Politics & Policy

Destination: Durban II

'Tis the season to bankroll hatred of Israel and America.

At the United Nations, ‘tis the season to bankroll hatred of Israel and America — via pricey preparations for a 2009 gathering dubbed the “Durban Review Conference,” or Durban II. Right now, plans have advanced from general talk of funding this jamboree out of the U.N. regular budget, and have homed in on a figure of $6.8 million which the U.N. budget committee is poised to approve. Unless Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice makes it her business to somehow block the money — and fast — this means that Americans, as top contributors to the U.N. budget, can look forward not only to being vilified at Durban II along with our democratic ally, Israel, but also to picking up the biggest share of the tab for this next landmark U.N. exercise in bigotry.

Durban II is of course being planned as the follow-up to the U.N.’s notorious 2001 conference in Durban, South Africa. Convened under the pretext of fighting racism, that conclave erupted into a frenzy of malice toward America, and even more specifically, Israel. Colin Powell, then secretary of State, had the integrity to withdraw the U.S. delegation, and publicly tell the U.N. organizers: “You do not combat racism by conferences that produce declarations containing hateful language, some of which is a throwback to the days of ‘Zionism equals racism;’ or supports the idea that we have made too much of the Holocaust; or suggests that apartheid exists in Israel; or that singles out only one country in the world — Israel — for censure and abuse.”

#ad#Today, Condi Rice is confronted with a U.N. heading right down that same road: destination Durban II. This time the pretext is a “review” of the results of Durban I, decked out with the same false label of fighting racism. Fat chance. The U.N. preparatory committee is chaired by Libya, and among the other 19 members are Iran, Pakistan, Cameroon, Russia, and Cuba — none of them run by regimes known for their contributions to tolerance and human dignity. At the behest of a resolution of the U.N. General Assembly, which is dominated by non-democratic states, the U.N. outfit officially entrusted with a “central role” in bringing this conference to fruition is the despot-infested Human Rights Council in Geneva. That outfit has made Israel the sole permanent item on its agenda, the better to spend almost all its time condemning Israel.

To raise the Durban II monster from its vat, all that’s needed now is a mega-dose of money. Durban I was funded largely by the host country, South Africa. But this time, the planners have set their sights on dollars from the U.N.’s core budget, to which the U.S. contributes 22 percent of the loot. In requesting core U.N. funds for Durban II, Pakistan took the initiative, supported by yet more regimes not exactly known for their tolerance, such as the governments of Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan and Sudan.

Many of the specifics involved in plans for Durban II remain vague, not least the actual venue, which has yet to be chosen. But with unquestioning bureaucratic diligence, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s budget division, in response to the Durban II planners, has drawn up a neat list of estimated costs for the next 18 months, covering elaborate preparations plus the conference itself. The total comes to a whopping $6.8 million. That’s double the $3.4 million which the U.N.’s own website lists as the upper bound of what the U.N. spends on most mega-conferences.


Extravagance at the U.N. is no surprise. According to the U.S. Mission, Ban has just proposed the biggest-ever U.N. budget, up 15 percent over the last round. But even by those standards, the Durban II budget estimate spills right over the top. At the U.N.’s human-rights offices in Geneva, there are already more than half a dozen staffers whose duties include running the secretariat set up there for Durban II. Apparently that’s not enough; the budget estimate includes $267,300 over the next 18 months for a full-time professional U.N. staffer (which works out to roughly $180,000 per year, or more than the salary of a U.S. senator). There is also a provision for two full-time secretarial assistants, at a cost of $302,400 over the same planning period (which works out to about $100,000 per secretary, per year).

There is also a hefty $825,100 penciled in for the travel costs and per diems of “16 experts” (that works out to $51,568 in expenses per expert), who will fly around to preparatory conferences in places penciled in as Geneva, Pretoria, Bangkok, Moscow, Brasilia, and Vienna. Who these experts might be is not yet clear. But it’s a good bet that with Libya and Iran in the saddle, this Durban II crew of specialists will not include, say, former Ambassador John Bolton, or former Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Natan Sharansky.

#ad#The budget estimate also includes $3.27 million for “meeting services” and “documentation.” Apparently, the normal U.N. assemblies will not suffice to plan a U.N. conference. The meetings now on the drawing board include a ten-day session next April in Geneva for the “first substantive session of the Preparatory Committee,” plus regional preparatory get-togethers of three days each, in five other locations (“to be determined”) scattered around the globe. The paperwork will include 800 pages of “pre-session documents” and 20 pages “post-session,” to be issued in all official languages of the U.N. that are “appropriate to the respective regional constituents” (which apart from the question of who plans to read 800 pages of pre-session documents anyway, sounds like a great way to hide select portions of preparations).

And then there are assorted additional doo-dads, including $236,600 for U.N. staff travel to regional preparatory conferences. Somewhere in there, the planners have also been angling to use U.N. regular budget money to subsidize the travel costs for non-governmental organizations from poor countries to attend the conference. Which NGOs might get these handouts is unclear. That’s alarming, because at Durban I, the most venomous participants were the NGOs.

So, what has the State Department been doing about all this? As plans for Durban II have been snaking their way through the UN bureaucracy, Ambassador Khalilzad at the U.S. Mission has been dispatching his staff to read out diplomatic statements of protest and raise questions about the budget estimates in U.N. committees. There have been some worthy statements, and good questions. But step-by-step, the U.S. has been losing this genteel showdown. Libya, Iran, Pakistan, Cuba, Russia and pals, wielding their U.N. votes, are closing in on a free ride for Durban II, loaded with goodies, courtesy of the U.S. and other wealthy democratic U.N. sugar daddies.

What’s needed right now is a lot more firepower behind the U.S. protests. Where is Condi Rice? The U.N. is her bailiwick. She could speak out, go to bat, warn Congress and the American public of the impending abuse of U.S. funds, seek out allies, strong-arm enemies and encourage Ban Ki-moon himself to scrounge up the integrity to protest this monstrosity. Faced with Durban I, Colin Powell pulled out and spoke up. Faced with Durban II Condi Rice has given no sign she’s even noticed. Is it policy these days at the U.S. State Department that U.N. abuse of U.S. money to pervert everything the U.S. stands for is no longer worth the secretary’s time?

Claudia Rosett is a journalist-in-resident at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

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