Stanley's blog

How did the United Nations and its leading member countries make such a mess of the racism conference in Geneva this week, dubbed ‘Durham II”?To try to answer this question requires other questions to be addressed:

How can the UN Human Rights Council have credibility, given its anti-Israeli bias?

With the experience of Durban I in 2001, why did the UN allow a repeat performance?

Why did the UN give Libya the responsibility for organising the Geneva conference?

What is wrong with the outcome document of this conference?

Why was Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad invited to make the opening speech?

Why did some countries boycott the conference?

Why did some delegations walk out?

Why was there not a single EU position?

First, a look at the facts.

The Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, at the end of the “World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance” stated:

Declaration

58 We recall that the Holocaust must never be forgotten;

63 We are concerned about the plight of the Palestinian people under foreign occupation. We recognize the inalienable right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and to the establishment of an independent State and we recognize the right to security for all States in the region, including Israel, and call upon all States to support the peace process and bring it to an early conclusion;

64. We call for a just, comprehensive and lasting peace in the region in which all peoples shall co-exist and enjoy equality, justice and internationally recognized human rights, and security;

Programme

150 Calls upon States, in opposing all forms of racism, to recognize the need to counter anti-semitism, anti-Arabism and Islamophobia world-wide, and urges all States to take effective measures to prevent the emergence of movements based on racism and discriminatory ideas concerning these communities;

151 As for the situation in the Middle East, calls for the end of violence and the swift resumption of negotiations, respect for international human rights and humanitarian law, respect

for the principle of self-determination and the end of all suffering, thus allowing Israel and the Palestinians to resume the peace process, and to develop and prosper in security and freedom;

The outcome document of the Geneva conference stated:

12 Deplores the global rise and number of incidents of racial or religious intolerance and violence, including Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, Christianophobia and anti-Arabism manifested in particular by the derogatory stereotyping and stigmatization of persons based on their religion or belief; and in this regard urges all the UN Member States to implement paragraph 150 of the DDPA;

66. Recalls that the Holocaust must never be forgotten, and in this context urges all Member States to implement General Assembly resolutions 60/7 and 61/255;

68 Expresses its concern over the rise in recent years of acts of incitement to hatred, which have targeted and severely affected racial and religious communities and persons belonging to racial and religious minorities, whether involving the use of print, audio-visual or electronic media or any other means, and emanating from a variety of sources;

69 Resolves to, as stipulated in art. 20 of the ICCPR, fully and effectively prohibit any advocacy of national, racial, or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence and implement it through all necessary legislative, policy and judicial measures;

All references to Israel and the Middle East have been removed from the document. Some western countries object to the provisions relating to the incitement of religious hatred, seeing them as a curtailment of free speech.

Second, what did Ahmadinejad say on Monday, 20 April in Geneva?

“Following World War II, they resorted to military aggression to make an entire nation homeless on the pretext of Jewish suffering [The following words were in the distributed text but not spoken: ‘and the ambiguous and dubious question of the Holocaust’]. They sent migrants from Europe, the United States and other parts of the world in order to establish a totally racist government in the occupied Palestine. In fact, in compensation for the dire consequences of racism in Europe, they helped bring to power the most cruel and repressive racist regime in Palestine.”

“It is all the more regrettable that a number of Western governments and the United States have committed themselves to defend those racist perpetrators of genocide, while the awakened, conscious and free-minded people of the world condemn aggression, brutalities and bombardments of civilians of Gaza.”

“What are the root causes of U.S. attacks against Iraq, or invasion of Afghanistan? Was the motive behind the invasion of Iraq anything other than the arrogance of the then-U.S. administration and the mounting pressures … to expand their sphere of influence, seeking the interest of giant arms manufacturing companies, affecting another culture with thousands of years of historical background, eliminating potential and practical threats of Muslim countries against the Zionist regime? Or, to control and plunder energy resources of the Iraqi people. Why indeed were almost a million people killed and injured, and a few more millions were displaced and became homeless? Why indeed have the Iraqi people suffered enormous losses amounting to hundreds of billions of dollars? … Wasn’t the military action against Iraq planned by the Zionists and their allies in the then-U.S. administration, in complicity with the arms manufacturing companies, and the owner of the world?”

“The United States and its allies not only have failed to contain the production of drugs in Afghanistan, but also the illicit cultivation of narcotics multiplied in the course of their presence. The basic question is what was the responsibility of the then-U.S. administration and its allies? Did they represent countries of the world? Have they been mandated by them? Have they been authorized on behalf of the people of the world to interfere in all parts of the globe, and of course mostly in our region? Aren’t these measures a clear example of egocentrism, racism, discrimination, or infringement on the dignity and independence of nations?”

“Who is responsible for the current global economic crisis? Where did the crisis start from? From Africa? From Asia? Or was it first from the United States?”

“Today, the human community is facing a kind of racism that has tarnished the image of humanity. In the beginning of the third millennium, the world Zionism personifies racism that falsely resorts to religion, and abuses religious sentiment to hide their hatred and ugly faces. However, it is of great importance to bring into focus the political goals of some of the world’s powers and those who control huge economic resources and interests in the world, and mobilize all their resources, economic and political influence, and world media to render support in vain to the Zionist regime, and maliciously to diminish to indignity and disgrace this regime.”

Third, The Durban conference ended in acrimony when Arab countries tried to define Zionism as racism.

Fourth, the Geneva conference was boycotted by Australia, Canada, Germany, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and the US, over fears that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would launch a verbal onslaught against Israel.

