Israel firm on boycotting Durban II despite UN plea

New UN High Commissioner for Human Rights makes plea that Israel reconsider its position.

Durban 248.88 ap (photo credit:)
Durban 248.88 ap
(photo credit: )
Israel is still likely to boycott the so called "Durban II" conference, set for 2009, in spite of a plea made by the new United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay that it reconsider its position. On Monday, her first day in office, Pillay said, "My instinct would be to get as many countries to participate as possible." But Ambassador to the UN in Geneva Roni Leshno Yaar said in response, "So far I have no reason to believe that Israel was wrong in deciding not to participate." Israel fears Durban II would be a repeat of the anti-Semitic and anti-Israel hate-fest that characterized the first UN World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, which met in Durban, South Africa in 2001. Although the follow-up conference is to be held in Geneva, it has been nicknamed Durban II. The US and Israel walked out of the first Durban conference in protest. The US has not yet decided whether to take part in Durban II, but has threatened to boycott it, as well as using a vote in the UN General Assembly last year to protest the conference. Canada has already said it plans to boycott the conference. France, the UK and the Netherlands have also threatened not to attend. Among the concerns regarding the event is the fact its planning committee is chaired by Libya, and has as its vice chairs Iran and Cuba. Leshno Yaar, who plans to meet Pillay in the next few days, said he would raise the issue of Durban II with her. "I am willing to listen to her position on this conference and I will share with her our concerns," he told The Jerusalem Post by phone from Geneva. "So far I have no reason to believe that Israel was wrong in deciding not to participate. In fact, all the signs are leading to one conclusion: that it is going to be a repeat of the previous Durban conference. This is unfortunate and we regret this," he said. Leshno Yaar said he hoped that Pillay could serve as a moderate voice and could use her influence to guarantee that the anti-racism conference would not display the same anti-Semitism as the first one. He also hoped to raise with her the Human Rights Council's anti-Israel record, even though she has no direct jurisdiction over that council. Pillay, a South African jurist, takes over the post of UN rights chief after serving for five years as a judge on the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague, the first permanent independent court set up to try cases of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Before being appointed to the ICC, she served eight years with the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), including four years as its president. During her tenure, the court made several ground-breaking rulings that shaped international criminal law. Executive Director of UN Watch Hillel Neuer said that little is known about Pillay's positions on Jews or Israel. On Tuesday, Pillay's first critical statements on the job were about Iran, not Israel. Pillay took that country to task for executing juvenile offenders for crimes committed when they were as young as 15. Her spokesman said the global body is "very concerned and saddened at reports from the Islamic Republic of Iran concerning the recent execution of two juvenile offenders." On Monday, Pillay pledged to "fearlessly focus on protecting the victims around the world," noting the task "does involve speaking out against the violators." Such an approach has been rejected by many developing nations at the UN, who believe singling out any country for criticism is detrimental. They make an exception for Israel. Pillay's spokesman, Rupert Colville, identified Reza Hedjazi and Benham Zaare as two youths executed by Iranian authorities last month. He said Hedjazi was believed to have been 15 at the time of his alleged crime, and Zaare one year older. "These executions appear to be in clear violation of international law," he told reporters, adding that there is an "absolute prohibition" against the death penalty for minors. He said Iran had ratified two global conventions specifically banning execution for crimes committed before age 18. AP contributed to this report.