Rassegna Stampa Elezioni Israeliane 2009

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Analysis: UN racism conference – disaster born from disaster

Posted by claudiacampli su 20 aprile, 2009

Times

Catherine Philp, Diplomatic Correspondent

There has only ever been one United Nations conference on racism before and it ended in disaster. The second begins in it.

The boycott, begun by the United States and Israel, has snowballed so far across the Western world that any official international consensus on dealing with racism and xenophobia now looks near pointless.

Australia, New Zealand and Canada declined some weeks ago to attend the so-called Durban II in Geneva, with Italy and the Netherlands joining them. Now Germany and Poland have followed them in staying away after up to the wire negotiations by Britain and France for Europe to attend on a united front.

British and French diplomats have been at the forefront of the frenzy of diplomatic activity to remove the most objectionable language from the conference’s final resolution since Washington first raised the boycott in February.

Until then, it looked much like the fiasco of the 2001 conference, Durban I, would be repeated with the same clauses that caused American and Israeli walkouts, singling out Israel as uniquely racist.

Even more inflammatory was the resolution by the parallel conference of 3,000 non-governmental organisations, which accused Israel of genocide, prompting walkouts and condemnations by some of the world’s most prominent human rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Some delegates used the conference to circulate openly anti-Semitic literature with cartoons reminiscent of Nazi propaganda.

All language referring to any specific country, including Israel, has been expunged from Durban II, but American objections rest on the conference’s continued endorsement of the 2001 resolution. Britain decided to take a pragmatic path, accepting Durban I as an historic fact in order to work on making its follow-up more acceptable.

So Britain and France took their seats in Geneva on Monday morning, reserving the right to walk out if any of their red lines are breached. The first test of that will come when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian President, takes to the floor to deliver his own treatise on racism.

Before departing for Geneva, Mr Ahmadinejad launched a new broadside against Israel, saying “the Zionist ideology and regime are the flag-bearers of racism”. After the Swiss president met him on his arrival in the country, Israel withdrew its ambassador in protest.

France has said its delegation will walk out if Mr Ahmadinejad repeats anti-Semitic sentiments and that the remaining European attendees will join them. “If he has any sense, he will not repeat that in the room. If he does say it inside the room, all the European ambassadors will stand up and leave,” Bernard Kouchner , the French foreign minister said.

Both countries have also pledged not to sign a final resolution that singles out Israel. The most likely battle, diplomats say, will be over whether to include a paragraph vowing to “never forget” the Holocaust, without which neither Britain nor France will sign. The clause is seen as a test for countries like Iran whose leaders have habitually denied it happened.

The UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, expressed his frustration at the boycotts, saying he was “profoundly disappointed”.

“Some nations who by rights should be helping to forge a path to a better future are not here,” he said as he opened the meeting on Monday morning. “I deeply regret that some have chosen to stand aside.”

Much has been made by Israel and others of Mr Ahmadinejad’s appearance as a “guest of honour” at the conference. He is no such thing. It was up to each country how far up the food chain they went to choose a head of delegation. Who they choose is broadly indicative of their feelings towards the conference.

Mr Ahmadinejad is one of only three heads of state or government to address the conference. The others are from Montenegro and Togo. Less than forty other countries attending are represented at ministerial level, most of them African or from elsewhere in the developing world. Britain is sending its permanent representative to the UN in Geneva.

Mr Ahmadinejad is no doubt relishing the attention. It is rare he gets an international stage of this magnitude. Few events ever give all countries the opportunity to express themselves on a level playing field.

The only other is the annual United Nations General Assembly, which he regularly uses to air internationally distasteful views – in the absence of the American and Israeli delegations who habitually leave their seats vacant for the duration. There are high hopes that the current furore over the jailed American journalist, Roxana Saberi, that appears to have embarrassed the Iranian leader, may prevent him from deliberately torpedoing the conference – if that has not effectively happened already.

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