THE second World Conference Against Racism (WCAR), held in Geneva in April, was, like the first one in Durban in 2001, unnecessarily dogged by controversies, all of them instigated by Tel Aviv and backed by Washington.
Israel, the United States and Canada boycotted the Durban Review Conference, or Durban II, in Geneva on the flimsy grounds that the Jewish state was being targeted for unnecessary criticism. Israel and Canada, which has a right-wing government, decided last year itself to boycott the conference. There was considerable pressure from liberal groups in the U.S. on the Barack Obama administration to participate in the conference.
The U.S. State Department had in fact thanked the organisers for taking American sensibilities into consideration while preparing for the conference. Another positive signal from the White House was the U.S. decision to join the United Nations Human Rights Council. The George W. Bush administration, driven by U.N. phobia, had, along with Israel, refused to join the body. But to the surprise of the international community, the U.S. backed out of the Geneva conference at the 11th hour claiming that the conference had an anti-Israel agenda. The 2001 conference focussed on human rights issues such as the repression of Palestinians and also indigenous people the world over.
Navi Pillay, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, expressed her deep regret at the withdrawal of the U.S. and some of its close allies from the conference. Pope Benedict XVI, however, gave the conference a thumbs up. He said that the conference was important for the cause of eliminating racial intolerance.
The Catholic news agency, which reflects the views of the Vatican, said that the Popes comments were a clear indication that the Holy See is distancing itself from the criticisms of some Western countries. The U.S. Congressional Black Caucus, which had strongly urged the U.S. to participate, issued a statement saying that it was deeply dismayed by Obamas decision. The statement said that the decision to boycott the conference does not advance the cause of combating racism and intolerance, but rather sets the clock back.
Durban II was held, at the U.N.s European headquarters, to evaluate the progress made towards the goals set eight years ago in South Africa. At the 2001 conference, the overwhelming majority of nations had condemned the legacy of colonialism, the slave trade, and racism in the contemporary era. Most of the delegates present in Durban had equated Zionism with racism.
The horrific events in the interregnum have made the world even more incensed with Israel. The U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, coupled with serious violations of human rights in the eight years of the Bush presidency, has made the developing world even angrier about the Wests double standards on human rights and racism.
These double standards were on display again in Geneva. A small but raucous minority in the audience tried to disrupt Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejads speech. The U.N. had extended invitations to all heads of state. Only the Iranian President saw it fit to attend.
There was little in what Ahmadinejad said that could be construed as offensive to the Jewish religion or people. He said that Israel was the creation of European states that had emerged victorious in the Second World War.
After the Second World War, by exploiting the Holocaust and under the pretext of protecting the Jews, they [the Zionists] made a nation homeless with military expeditions and invasion. They established a completely racist government in the occupied Palestinian territories. And in fact under the pretext of making up for the damage resulting from racism in Europe, they established the most aggressive, racist country in another territory. The Security Council endorsed this usurper regime and for 60 years constantly defended it and let it commit any kind of crime. The final Draft Declaration that was prepared by the U.N. contained a paragraph stating that the Holocaust should never be forgotten, Ahmadinejad said.
The accusation against Ahmadinejad is that he questioned the veracity of the Holocaust, but the fact remains that Iran is a signatory to the final statement issued in Geneva condemning the Holocaust. Ahmadinejads verbal attacks have been aimed against the ideology of Zionism, which has been grossly perverted by some of its high-profile adherents today. The Draft Declaration, however, characterised Israel as a racist and cruel regime. This wording prompted 23 European Union member-states to temporarily stage a walk-out. Most of them were back before the conference ended. Interestingly, the E.U. nations did not have a common position on the U.N. racism summit.
A Palestinian member of the Israeli Parliament told the media in Geneva that what the Israelis were doing to Palestinians was worse than what apartheid South Africa had done. The Israeli government, he said, was separating not only Palestinians from Jews but Palestinians from Palestinians by building walls and illegal settlements on Palestinian land. But he also said that Ahmadinejads intervention only served to divert the conferences attention from the Palestinian issue. Mairead Maguire, winner of the Nobel Prize for Peace, recently accused Israel of practising ethnic cleansing. She told a news conference in Jerusalem that the Israeli governments policies are against international law, against human rights, against the dignity of the Palestinian people.
Israel recently confirmed that it would not cooperate with the U.N. investigation into war crimes committed during the 22-day military assault on Gaza. The U.N. Human Rights Council had appointed Richard Goldstone, a prominent judge from South Africa, to examine the charges of human rights violation and war crimes against the Jewish state.
The U.N. bent over backwards to humour Tel Aviv and Washington at the Geneva conference by keeping Israels actions in Palestine out of the formal framework. Rami Khoury, the Lebanese political commentator, noted recently in an article that Western powers chose to deny and ignore the rule of law when it comes to more than four decades of Israeli actions, but enthusiastically promote it when it comes to their aspirations to transform the Arab and Islamic world. He wrote that the rhetorical downgrading of Israels criminality by the West is pathological.
Ahmadinejad, in his speech, also made valid criticisms against the West. He said that the U.S. had invaded Iraq to loot the country of its energy resources. He went on to add that the American-led invasion of Afghanistan had brought more chaos to the region. The Iranian leader pointed out that the production of narcotics in Afghanistan had increased manifold after the U.S. occupation. The countries that joined in the boycott to show solidarity with Israel and the U.S. were Canada, the Netherlands, Poland, Italy, Germany, New Zealand and Australia. Interestingly, many of these countries have a history of racism, which they have failed to address adequately. The Czech Republic walked out of the conference after Ahmadinejads speech. These countries also made a concerted effort to derail the conference and sabotage the Final Declaration.
The Final Declaration at the Durban Review Conference was adopted by consensus by the U.N. member-states, barring the nine absentees. The Declaration called for protecting vulnerable people and fighting against racism, discrimination and intolerance. The adopted text was slimmer than the draft that had been put up for discussion. It contains no explicit criticism of Israel. Any mention
of the Jewish state would have scuttled the chances of a consensus. It, however, refers back to the Durban I Declaration, which specifically mentioned the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It stated that we are concerned about the plight of the Palestinian people under foreign occupation.
The 143 articles of the Durban II Declaration call for the protection of vulnerable minorities such as the Romas in Europe and people infected with HIV and AIDS. The continuing legacy of the slave trade and its impact on the African continent is mentioned in great detail. For the sake of unanimity, the Palestinians allowed the document to gloss over their case, the most important issue and one that has been crying out for a resolution for 60 years.
The Islamic states wanted a tough paragraph on the issue of the right of free speech, which is being used to insult religions. The Danish cartoon controversy involving the Prophet continues to anger them. The Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) wanted defamation of religion defined as racist behaviour.
In the end, the OIC settled for wording that would not infringe on the freedom of expression. The final text deplored the derogatory stereotyping and stigmatising of persons based on their religion.