UN tries to contain racism meet fallout
UN organisers and delegates are determined not to let Iranina president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s racism comments dominate the agenda of the conference.GENEVA – Organisers and delegates reconvening at the UN anti-racism meeting Tuesday sought to contain the fallout after an anti-Israel onslaught by Iran's president prompted a mass walkout.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said in an interview with radio station Europe 1 the meeting was "not at all a failure but the beginning of a success".
He added that while European delegations walked out of the meeting during Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's tirade against Israel, "we did not leave the conference, and we are going back."
A European diplomat also said that Ahmadinejad's speech "certainly does not create a favourable climate but we should be able to overcome this."
Ahmadinejad, who has previously called for the Jewish state to be wiped off the map, on Monday criticised the creation of a "totally racist government in occupied Palestine" in 1948, calling it "the most cruel and repressive racist regime".
His remarks on the first day of the meeting prompted 23 European Union delegations to walk out of the conference room in protest, and provoked a flurry of condemnation from Western nations.
Meanwhile, several newspapers in Iran praised the speech, with government newspaper Iran headlining the story "Cry for justice in the heart of Europe: Ahmadinejad angered Western racists."
UN officials appealed to delegations not to let the Iranian President dominate the agenda of the conference.
"It is the responsibility of states to decide if they want to or will ensure that this conference treats real problems linked to racism and marginalise the comments of the Iranian president," Pierre Hazan, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, told AFP.
Pillay herself also called on delegates not to allow Ahmadinejad to sabotage the conference.
"Whether I consider that he sabotaged the conference. I don't think so, unless we let him do that," she told journalists late yesterday.
"So here I would appeal that you focus on ... all the important work that has been done for this conference."
While deploring Ahmadinejad's speech and accusing him of undermining the aim of the conference, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also sought to turn attention back to the key aims of the meeting.
Ban pointed out that member states had "come a long way" in forging an agreement on a draft declaration on fighting racism, xenophobia and intolerance that is expected to be adopted by the remaining states in the meeting.
"This is not the end of the process, this is just the beginning of the process. We have to continue and to build on this," Ban told journalists.
Australia, Canada, Israel, some EU countries and the United States had announced they would not take part in the meeting even before it opened Monday.
After Ahmadinejad's speech, the Czech Republic said it was definitely dropping out.
The walkout mirrored the last such conference against racism held in Durban, South Africa, in 2001 when Israeli and US delegates stormed off over comments by delegates equating Zionism with racism.
The Geneva meeting is meant to take stock of progress in fighting racial discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance since Durban. Pillay underlined recently that the goals set then had not been achieved.
AFP / Expatica