Monday, April 20, 2009

Imperialist States and Allies Boycott World Conference Against Racism in Geneva

Walkout at Iran leader's speech

Diplomats have walked out of a UN anti-racism conference during a speech by the Iranian president in which he described Israel as "totally racist".

Dozens of delegates got up and left, moments after two protesters wearing coloured wigs disrupted the start of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's speech.

Diplomats who remained applauded as Mr Ahmadinejad continued his address.

France said it was a "hate speech" and the US called it "vile". Some countries had boycotted the meeting altogether.

The walkout is a public relations disaster for the United Nations, which had hoped the conference would be a shining example of what the UN is supposed to do best - uniting to combat injustice in the world, says the BBC's Imogen Foulkes in Geneva.

UN dismay

Paul Reynolds World affairs correspondent, BBC News website

The one issue that never seems to go away when conferences of this kind are held is the Israeli-Palestinian one. A document has been already been agreed among those governments attending and you have to read it quite closely to detect the tremors remaining from the earthquakes in discussions that went before. But enough contentious issues remain and the result is a boycott by the US, Israel, Germany, Italy, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

The walkout by delegates from at least 30 countries happened within minutes of the start of the speech.

The officials planned to return later to participate in the rest of the conference.

One of the two protesters escorted out of the conference hall managed to throw a red clown's nose at the Iranian president, as they yelled "racist, racist" as he stood at the podium.

Mr Ahmadinejad, the only major leader to attend the conference, said Jewish migrants from Europe and the United States had been sent to the Middle East after World War II "in order to establish a racist government in the occupied Palestine".

He continued, through an interpreter: "And 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."

French Ambassador Jean-Baptiste Mattei said: "As soon as he started to address the question of the Jewish people and Israel, we had no reason to stay in the room," the Associated Press news agency reported.

British Ambassador Peter Gooderham, also among those who left, said "such inflammatory rhetoric has no place whatsoever in a United Nations conference addressing the whole issue of racism and how to address it."

Speaking to the BBC Radio 4's PM programme, he said of the Iranian leader's accusation of Israeli racism: "That is a charge we unreservedly condemn and so we had no hesitation at that point in leaving the conference hall."

The US, Israel, Canada, Australia, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and New Zealand had all boycotted the conference being held in Geneva, in protest at Mr Ahmadinejad's appearance.

His comments were described as "an absolute disgrace" by Israeli President Shimon Peres, attending a Holocaust Remembrance Day event in Jerusalem.

Israel had earlier recalled its ambassador to Switzerland.

Mr Ahmadinejad told a press conference after his speech that the countries boycotting the forum were showing "arrogance and selfishness".

The US Deputy Ambassador to the UN, Alejandro Wolff, said the speech was "inaccurate", as well as showing disregard towards the UN, and "does a grave injustice to the Iranian nation and the Iranian people".

Speaking at UN headquarters in New York, he said: "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."

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner had warned that French delegates would walk out if the forum was used as a platform to attack Israel.

Speaking after the walkout, he said: "The defence of human rights and the fight against all types of racism are too important for the United Nations not to unite against all forms of hate speech, against all perversion of this message.

"Faced with attitudes like that which the Iranian president has just adopted, no compromise is possible."

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has expressed dismay at the boycotts and the speech, saying Mr Ahmadinejad had used his speech "to accuse, divide and even incite".

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2009/04/20 19:31:17 GMT

04/20/2009 17:52


Durban II: delegates leave hall while Ahmadinejad is speaking. Israel recalls its ambassador

Some of the delegates shouted "Shame!"; others applauded. Various countries are boycotting the UN conference. The Holy See is present. In Israel, some think it is better to participate. The disappointment of Ban Ki-moon.

Geneva (AsiaNews) - Dozens of delegates, most of them from the European Union, left the hall where the international UN conference on racism is taking place today, while Iranian President Ahmadinejad was giving his speech, accusing the state of Israel of being "racist." Some shouted "Shame!"; other applauded him. Before this, Tel Aviv had recalled its ambassador from Switzerland, the host country for the meeting. The reasons for the recalling of the ambassador are explained in an official note: "for consultations and in protest at the conference in Geneva."

Tel Aviv's action adds more tension to the boycott that some countries have brought against the conference, accusing it of anti-Semitism. The countries not participating include the United States, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Poland, Holland, Germany, Italy.

