Saturday, April 25, 2009

GENEVA | A contentious U.N. conference on racism that was overshadowed by boycotts, walkouts and expulsions ended Friday with all 182 countries, including more than 50 Muslim nations, endorsing a final document that recognizes the Holocaust.

It says: “The Holocaust must never be forgotten.”

The text also deplores the rise worldwide in incidents of racial or religious intolerance and violence including the persecution of Muslims, Jews, Christians and Arabs.

Navi Pillay, U.N. high commissioner for human rights, called the conference a success, despite a “highly organized and widespread campaign of disinformation.”

She stressed that some “labeled the entire Durban process as a “hate fest.”

“We have had some rough moments in the process but a ‘hate fest?’ I’m sorry, this is hyperbole. It is a gross exaggeration,” she said, in apparent reference to campaigns by various groups that urged governments to boycott the conference over perceived bashing of Israel.

Ms. Pillay said representatives managed to go beyond issues such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to discuss broader problems of discrimination and intolerance in many parts of the world.

The conference was a sequel to a U.N. event held in Durban, South Africa, in 2001, which degenerated into a forum for Muslim nations to gang up on Israel. The U.S. walked out midway through that event.

This time, the U.S. boycotted the conference from the outset, fearing it would be a repeat of Durban.

With the possible exception of the final document, the conference lived up to expectations. Other boycotting countries included Australia, Canada, Germany and Israel.

Organizers expelled two Jewish and one Iranian nongovernmental organizations Thursday for disruptive behavior.

The Iranian group, the Neda Institute for Political and Scientific Research, was reportedly ousted for distributing offensive literature.

The Union of Jewish Students of France and the London-based group Coexist were removed for disrupting an appearance Monday by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has called Israel a “cruel, and repressive, racist regime.”

In all, the credentials of 64 representatives of the three groups were revoked, U.N. spokesman Rupert Colville said.

Two journalists representing the conservative magazine and Web site Townhall, published from Arlington, Va., were expelled from the conference venue after they disrupted the proceedings Thursday, the director of the U.N. Information Service, Marie Heuze, said.

Ms. Heuze said Samuel Horowitz, a journalist accredited to Townhall, tried to take over the podium at the Palais des Nations, and Matthew Groff filmed the scene. They were escorted out of the conference venue and their credentials were withdrawn, Ms. Heuze said in a letter to Jonathan Garthwaite, editor-in-chief of Townhall. A copy of the letter was sent to the United Nations Correspondents Association.

Mr. Ahmadinejad’s remarks on Monday triggered a walkout by nearly two dozen European delegates.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters he deplored the Iranian president for using the conference “to accuse, divide and even incite.”

Mohammad Khazaee, Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, fired back with a letter that accused Mr. Ban of subjecting Iran’s president to “unwarranted harsh criticism only for having tried to pronounce the positions of the country he represents.”

A U.N. spokeswoman said Mr. Ban stands by his remarks.

Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel told The Washington Times on the sidelines of the conference that the whole world is in bad shape. “The ideals of civilization, we must fight for them, otherwise where are we going?” he pondered.

Githu Muigai, the U.N. special rapporteur on racism and xenophobia, told reporters Thursday that “racism is alive and well around the world,” and that “a long journey lie* ahead” to eradicate racist acts.

Mr. Muigai, who is also a professor of law at the University of Nairobi in Kenya, called on President Obama to take a leadership role in international efforts to combat the scourge of racism and xenophobia.

“President Obama can play an important role to energize this process” given his “unique circumstances” as the first black president of the U.S., Mr. Muigai told The Times.

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