Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Racists on Racicm

On Holocaust Remembrance Day, it seems fitting to write a little about the United Nations conference on racism being held in Geneva. Officially named the Durban Review Conference in reference to the Durban, South Africa conference on racism in 2001, which was to provide a "framework for guiding governments, non-governmental organizations and other institutions in their efforts to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance." The United States boycotted the original conference and Obama's administration, in a move I happen to agree with, has decided to continue that boycott. The US is not the only nation to boycott what once became a forum for denouncing Israel, this year nine countries are refusing to attend the conference while twenty-four more countries' delegations walked out during the opening speech by Iranian president Ahmadinejad.

Why all the controversy? I can think of two reasons off-hand: one, in the case of the USA, the wording of the resolution to be adopted would conflict with the Bill of Rights, in that the resolution attempts to stifle criticisms that might be offensive to a racial or ethnic group; two, the conference, as is often the case with UN conferences, gets derailed for the political ends of member states as a soapbox for their agendas, in this case Ahmadinejad's denunciations of Israel.

I've been trying to find the text of Ahmadinejad's speech, but all I'm finding are comments in reaction to his words. Go here for the Vatican's response, here for the responses by the Office of French President Sarkozy, the UN Secretary-General, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and others. Al Jazeera ran an interesting article including Israel's reaction, as well.

What does all this mean for us? Not much, which is pretty much what any UN resolution means, especially when the organization continues to undermine its own credibility by asking a well known anti-Semite to headline a conference on racism. It's almost like asking Libya to head a committee on Human Rights abuse... but that was back in 2003.


  1. Interesting find with the Al Jazeera article. They don't seem too pleased with it either.

    The Navi Pillay response is so weird I'm almost wondering if it's an "all your base are belong to us" translation or just as weird in Navi's original language. For the UN to complain that Ahmadinejad's speech would invite a bunch of angry responses when they *knew* he'd say something to goad everyone and still invited him borders on the surreal.

    I'd been having a hard time finding the name of the conference; for some reason many of the news sites didn't give its name. They'd just been calling it the "racism meeting," making the whole thing remind me of one of Tom Lehrer's lines. "I do, however, have a cause. It is obscenity..." And the headlines almost made me wonder if the racism meeting had the same position on racism that Tom Lehrer took on obscenity. "I am for it."

  2. The United Nations' main website has a link to the conference, you can find minutes there for each day. However, they also do not have the text of Ahmadinejad's frothing. I think they once again wanted to give themselves an oportunity to posture at holier-than-thou inclusion, followed by righteous indignation... But maybe I'm too cynical about the UN's motives, after all, the charter really is written in such a fashion as to be sure the United Nations is a powerless entity that looks like it is doing something useful.

  3. oh, and Powerline reports that the conference has been ended. Only three days early.

  4. Roger Simon's wording on the outcome is priceless. "At 4PM Geneva time, the United Nations and its High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay announced that the responsible committee (hard to know exactly who that is) had approved the final outcome statement of the Durban Review Conference."


    I'm not entirely sure I can be all that cynical about the UN's motivations as the whole thing looks too stupid to have been something they planned to turn out that way. It looks more like they've just let a couple nutjobs strong arm the agenda for the conference, and are now trying to convince the world that these sorts of things still actually matter.