04/21/2009, 00.00
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Durban II: UN tries to salvage final document

According to various experts (and also according to the Vatican), the document is good, opposes anti-Semitism, and reaffirms that the Holocaust must never be forgotten. At the same time, it warns all member states against racism and intolerance based on race or religion.

Geneva (AsiaNews) - On the second day of the conference against racism, UN representatives are trying to contain the possible fallout after the aggressive speech by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad against racism in Israel, which prompted at least 30 representatives, most of them European, to leave the hall.

Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, explained to the media that "what was said in the [Iranian] president's speech has had nothing to do with the substance of the conference, and so it should also have nothing to do with the results." Pillay asked the delegates not to let Durban II - the nickname for the conference - be "sabotaged" by "one person who has come with these unsavory remarks," calling Ahmadinejad "somebody who traditionally makes obnoxious statements." "So here I would appeal that you focus on," she continued, addressing the delegates, is "all the important work that has been done for this conference."

UN secretary Ban Ki-moon also condemned Ahmadinejad's speech, "directly opposing the aim of the meeting," but also highlighted the importance of the draft document against racism, xenophobia, and intolerance, which urges all states to guarantee the rights and freedoms of ethnic and religious minorities.

In general, the experts agree that the document to be approved has nothing to do with Ahmadinejad's speech. The draft document clearly condemns "incidents of racial or religious intolerance and violence, including Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, Christianophobia and anti-Arabism manifested in particular by the derogatory stereotyping and stigmatization of persons based on their religion or belief (no. 12)." Moreover, in paragraph no. 66, it reminds members states - and therefore Iran as well - that "the Holocaust must never be forgotten." Only the preamble, with its positive statements about Durban I (in 2001), three lines in all, risks ratifying the methods and contents of the previous conference, in which only the state of Israel was accused of racism.

Appreciation for the draft, and condemnation of Ahmadinejiad's speech, have been expressed in a note from the Czech president of the European Union. The EU is divided over the conference: the Czech Republic, Germany, Holland, Poland, and Italy have boycotted it, while others - including Great Britain and France - are participating. The note affirms that the 22 member states present "will continue to participate in the conference," and that they "have no particular substantial difficulties with the draft of the final document, and are ready to give their approval during its adoption on Friday," at the closing of the encounter.

Fr. Federico Lombardi, the director of the Vatican press office, has called the new UN document against racism "acceptable," and also criticized Ahmadinejiad's positions as "extremist and unacceptable," even if "he did not deny the Holocaust and Israel's right to exist." In the past, the Iranian president has repeatedly stated that the Holocaust is a fake, and that he wants to "wipe Israel off the face of the map."

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See also
Pope: dialogue between Catholics and Jews "necessary and possible"
Durban II: delegates leave hall while Ahmadinejad is speaking. Israel recalls its ambassador
Pope: UN Durban review conference on racism "important"
Pope talks about the Middle East, the Holy Land and the food crisis with Bush
Israel stops to remember Holocaust victims


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