Despite its numerous calls for Israel's destruction, and repeated denials of the Holocaust, Iran has been selected by the United Nations for a leading position in a committee that will plan the 2009 UN World Conference against Racism.
The planning committee, which will meet for the first time in Geneva on August 27, will be made up of an inner circle of 20 UN member-states, to be headed by Libya.
The decision to include Iran in the committee has been slammed by UN watchdogs. "As a UN spokesperson against racism, Iran will invert totally the message and mission of the United Nations," Anne Bayefsky, senior editor of the New York-based Eye on the UN, said in a press release.
"Iran is now poised to wrap itself in a UN flag as a lead agent of the next global conference against racism, Durban II," she added, referring to the 2001 UN conference on racism held in Durban, South Africa, which saw unprecedented levels of anti-Zionist rhetoric and calls for Israel's destruction.
Speaking to Ynetnews, Bayefsky said that "the leading exponents of anti-Semitism, whether directed at Jews individually or the Jewish people and its state generally, continue to be provided a global platform at the UN. This is but one example of a broader phenomenon."
"Eye on the UN has found that in 2006 the UN system as a whole directed the most condemnations for human rights abuses against specific states - first towards Israel and fourth towards the United States. Iran was lower down on the list of UN human rights concerns," Bayefsky said, adding: "And yet the US taxpayer continues to pay a quarter of the bill for activities which demonize Americans and Israelis on a global scale."
A spokesperson for the UN's Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights confirmed to Ynetnews that "Iran is one of 20 States who are members of the bureau of the Preparatory Committee," but added that "Iran does not occupy a leading role.”
When asked how a state which openly denies the Holocaust could find itself in such a role, the spokesperson said: "The Preparatory Committee is an inter-governmental body, meaning States were chosen freely to sit on the Prep-Com. It is the Member-States who decide."
'UN body hijacked again'
Bayefsky explained that the structure of the UN's Human Rights Council has effectively been taken over by the countries of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), allowing Iran and Libya access to key roles.
"The states were selected by the UN Human Rights Council and the Council is controlled by the Organization of the Islamic Conference. The majority of seats on the Council are held by the African and Asian regional groups and the OIC has a majority of seats on each of these groups. Western states do not have the votes to block this outrage and it is another example of the hijacking that has occurred of the UN's lead human rights agency," she said.
Reacting to the statements of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Hillel Neuer, Executive Director of the Geneva-Based UN Watch organization, said that the UN had failed to explain how Iran had ended up on the planning council.
"I think they are basically dodging the question," Neuer said. "To ask why Iran should be a member, and then to be answered that Iran is a member, is not an answer," he added.
"This conference is turning into a wolf in sheep's clothing. The United Nations’ government and diplomats do not think the way regular people think. They treat every country equally and do not use common sense principles. That attitude is contrary to the UN charter, which says members who act contrary to the charter's principles of supporting peace should be expelled," Neuer explained.
"According many diplomats, this will be a fiasco in the making. And it should be noted there are African states that care about legitimate issues concerning racism and want those to be addressed. It's a shame that the Islamic states are intending on subverting this conference as they have done with the Human Rights Council and numerous other UN bodies," Neuer added.
"The High commissioner (Louise Arbour) has to speak truth to power. The high commissioner should express her concern that once again a leading human rights entity at the UN is being headed by Libya with Iran in a leadership position, whatever the UN may say. It undermines any last vestige of moral credibility," he said.
'Israel's options limited'
Asked what his advice would be for Israel on how to deal with the conference, Neuer said: "There is a limited amount of options for Israel. The analogy is to the UN General Assembly, where the numbers speak for themselves, and there is not much Israel can do to prevent certain resolutions."
"The key thing is to work on Western states like Canada and the Europeans. Israel has to be vigilant, has to closely monitor diplomatic developments, and needs to engage with its Western friends and to make sure that the Europeans stand firm and refuse to appease the extremists," Neuer added.
According to Bayefsky, "Israel needs to point continually to the dangerous role played by the UN in undermining the welfare of the Jewish state and its people. The veil of legitimacy of the organization as a leader in human rights protection must be lifted."