plans, despite numerous efforts to contact the Bureaus of Human Rights and International Organizations at State, our UN Mission, and Human Rights Watch, a major NGO with offices in New York and Geneva. I must be a toxic asset, or perhaps the subject is toxic. Stay tuned, as I tell my Internet correspondents.
I have read the 17-page “rolling draft” and though I may have missed something important, only two of the 141 paragraphs have relevance to Israel, both of them rather peculiarly phrased and not yet adopted ad referendum. Paragraph 10 reads as follows: “Recognizes with deep concern the negative stereotyping of religions and the global rise in the number of incidents of racial or religious intolerance and violence, including Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, Christianophobia and anti-Arabism”; Paragraph 64 “recalls that the Holocaust must never be forgotten, and in this context urges all UN members to implement GA resolutions 60/7 and 61/255.”
One might be inclined to walk out of the conference owing to excessively inventive diction, but that would no doubt be an overreaction. Human rights activists have urged the U.S. to participate in the upcoming conference, noting that the new declaration will be achieved by consensus, and if the U.S. isn’t there it can’t block consensus. Navi Pillay, the South African judge who is the new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said a boycott would be “a sad state of affairs. It risks becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy if the world’s states cannot get together to discuss problems of this great importance. That would be a disaster and a huge setback in the fight against racism and intolerance.”
As far back as mid-December, Rupert Colville, spokesman for Ms. Pillay, deplored reporting in major media outlets such as the Wall Street Journal and the Australian, which had published editorials replaying distortions that had described the Durban process as an anti-Semitic “hate-fest.” A Google search, he reported, had produced 49,900 hits spreading this accusation. Colville explained that the 2001 declaration had six paragraphs that referred to the Middle East, anti-Semitism and directly related issues. One was that the Holocaust must never be forgotten, and a second “recognized with deep concern the increase in anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in various parts of the world, as well as the emergence of racial and violent movements based on racism and discriminatory ideas against Jewish, Muslim and Arab communities.” Four other paragraphs included references to “the plight of the Palestinian people” and “the right to security for all States in the region, including Israel,” as well as calling upon “Israel and the Palestinians to resume the peace process, and to develop and prosper in security and freedom.”
The spokesman, Mr. Colville, was particularly indignant about a full-page advertisement published in the New York Sun on April 3, 2008. It was built around the central theme of QUOTE “What does the Durban Declaration declare? That ISRAEL, and only ISRAEL, is guilty of racism.” END QUOTE. In fact it declares no such thing, Mr. Colville insisted.
As for the upcoming conference, our government had apparently been upset about the composition of the preparatory committee, in that Libya’s representative is the chair, and Cuba and Iran are Vice Chairs, with Cuba also the Rapporteur. Another terrible “axis of evil” apparently. The High Commissioner’s spokesman pointed out that consensus rules in preparing the statement and the many other Vice Chairs would intervene to prevent any bias. He listed other Vice Chairs representing Belgium, Greece, Norway, Turkey, Armenia, Croatia, Estonia, Senegal, South Africa, India, Indonesia, Argentina, Brazil, and Chile. It is obvious that geographic balance was the aim of this makeup, but critics have focused especially on Iran, Russia, Pakistan, Cameroon, and Cuba as unfree states that sit on the preparatory committee. One could argue about which states are less free than other states, but applying that criterion would produce just as many distortions.
So, to conclude, let us hope that our government decides to attend this conference, that we participate in the drafting of the declaration, that the outcome is satisfactory from our point of view, and that this international effort helps reduce racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance.
March 28, 2009
Robert V. Keeley