The UN meeting, "against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance," is the first meeting on this topic in the eight years since the conference in Durban (2001), which concluded chaotically with some of the countries leaving, because they were critical of the final document, which cited only the state of Israel as a racist country.

The conference (called "Durban II"), which will last until April 24, is supposed to approve a document restating the conclusions of 2001, with the risk of reproposing the unilateral accusations of Israeli racism. It was this that unleashed the boycott of various countries.

In recent weeks, the conference committee removed from the text the terms and accusations that were most clearly against Tel Aviv, but the preamble of the document itself reaffirms "the adoption" of the Durban document, although in other parts it speaks of stopping anti-Semitism, together with hatred of Islam and Christianity.

The unilateral accusations against Israel (and the lack of accusations against racism in the Third World, as in Sudan, Vietnam, China, India, etc.) led a number of countries to boycott the meeting.

In Israel, public opinion is divided: some think that the country should have participated in the conference in order to avoid leaving the entire stage for the enemies of Tel Aviv.

At the beginning of the work in Geneva, UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon said that he was "profoundly disappointed" at the boycott of the conference by some countries.

More Countries Join US, Israel Boycott of UN Racism Conference
A growing number of Western countries are joining the United States and Israel in boycotting the United Nations World Conference on Racism, which opened today in Geneva, Switzerland. Australia, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and New Zealand all announced they would boycott the conference soon after the US announced its formal decision not to attend Saturday. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the opening session he was “profoundly disappointed” at the boycotts. We go to Geneva to get the latest.

Margaret Parsons, Executive Director of African Canadian Legal Clinic. She participated in the original Durban conference in 2001 and all the preparatory meetings for the review conference.

Ingrid Jaradat, Director of the Bethlehem-based BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights.

AMY GOODMAN: A growing number of Western countries are joining the United States and Israel in boycotting the United Nations World Conference on Racism, which opened today in Geneva, Switzerland. Australia, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and New Zealand all announced they would boycott the conference soon after the US announced it formally decided not to attend on Saturday. Israel and Canada—or Israel said Canada had decided to shun the conference many months earlier. France and the UK are attending, but France says it will walk out immediately if there are racist comments made against Israel. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the opening session he was “profoundly disappointed” at the boycotts.

As the conference began, Israel said it was recalling its ambassador to Switzerland. The protest came as the Swiss president met the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is to address the UN conference later today.

The meeting is a follow-up to the first world conference to discuss racism which was held in Durban, South Africa, in August of 2001 and is meant to review progress that’s been made in the fight against racial discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance.

President Obama defended the boycott decision at a news conference in Trinidad on Sunday, citing concerns over adopting language from the 2001 final document and its expressions of, quote, “antagonism towards Israel.” He said participating in the conference, quote, “would have involved putting our imprimatur on something that we just don’t believe.”

I’m joined now on the telephone from Geneva by Margaret Parsons. She’s the executive director of the African Canadian Legal Clinic. She participated in the original Durban conference in 2001, as well as all the preparatory meetings for the review conference.

We welcome you to Democracy Now!, Margaret. Can you explain what has happened so far?

MARGARET PARSONS: Well, today, thank you for inviting me. Today, it was just mainly foreign ministers and other high-level officials that have brought greetings and, you know, sharing their commitment to fight and eradicate racism and other forms of discrimination. And basically, it’s been pretty calm today.

You know, NGOs have had displays, and there are different side events, voices of victims. You know, there will be side events throughout the entire week on issues like the trans-Atlantic slave trade, indigenous peoples, what’s happening with the Dalits and Romas around the world. And it’s just people just sharing what is taking place in different regions and countries globally.

AMY GOODMAN: And your reaction to the US, Israel, Canada, Australia, a number of countries pulling out of the conference?

MARGARET PARSONS: Well, we are extremely disappointed by the boycott of these Western nations. While we’re disappointed, we are not surprised, because this is about accountability. These countries have not come to the table with clean hands. They have never really meant to participate and really be held accountable for the implementation of the Durban Declaration and Program of Action, a document they all signed onto in 2001, the exception of Israel and the United States. At least the United States and Israel are being consistent in their position. However, these other countries are quite hypocritical in their withdrawal. You know, many here feel that if these countries had come, they would have received a failing grade, because they have done little to nothing to implement the Program of Action.

