The conference on racism, Durban II, began Monday at UN headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, in a tormented atmosphere. Several Western countries have boycotted the meeting fearing a possible slippage of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad… and as expected the latter did not fail to address Israel’s “racist government,” pushing the few remaining Western countries to leave the ongoing conference.
“After the Second World War, they (the Allies, ed) have resorted to the military aggression of land to deprive an entire nation under the pretext of Jewish suffering,” said Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Monday afternoon in Geneva, before the participants of the UN conference on racism, Durban II. “They have sent migrants to Europe, the United States and the world of the Holocaust to establish a racist government in occupied Palestine,” he said before an audience of dumbfounded European officials.
The intervention of Iranian president lasted over thirty minutes instead of the seven scheduled. Caught in the violence of the verbal attack, representatives of several Western states left the room.
Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations has sharply criticized the statements by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. “I deplore the use of this platform by the Iranian president to accuse, divide and even incite,” he said. “It is deeply regrettable that my case to look to a future of unity has not been listened to by the Iranian president,” he added. According to U.S. Deputy Ambassador to the UN, Alejandro Wolff, “We call on the Iranian leadership to show much measured, moderate, honest and constructive rhetoric when dealing with issues in the region, and not this type of vile, hateful, inciteful speech.” The french president, Nicolas Sarkozy, has called on the European Union to exercise “the utmost firmness.” However, France has decided to remain at the conference to the dismay of most European countries. Secretary of State for Human Rights, Rama Yade, who appeared on national television, indicated “there was vile provocation which was absolutely shocking, but we must remain to fight.”
The conference on racism organised by the United Nations in Geneva from 20 to 24 April 2009, aims to assess progress in implementing actions paving the way for equality for every individual and every group in all regions and countries of the world, as started by Durban I. Earlier anti-Zionist comments made by Iran during the first conference, in South Africa in 2001, had also caused a clamor leading to the departure of Americans and Israelis.
Buoyed by the memory of Durban I, several countries doubted their participation in Durban II for several weeks. At the very last moment, the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Italy and the Netherlands announced their withdrawal. Canada and Israel had, on the other hand, warned long before that they would not be taking part. Germany’s decision to boycott the conference further extended the absentee list on Sunday evening. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, however, promised that Germany would pay a close attention to the conference and could even resume active participation later on.
For many of these countries the bone of contention is the Iranian President’s anti-Semitic diatribes, while some think the final draft declaration could undermine the freedom of expression.
Poland, the Netherlands and Italy fear the manipulation of the conference in favor of “ inadmissible, aggressive and anti-Semitic statements.” For these countries, Durban II might be worse than Durban I as those countries who cannot be bothered with human rights seek to “manipulate the conference to put religion before human rights,” Foreign Minister of Netherlands, Maxime Verhagen, said.
U.S. President Barack Obama explained that the non participation of his country is due to the fact that the inclusion of certain ideas in the final document is “absolutely hypocritical and counter productive.” New Zealand and Australia have followed suit with other states, arguing that Durban II would be a forum to express offensive and anti-Semitic opinions.
Following the failure in South Africa (Durban 2001), the conference on racism in Switzerland in 2009 is far from achieving its objectives. The Iranian president’s statement confirms the fear of the absentee states, thus casting a shadow of doubt on a possible Durban III.
It must be noted that the remarks of the Iranian president were met with no such hue and cry from the representatives of Muslim countries at the summit on racism.