Opening the five-day conference, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he was “profoundly disappointed” by the boycotts. “I deeply regret that some have chosen to stand aside,” said Ban. “I hope they will not do so for long.”France‘s Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner criticised the US for boycotting the conference. “It’s paradoxical – they don’t want to listen to Iran in Geneva but they are ready to talk to them,” Kouchner told French radio Europe 1.

“Regrettably, we cannot be confident that the review conference will not again be used as a platform to air offensive views, including anti-Semitic views,” said a statement from Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith.

Syrian UN delegation leader Faysal Mekdad said differences of opinion should be expected at big UN conferences. “In Syria we consider this to be natural, as such differences could be healthy. Yet we cannot allow for differences of opinion to paralyse our efforts to achieve a world free of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, foreign occupation or intolerance.”

Fifth, diplomats from more than 30 countries (all 23 EU Member States, except the Czech Republic), walked out of a UN conference yesterday during the speech of the Iranian president.

UN officials and human rights campaigners criticised the EU and other states whose representatives left the plenary in the middle of Ahmadinejad’s remarks, saying they should have stayed and presented different views instead. “The best response to this type of event is to reply, to correct, and not to walk away, not to withdraw and boycott the conference,” U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said on Monday evening. “If that happens, who is going to provide a rational response to what had been said?” Others took aim at the US and other western countries which have boycotted the whole conference to avoid giving legitimacy to criticism of Israel.

A statement issued by the Commission shortly before Ahmadinejad’s speech had disapprovingly remarked that “several Member States have decided unilaterally to withdraw from the review conference”, adding with evident approval that “a strong majority of EU member states have decided to remain engaged”.

After the walk-out, a Commission spokesperson declined to comment on the wisdom of the Commission’s statement – which had also stoutly defended the conference as “an important opportunity to illustrate and review many of the concrete and important steps taken at the national level, at the international level, but also at the regional level, to fight against racism and discrimination”.

Pakistan‘s delegation chief, Nawabzada Malik Amad Khan, also called for continued participation at the week-long meeting, saying: “In our view engagement rather than estrangement is the better course of action.”

UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon accused Mr Ahmadinejad of using his speech on the first day of the conference “to accuse, divide and even incite”, contradicting the very purpose of the meeting.

The Vatican deplored the use of the conference to take extremist and offensive political positions against any state, but did not walk out

UN disaster area

The walkout was a public relations disaster for the UN which cherishes its ability of uniting to combat injustice in the world. The result is a loss of face and credibility.

The UN Human Rights Council, which is responsible for the Geneva conference, which succeeded the UN Commission on Human Rights in 2006, was intended to be a change for the better. The Commission was widely criticized in the West for concentrating compulsively on Israel, and ignoring human rights violations in Burma, Sudan… Within its first few months, eight resolutions were passed condemning Israel, but none which explicitly addressed other countries.

EU disunited as ever

The EU was inept, the Member States not being able to reach and maintain consensus. Of the 27, four boycotted the conference, 22 walked out during the Ahmadinejad tirade, and one stayed. Of 22 who walked out, some returned and some did not. It’s hard to understand why a minimum of solidarity could not have achieved a common action.. But, once again, when the moment comes, the EU27 is incapable of speaking with a single voice despite its stated intentions.

Reflections

· The UN Human Rights Council, which is responsible for the Geneva conference, succeeded the UN Commission on Human Rights in 2006, was intended to put an end to the prejudice of its predecessor. It’s focus remains on issues of interest mainly to the Islamic world, eg Palestine and ‘insulting religion’. Serious human rights breached in the Middle East, Africa and Asia do not have the same attention.

· While the West do not have a monopoly on democracy and what it means, a human rights body, to have credibility, must have leadership from representative, democratic countries.

· Durban I in 2001 was seen as a disaster by a large number of countries. Despite this, and given the countries which mainly influence the Council, The UN organization had eight years to avoid a repetition of the Durban conference.

· The same criticizism can be directed at the UN member countries which were discontent.

· Given that the committee organizing the conference was chaired by Libya, what happened was hardly unexpected.

· The outcome document at Geneva was a substantial improvement on the draft. References to Palestine/Israel were deleted. There remained concern by a number of countries that the provisions meeting the objections to, in particular, the derogatory stereotyping and stigmatization of Moslems, could unreasonably curtail free speech. Clearly, it was no accuse for boycotting the conference.

· There is no justification for inviting President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to make the opening speech. It was a clear provocation and has destroyed the credibility of the conference for many countries.

· Ahmadinejad has frequently denied that the Holocaust happened, but deviated from his prepared speech, omitting the phrase “the ambiguous and dubious question of the Holocaust“. The official declaration states that, We recall that the Holocaust must never be forgotten. The omission could well have been the result of pressure from the Swiss president and UN Secretary General.

· The biggest puzzle is to know what was Ahmadinejad’s motivation in making this speech at this time. It does not look as if it was by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The June presidential elections may well have been a factor. Impressing countries in the region may have been in mind. Or there may have been a simpler explanation: it was another (successful) effort to confuse the West.

· It is not likely to set back the possible rapprochement between the US and Iran.

· Even though it was known that the thrust of the Iranian president’s speech would be provocative and disruptive, no country should have boycotted the conference. Once again, the western countries did not take into account the thinking of the many delegations which applauded the speech. The result should not have been assumed.

· The right course was to walk out after the offensive remarks. And delegations should have returned to the hall after the speech.

· To many, including no doubt the many Iranians who do not approve their president’s speech, those who boycotted the conference were hypocritical: apparently believing in freedom of expression when it suits them; and being willing to talk to Iran but not listen to them in Geneva.

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