20 June 2008

It's a hard life in the tranzi world

Well, not hard in the usual sense of the word but one does have to do a certain amount of twisting and turning. Take the case of Farouk Hosni, Egypt’s Culture Minister, a close friend of President Mubarak and leading candidate for the top job at the UN Education Scientific and Cultural Organization, or Unesco.

An article in the Wall Street Journal gives a delightful account of his many twists and turns to accommodate everybody. First he tells a Muslim Brotherhood MP that he would burn Israeli books himself if he found any in the Egyptian libraries (what else would be the job of a Culture Minister?); then he backtracks in the light of the various protests, though UNESCO seems to have had no official or unofficial reactions to that comment.

Why should anyone wonder? Is that not what politicians do on a regular basis? Backtracking, I mean, not burning books, though that comes up from time to time as well. Sadly for Mr Hosni, the issue is a little harder to deal with.
With a plum U.N. job slipping out of his reach, Mr. Hosni backtracked. He said the "book burning" remark was merely "a hyperbole -- a popular expression to prove something does not exist." The minister, who is close to President Hosni Mubarak and his wife and considered a liberal by local standards, went further the following day. He told Agence France-Presse that it is "a big mistake that Israeli books have not yet been translated (into Arabic). I have officially asked for it to be done. If people protest, I don't give a damn."

So, three decades after the Camp David accords, would Mr. Hosni support the opening of so far nonexistent cultural ties with Israel? What about a museum of Jewish antiquity and culture in Cairo? The Egyptian went into reverse again. Impossible, Mr. Hosni said, as long as "there are bloody attacks every day against the Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza strip."
Let me guess. There will be no Israeli books translated into Arabic and stocked in Egyptian libraries and bookshops, not even those that oppose Israeli policies. Perhaps Mr Hosni would not be too happy about Egyptians wondering why it is that writers in Israel can oppose their government's policies with no fear of being silenced or imprisoned while in Egypt even blogging is hazardous if it happens to be outside the accepted political line.

Needless to say, France is officially backing Mr Hosni's candidacy for the UNESCO job. There may be a certain amount of embarrassment on the subject.

Meanwhile, as the indispensable UN Watch has documented, the new expert acquired by the UN Human Rights Council to oversee its standing enquiry into "Israel's violations of the principles and bases of international law" is Richard Falk, known for his support for truther 9/11 conspiracy theories.

Here is Hillel Neuer of UN Watch trying to find out what Mr Falk's explanation is for his curious ideas and why is the UNHRC continuing to ignore SecGen Ban Ki-Moon's suggestions that they should start looking at other violations of “the principles and bases of international law” (whatever that may be), not to mention serious human rights problems across the world:
Thank you, Mr. President.

Professor Falk, we appreciate this opportunity to ask you questions.

As we gather to address the Middle East, let us all commit to a future where every child, Palestinian and Israeli alike, will see the promise of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights become reality.

With this goal in mind, Professor Falk, let us turn to the report that you presented today,
HRC 7/17.

One of the report's exceptional features is its sharp criticism of the United Nations itself. Leading UN institutions and officials are accused of being insufficiently supportive of the Palestinians, of failing to acknowledge international law, which, according to paragraph 54, "brings the very commitment of the United Nations to human rights into question."

The report criticizes the United Nations role in the Quartet and the Road Map for Peace. It criticizes the United Nations Security Council and one of its permanent members in particular. It criticizes the United Nations Secretary-General, suggesting, in paragraph 53, that he may be refusing to fulfill legal obligations out of political reasons.

Professor Falk, my first question to you is by what methodology does one challenge some UN decisions, while accepting others uncritically?

Why are there no questions about today's Agenda Item targeting Israel, as expressed by Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon on 20 June 2007, and I quote: “The Secretary-General is disappointed at the Council’s decision to single out only one specific regional item given the range and scope of allegations of Human Rights violations throughout the world.”

Finally, in light of the concerns expressed by the President of this Council -- in the newspaper
Le Temps and elsewhere -- about the credibility of this council on the Middle East, could you tell us what credibility you expect your reports to have, when leading newspapers such as The Times of London are commenting on your support for the 9/11 conspiracy theories of David Ray Griffin, who argues, and I quote from the Times article of April 15th, "that no plane hit the Pentagon," and that "the World Trade Center was brought down by a controlled demolition"?

Thank you, Mr. President.
There is then an attempt by the Egyptian delegation to delete the entire statement and question as being irrelevant to the Palestinian issue. This is rather interesting as normally we are told that everything is relevant to the Palestinian issue. Still, the request was refused, which is a step forward for the UNHRC. Here is the video.

Meanwhile, the UN Security Council has voted unanimously in favour of classifying rape as “a tactic in war and a threat to international security”, apparently in the teeth of objections by China, Russia, Indonesia and Vietnam and to the delight of human rights organizations.

As a matter of fact, the definition is accurate enough – mass rape as a method of waging deliberate war is not new and well understood. Next up is a report on how widespread the practice is and what can be done about it. We are looking forward to proposals on severe action by the UN in cases of widespread rape by UN peacekeepers.