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Racism and the United Nations

The United Nations was founded to maintain international peace and security, promote self-determination and basic human rights, and protect fundamental freedoms. Sadly, weaknesses in the organization have prevented it from fully realizing these high aspirations. And this weeks conference in Geneva is a prime example.

History of the Conference

The 2001 United Nations World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance held in Durban, South Africa, was used as a platform for countries with abysmal human rights records of their own to criticize Israel and the United States. The official document put out by the nongovernmental organizations from the conference branded Israel as a racist apartheid state, guilty of genocide crimes against Palestinians.

In addition, the U.S. was criticized for several perceived crimes, including widespread racism that was responsible for racial oppression around the world and denial of economic rights. Some African countries even wanted reparations from the West for slavery. In the end, the 2001 Durban conference turned into a noxious series of anti-Semitic and anti-American speeches and statements, which ultimately resulted in the U.S. delegation walking out of the conference.

This Weeks Conference

This week there will be another conference in Geneva on racism to further the implementation of the 2001 Durban Declaration. It is not shaping up to be much better than the first.

Libya was elected to set the agenda and objectives for the conference, which is puzzling considering its membership in the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and the League of Arab States, two organizations very hostile to Israel. Iran is a vice-chair, despite the fact that the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has infamously stated that Israel “must be wiped off the map” and that “Zionists are the true manifestation of Satan. Among the other vice-chairs are Cuba, Pakistan, Russia, and South Africa, none of which has distinguished itself as a champion of equality and human rights.

Additionally, draft outcome documents for the Durban Review Conference contain several troubling references to Israel and statements supporting constraining freedom of speech and expression. Such statements include:

[the conference] expresses deep concern at the plight of Palestinian refugees and other inhabitants of the Arab occupied territories as well as displaced persons who were forced to leave their homes because of war and racial policies of the occupying power and who are prevented from returning to their homes and properties because of a racially based law of return.

that a most disturbing phenomenon is the intellectual and ideological validation of Islamophobia. [W]hen it is expressed in the form of defamation of religions, it takes cover behind the freedom of expression [A]ssociation of terrorism and violence with Islam or any other religion, including through publication of offensive caricatures and making of hate documentaries, would purposely complicate our common endeavours to address several contemporary issues, including the fight against terrorism and the occupation of foreign territories and peoples.

While the first quote clearly denies Israel statehood, the second quote identifies the type of speech that the conference feels should be banned: any art, speech, or film that may be offensive to Islam. And even though the latest draft eliminates some of the more objectionable language, it will be the goal of countries like Iran and Pakistan to makes sure that this years conference endorses these concepts.


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