'Durban II' racism conference opens in disarray

The UN anti-racism conference in Geneva begins Monday over divisions on whether to follow a US boycott of the conference. Concerns over Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's anti-Israeli sentiments are at the heart of the discord.


The UN conference on racism opened in Geneva, Switzerland, Monday with several nations – including the USA and some of its allies – boycotting the summit over fears that the proceedings will be hijacked by an anti-Israeli discourse.

Opening the five-day conference Monday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was “profoundly disappointed” by the boycotts.

“I deeply regret that some have chosen to stand aside,” said Ban. “I hope they will not do so for long."

A number of countries, including the USA, Australia, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands and Italy are not attending the summit over fears that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would launch a verbal onslaught against Israel.

Reporting from Geneva Monday, FRANCE 24’s Christophe Robeet said the boycotts have threatened to throw the summit “into total disarray.”

Israel recalls ambassador to Switzerland

Shortly after Ban’s opening speech, Israel announced that it was recalling its ambassador to Switzerland in protest. Israeli officials have voiced anger over a pre-conference meeting between Swiss President Hans-Rudolf Merz and Ahmadinejad late Sunday.

Ahmadinejad - who has denied the Holocaust in the past - is due to address the gathering later Monday. He is the only major world leader to accept an invitation to the forum.

Before setting off for Switzerland Sunday, Ahmadinejad launched a tirade against Israel. “Hostility, occupation, terror, all of these things are rooted in the ideology of racism,” said Ahmadinejad, “and today, Zionism is the pioneer of that world."

A similar discourse during the 2001 conference in Durban, South Africa, resulted in US and Israeli walkouts.

The organizers of Monday's conference agreed to remove any mention of Israel from the final document. But it incorporates the declarations of the conference eight years ago, when Israel was singled out for criticism.

The 2009 Durban Review Conference aims to take stock of the fight against racism and discrimination since the 2001 Durban World Conference Against Racism.

‘Counterproductive,’ says Obama, EU divided

Speaking to reporters over the weekend, US President Barack Obama defended the US boycott, saying the anti-Israeli rhetoric in the draft final communique was "oftentimes completely hypocritical and counterproductive".

"If we have a clean start, a fresh start, we're happy to go," the first black president of the USA told reporters at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad.

The European Union was unable to find a unified stance on whether to follow the US boycott.

Germany, along with Italy, the Netherlands and Poland, is among the list of EU nations boycotting the conference.

After days of wavering, France announced that it would attend the summit late Sunday. “The text is acceptable,” French Foreign Bernard Kouchner told the French radio station, France Info, Monday. “Israel has not been stigmatized.” France will be represented by an ambassador, according to Kouchner.

Britain has announced that it would send a delegation, but without a high-level official.

According to Robeet, French officials – like their British counterparts - were “not entirely happy about what’s going on here. But they say it’s better to be in rather than to be out. And if you’re in, you can at least have an impact on what’s being discussed here.”

But Robeet added that if Ahmadinejad pronounces anti-Israeli views at the summit later Monday, French representatives have threatened to leave the room.



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