A big yawn. And “delete.” That’s how editors at the world’s mainstream media reacted to the news that Canada, the U.S. and Ukraine voted against a resolution at the United Nations on Nov. 21 committing the member countries of the world body to combat racism and xenophobia in all its forms.
These were the only three countries to vote “no.” Fifty-five countries abstained, including the member countries of the European Union as well as Australia and New Zealand. (The full list of votes by country is here.)
News of the vote on the resolution has been suppressed in most mainstream media outlets in the West. One of the few to report it was the National Post daily in Canada.
The resolution (full, seven-page text here) was presented to the “Third Committee” of the UN General Assembly. It is the committee charged with examining and making recommendations on social, cultural and human rights issues. The resolution was proposed by 30 countries, including Russia, Pakistan, Nigeria, Vietnam, Venezuela, Bolivia and Cuba. One hundred and seventeen countries voted in favour. The prime mover was Russia. The “yes” vote by the majority means the resolution will be presented to the General Assembly.
The resolution is titled, “Combating glorification of Nazism, neo-Nazism and other practices that contribute to fuelling contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.” The first clause reads:
(The General Assembly):
Reaffirms the relevant provisions of the Durban Declaration and of the outcome document of the Durban Review Conference, in which States condemned the persistence and resurgence of neo-Nazism, neo-Fascism and violent nationalist ideologies based on racial and national prejudice and stated that those phenomena could never be justified in any instance or in any circumstances.
The resolution (clause 5) calls for a universal adoption of the 1969 International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Many nations including the U.S., the U.K., China and India, signed the convention but did not recognize a mechanism it establishes for individuals to make complaints. This makes the convention unenforceable in their jurisdictions.
Kiev’s representative at the Nov. 21 session, Andrey Tsymbalyuk, said that while Ukraine did condemn Nazism and neo-Nazism, it could not endorse the Russian resolution because Ukraine has suffered historically not only from Nazism but also from Stalinism.
“As long as Stalinism and neo-Stalinism are not condemned as strongly as Nazism, neo-Nazism and other forms of hatred, Ukraine would not be able to back this document,” the diplomat said.
The U.S. government issued an official explanation of its vote on the day of the vote. It said the main sponsor of the resolution, Russia, was driven by “overt political motives” rather than protecting human rights. It notes that similar resolutions are proposed each year at the UN. “We are alarmed by its [Russia’s] recent efforts to vilify others by loosely using terms such as ‘Nazi’ or ‘Fascist.’ The government of Russia has employed this rhetoric during the current crisis in Ukraine, including against the current Ukrainian government, and has used it in this very Committee to condemn the Baltic States. This is offensive and disrespectful toward those who suffered at the hands of the Nazis and other Fascist regimes, and it should not be tolerated.”
A spokesman for Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs is quoted in the National Post as saying Canada supports the fight against racism and against glorification of Nazism but it voted against the resolution because it, “includes references which are counterproductive to this goal, including by seeking to limit freedom of expression, assembly and opinion.”
Huffington Post Canada received an additional reason from Lasalle. He said Canada also did not support the resolution because it refers to the “highly politicized and anti-Semitic outcomes” of the 2001 World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa.
The reference by Lasalle to resolution language that would restrict freedom of expression is likely referring to clauses 28, 29 and 30 of the resolution. They state the following:
(The General Assembly):
28. Reaffirms article 4 of the Convention, according to which States parties to that instrument condemn all propaganda and all organizations that are based on ideas or theories of superiority of one race or group of persons of one colour or ethnic origin, or that attempt to justify or promote racial hatred and discrimination in any form, and undertake to adopt immediate and positive measures designed to eradicate all incitement to, or acts of, such discrimination and, to that end, with due regard to the principles embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the rights expressly set forth in article 5 of the Convention, inter alia:
(a) Shall declare an offence punishable by law all dissemination of ideas based on racial superiority or hatred, and incitement to racial discrimination, as well as all acts of violence or incitement to such acts against any race or group of persons of another colour or ethnic origin, and also the provision of any assistance to racist activities, including the financing thereof;
(b) Shall declare illegal and prohibit organizations, and organized and all other propaganda activities, that promote and incite racial discrimination, and shall recognize participation in such organizations or activities as an offence punishable by law;
(c) Shall not permit public authorities or public institutions, national or local, to promote or incite racial discrimination;
29. Also reaffirms that, as underlined in paragraph 13 of the outcome document of the Durban Review Conference, any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence should be prohibited by law, that all dissemination of ideas based on racial superiority or hatred, or incitement to racial discrimination, as well as all acts of violence or incitement to such acts, shall be declared offences punishable by law, in accordance with the international obligations of States, and that these prohibitions are consistent with freedom of opinion and expression;
30. Recognizes the positive role that the exercise of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, as well as full respect for the freedom to seek, receive and impart information, including through the Internet, can play in combating racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance;
So racism and glorification of Nazism are bad things, but please don’t ask us to do anything about it. Oh, and please don’t mention the contemporary rise to prominence and influence of far right political parties and militias in Ukraine.
Writer Daniel Lazare wrote a powerful essay in September that reviews Timothy Snyder’s praised 2010 book Bloodlands. Lazare called it a “bad” book reflective of the growing trend by intellectuals and political figures of “relativization” of the crimes of Nazism by equating them with the human rights crimes committed in the Soviet Union of the same period. Lazare calls this a rising “double genocide movement.”
 The Durban Declaration (62 pages, text here) was adopted by the United Nations’ initiated World Conference Against Racism (“Durban 1”) that took place in Durban, South Africa in Aug.-Sept. 2001. The Declaration was approved by the UN General Assembly on March 27, 2002. That same day, a resolution to implement the decisions of Durban 1 was approved by the General Assembly with two countries voting against — the United States and Israel — and two abstaining — Australia and Canada.