The conference for human rights that took place in Geneva several days ago, known as Durban II took more than two years to plan. This United Nations conference held tremendous promise. The conference was to replicate the concerns of a gathering that took place in Durban, South Africa. The focus of Durban II was “Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance.”

As you read this racist genocide and religious intolerance continues to occur in Darfur. What did Durban II have to say about this: Nothing.

Women are constantly discriminated against in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Libya, and Afghanistan. At Durban II: silence

The Tibetan people are constant targets of ethnic discrimination by the occupying army of China. At Durban II: silence

There are slaves across the world: from Dominican sugar cane fields belonging to the super wealthy Fanjul family to the many slaves in Arab and Muslim countries who are sold because they are of a different religion, tribe, or race. At Durban II: silence

And what about human rights violations in Burma, Egypt, Venezuela, Belarus, Equatorial Guinea, Cuba, Zimbabwe, Bolivia, Russia. At Durban II: silence

The conference promised to review how countries performed on racism. How many countries were reviewed on their racism and intolerance in the reports? Zero.

It doesn’t take an academic or an intellectual to understand that something is very wrong when on the platform is the national leader of Iran who previously denied the holocaust that took place in Europe, expresses an interest in killing millions of Israeli Jews, and leads a government that actually hangs homosexuals. And this was just the first speaker! Durban II was a sad disappointment and it illustrates everything that is wrong with the current human rights establishment inside the UN.

NGOs were put to one side and not allowed to comment or participate until after the final document was written. And some NGOs such as the ones representing Tibet or the Dalits were not even allowed to attend. What should have been a celebration of tolerance and dignity became a hatefest with several democracies simply standing up and walking out of the conference including Australia, Italy, Germany, Canada, The Netherlands, New Zealand, the U.S., Israel, and the Czech Republic. What did this say about Durban?

Durban II was a disastrous embarrassment for those involved and it highlights several important weaknesses and shortcomings displayed by the human rights establishment. A magnificent opportunity to advance human rights in the world became a platform for the continuing corruption of human rights. Human Rights has, unfortunately, become watered down and redefined. What are the basic human rights that no nation or culture should oppose? Simple: Freedom of Speech and of the Press, Freedom of Association, Freedom to think what you want. Freedom from Torture, Freedom to pursue your own job without being told what you are allowed to do, Freedom to leave and re-enter your country, Due process under law, and Freedom to keep what belongs to you. Why is this so difficult to accept? Because so many nations running the human rights establishment in the UN are despotisms that care only to speak pretty words about human rights while they kill or imprison or torture their opponents.

The best illustration of the tragic Kafkaesque disaster of Durban II is that the South African ambassador insisted that participants stop calling the Geneva meeting “Durban II” because “it is maligning my country.”

Thor Halvorssen is founder of the Oslo Freedom Forum a global human rights gathering taking place in Oslo, Norway from May 18-20. Visit

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