The Durban Declaration and Program of Action is an excellent blueprint. There was nothing in that document that was racist, anti-Semitic. It was an expression of goodwill. It was an expression of encouragement in terms of the peace process in the Middle East. And it is an excellent document and a blueprint that countries should adopt in working to eradicate racism.

AMY GOODMAN: The US and other Western countries say the draft final document contains objectionable language that could single out Israel for criticism. But all references to the Israel and the Middle East were removed from the draft document, and Palestinian civil society groups are critical of how Israel’s actions against Palestinians have now been excluded from the framework of the conference.

We’re also joined on the phone from Geneva by Ingrid Jaradat, the director of the Bethlehem-based BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights.

We welcome you to Democracy Now! Explain your response to the pullout of the United States and a number of other Western nations.

INGRID JARADAT: Well, our first response has been the question whether these governments have actually read the original documents and the draft documents, because neither the original Durban Declaration and Program of Action nor current drafts include any inciting language against Israel. In the initial Durban documents of 2001, the only time Israel is mentioned it’s mentioned as a state entitled to security like all other states. So there is no—there has never been any sort of language that could be declared racist. And it makes you really wonder which documents people are referring to when they say they are antagonistic.

And so, I would appeal to everybody who has good faith to go back to the documents and read the papers. And especially since we are dealing with a Durban review conference, it would be good to read the papers. So, that would be reaction number one, and—because much of what is now being said by governments and in the media about the debates and about the documents has no factual basis.

AMY GOODMAN: I also wanted to ask Margaret Parsons what this means for the US pulling out, the first African American president of the United States, Barack Obama, a conference on racism.

MARGARET PARSONS: Well, this is very disappointing. And many of the people of African descent here have expressed their disappointment in Barack Obama, that we feel that he has come in, and he has talked about change. And we have seen where he has extended a hand to Cuba after fifty years of the embargo, where he’s willing to make change. He has extended a hand to the Muslim and Arab world and trying to get people to take a different view or move back from their stereotypical positions on the Muslim and the Arab world. He’s shown in many ways—he’s gone to Turkey, and he’s willing and said that he’s willing to sit down and meet and talk with the president of Iran, with North Korea.

And so, we feel that at the very least he should have expressed and shown some goodwill and some good faith and, in his whole agenda on change, to come here, to actually read the document and not listen just to the pro-Israeli lobby, but to send a delegation and to show that he really is committed to change and he really is committed to an anti-racism agenda, and to do the right thing and to have participated. We are very surprised, we are very disappointed. And quite frankly, I think that this is a black eye on the Obama administration.

AMY GOODMAN: What can be accomplished at this conference with a number of countries, with Germany and Holland and Switzerland and Australia, New Zealand, Italy, Canada, also boycotting? What now do you hope can come at the end of this conference?

MARGARET PARSONS: I think it’s important to note that this unholy and cynical alliance between what is predominantly white Western countries is them not wanting to have to address the legacy of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, colonization, the occupation of Palestine, and the expropriation of indigenous people’s lands and resources.

And I think still a lot has been accomplished, because a lot has been achieved since 2001. Many regions of the world, many countries have taken the Durban Declaration and Program of Action very seriously and have moved it forward, countries such as Brazil. The Afro-Latino and indigenous communities in regions in South America have seen not full and complete progress, but significant progress. We’ve seen the same thing happen in places like South Africa, with the Dalits in India. And so, I think that we are here now to support those countries, to support those regions and those governments, and as they move forward in the implementation.

But also we are here in defiance of our governments—Canada and the US and New Zealand and the Netherlands—to say we are not giving up the fight, and we are going to continue in our struggle to end racism, in our anti-racism agenda, and to continue to hold our countries accountable and these Western countries accountable, because this is our very lives, this is our very human rights that’s at stake here. And whether or not they are here, we will continue to move and continue to speak out against atrocities around the world, human rights abuses, and to ensure that racism and discrimination is combatted everywhere.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both for being with us, Margaret Parsons, executive director of the African Canadian Legal Clinic, as well as Ingrid Jaradat, the director of the Bethlehem-based BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian residency and refugee rights, both speaking to us from Geneva.

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