Uncertainty persists before the second UN conference on racism and intolerance scheduled to take place in Geneva from April 20 to 24. The nations and organizations meant to take part have dallied in confirming their participation -- following the example set by the EU, which has yet to give definitive word.
The first conference on racism -- held in Durban, South Africa, in 2001 -- was a near-failure because of strong discord over Israel’s policy toward Palestinians.
The US and Israel left the summit in protest against an item on its agenda that sought to classify Zionism as a form of racism in the summit’s final declaration.
This year, the announcement that Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would attend the conference seemed to put an ominous bias on how the debates on Middle East issues would unfold.
“The fight against racism and discrimination is too important to let it run its own course,” said Juliette de Rivero, Geneva advocacy director of the New York-based Human Rights Watch, in a press release.
Three counter summits have been organized on the sidelines of the official meetings.
A civil society forum, whose organizers want to offer a completely independent programme, is to be held at the House of Geneva Associations. A street demonstration is also expected on Saturday afternoon.
Finally, a “Geneva summit for human rights, tolerance, and democracy” is slated to take place at the International Conference Centre. This summit’s stated goal is to address the question of human rights on a large scale (genocide, etc). Israeli associations have signed on to participate.
Sympathizers of the Palestinian cause will meet at the “Conference for examining the Israel question,” to take place at the Le Grenil hotel.
Human Rights Watch will not take part in any of the three side summits. Rather, the group will be present at the official proceedings of the main conference.
Racism as a ‘question of social and cultural rights’
An amended version of the Geneva summit’s final declaration should be available before the first session officially opens on Monday. The US -- along with certain European nations -- is waiting to read the final version before confirming its participation.
The declaration is expected to strip any political issues – such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – of overtones that might be construed as religious defamation.
Some humanitarian associations have deplored the fact that the conference’s ambitions have been whittled down to reduce discord.
Éric Sottas, secretary general of the World Organisation against Torture in Geneva, says: “We regret the slow advancement on the question of migrants motivated by socio-economic factors, who are victims of ethnic discrimination in their respective countries. We must absolutely integrate the question of racism with the question of social and cultural rights.”