Troubled U.N. Racism Conference Quickly Adopts Outcome Document

Linked with Darfur Peace and Development Centre DPDC, and with Aid workers’ expulsion from Sudan impeding peacekeeping, relief efforts.

Published on, by Patrick Goodenough, April 22, 2009.

Scrambling to salvage an international conference on racism before it unraveled further, U.N. officials pressed Tuesday for a quick adoption of the “outcome document” even though the event still has three days to run.

Although negotiators had formally agreed on the text before the “Durban II” conference opened in Geneva on Monday, in theory it could have been debated and amended further during the course of the week …

… Among other issues raised by delegates on Tuesday, Libya urged countries that had endured colonialism to seek apologies and compensation from former colonial powers. Cuba said that while racism was a problem everywhere it was worst in the “rich industrialized countries” of the North, and called for compensation for the descendants of the victims of slavery.
Monday’s opening of the week-long conference was dominated by the row over Ahmadinejad’s speech, in which he said the Holocaust was used as a “pretext” for the establishment of the state of Israel, and called its government “cruel, repressive and racist.”

More than 20 European Union delegations walked out in protest, and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in a rare rebuke criticized Ahmadinejad for using the conference “to accuse, divide and even incite.”

Afterwards, the Czech Republic, which holds the E.U. presidency, said it would not take part in the rest of the conference. Its departure took to 10 the number of countries boycotting. The others are the U.S., Canada, Israel, Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Italy, Poland and Germany.

After the text was adopted Tuesday, U.N. high commissioner for human rights Navi Pillay denied that the step was taken hastily to preempt any further departures.

Replying to a question during a press briefing, she said this was not the case. The conference’s “main committee” considered the document to be ready for adoption and there was no reason to delay doing so, she said.

Pillay said the international community was called upon to continue the fight against “racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.”

“I hope that those who decided to stay away from this conference will join the international community again soon in the fight against these scourges,” she added.

Heritage Foundation scholar Brett Schaefer called the early adoption of the outcome document step “highly unusual,” noting that U.N. conferences usually culminate with that step on the final day.

Amid concerns that “things would only get worse the longer it went on,” the early adoption was clearly intended “to end the embarrassment,” he wrote on a foundation Web site. (full text).

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