UN Watch to honour Kenney for ‘moral courage’

Jason Kenney

TORONTO — Hillel Neuer well remembers the lead-up to the 2009 Durban Review Conference, the UN anti-racism followup parley popularly known as Durban II. Durban I, which was held in South Africa some years before, had degenerated into what many critics termed an anti-Semitic hate fest. With then-Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad scheduled to address the Durban II delegates in Geneva, right across the street from the offices of the organization he heads, UN Watch, Neuer expected a similar festival of anti-Israel agitation.

But in January 2008, more than a year before the conference was scheduled to proceed, the government of Canada said it would not participate. Canada’s lead in boycotting the conference was followed by about a dozen democracies, including Israel and the United States.

Taking the lead in announcing Canada’s boycott, was Jason Kenney, then minister of citizenship and immigration.

“It was a seminal moment for us at UN Watch,” said Neuer. “Canada took the moral lead.”

In recognition of Kenney’s role in that event, UN Watch was scheduled to present Kenney with its Moral Courage Award at a May 22 event in Geneva.

“It’s for people who take a stand, and Jason Kenney has taken a stand on the true principles of the United Nations – human rights – which we are trying to safeguard from the political blocs trying to distort the meaning of human rights,” Neuer said.

Last year’s winner was Shin Dong-hyuk, the only known surviving escapee from a North Korean prison camp.

Speaking on the phone from Geneva, Neuer said Kenney has been a consistent voice on the world stage speaking against anti-Semitism and bigotry.

He also commended Kenney and the government of Canada for speaking against Richard Falk, former UN special rapporteur for Israel. When Falk spoke at the UN and called for UN Watch to be investigated, Kenney rose in Parliament to  defend UN Watch. He called Falk a 9/11 conspiracist, said he was “a disgrace” to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and he called on the UN to fire him.

Liberal MP Irwin Cotler, who was also highly critical of the Durban conferences, applauded Kenney’s role as “a leader both in and outside of the Canadian Parliament on issues of respect for multiculturalism and diversity, the combating of racism and anti-Semitism, support for Israel’s right to live within secure and recognized boundaries free from any threats or acts of force, and support for fairness and due process at the UN, including combating the singling out of Israel for discriminatory treatment while giving human rights violators exculpatory immunity. We have been close colleagues and friends for some time, and I have been proud to work with him in common cause across party lines.”

A tribute page posted online by UN Watch included congratulations from Canadians of Vietnamese, Burmese, Pakistani, Uyghur, Chinese and South Sudanese descent. In addition, a message from the Dalai Lama noted Kenney’s support for Tibet and for “the rights of oppressed people around the world.”

UN Watch was also scheduled to present its Morris B. Abram Human Rights Award to Iranian dissident and author Marina Nemat, who now lives in Canada.

Nemat was jailed and tortured as a political prisoner in Tehran at age 16.

“UN Watch is honouring Marina Nemat for her brave and outstanding work worldwide in bearing witness to the horrific crimes perpetrated against her by a regime that continues to assault, jail, torture, rape and execute human rights defenders, religious, ethnic and sexual minorities, and thousands of other innocent men, women and children,” said Neuer, who’s marking  10 years as UN Watch’s executive director.

Previous winners of the prize include Russian dissident and chess champion Garry Kasparov; Massouda Jalal, the first woman in Afghanistan to run for president and to serve as minister for women’s affairs; and Esther Mujawayo, an activist for victims of the genocide in Rwanda.

Also last week, UN Watch condemned the UNHRC’s “bizarre, nepotistic, and politically driven” decision to name Hilal Elver as special rapporteur on the right to food. Elver is Falk’s wife. Her appointment came the same day he ended a six-year term as UN special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories.