GENEVA, April 24 (Xinhua) -- The United Nations' anti-racism conference, which concluded here Friday, was quite an extraordinary meeting in terms of the topics it dealt with, the setbacks it met and the hard-won outcome it finally achieved, analysts said.
The conference was meant to assess and accelerate progress on the implementation of measures adopted at the 2001 World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and related Intolerance, held in Durban, South Africa.
It was very necessary to hold the meeting, as was decided by UN member states at a General Assembly meeting in 2006, in consideration that "racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance are still problems that occur on a daily basis in every part of the world, hindering progress in the lives of millions of people," the UN said.
ISRAEL-PALESTINE CONFLICT CAUSES DIVISION
Despite the necessity and importance to hold this review conference, its preparatory process had been quite difficult, mainly because of the severe division caused by the enduring conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
Israel and the United States walked out of the 2001 anti-racism conference in South Africa before its conclusion because of Arab countries' strong condemnation of Israel, and they were concerned that the review conference in Geneva could again become a "forum for anti-Semitism".
The United States had largely distanced itself from the negotiating process for the outcome document to be adopted in Geneva. And it had conditioned its participation of the review conference on the deletion of all references to Israel, Zionism, the Middle East conflict and proposals made by Islamic countries to bar "defamation of religion".
Although the revised draft agreed on by negotiators, including those from European countries, on April 17 after months of talks did omit all direct references to Israel and the Middle East, the United States said it still had concerns in the document.
U.S. State Department spokesman Robert Wood said that the draft still reaffirmed the 2001 Durban document, which he said contained unacceptable parts referring to the Middle East conflict.
Washington finally announced on April 18 that it would stay away from the conference, joining Israel and Canada who had already announced their boycotts of the conference. Following suit, Australia, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Poland and New Zealandalso announced their boycotts of the meeting, citing the same concerns that it could be used as a forum to criticize Israel.
AHMADINEJAD'S SPEECH SPARKS TURMOIL
The meeting was opened on Monday nevertheless, but a speech by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sparked a turmoil at the assembly hall.
Dozens of European delegates walked out of the meeting in protest when Ahmadinejad strongly condemned Israel's "crimes" in Gaza and likened the country to a "totally racist" regime.
In the meanwhile, some activists tried for several times to disrupt Ahmadinejad's speech with shouts of "racist" and "shame" and placards in their hands, including two from the French Union of Jewish Students (UEJF).
UEJF and two other non-governmental organizations (NGO) were later banned from participating in the conference due to their behavior "in clear violation of the rules laid down regarding the conduct of NGOs during the conference," a UN spokesman said.
OUTCOME DOCUMENT ADOPTED DESPITE SETBACKS
Despite setbacks caused by the boycotts as well as the Iranian president's speech, the meeting avoided a collapse and delegates managed to refocus on the real threat of racism. All delegates that walked out of the meeting on Monday returned to the conference room after Ahmadinejad's speech except those from the Czech Republic.
A more encouraging development was that delegates adopted the outcome document of the meeting on Tuesday, well ahead of its conclusion on Friday. Setbacks and difficulties had actually promoted unity and the sense of urgency to reach agreement on such a tough issue as racism, analysts said.
Among other things, the 18-page document emphasized the need to address with greater resolve and political will all forms and manifestations of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, in all spheres of life and in all parts of the world, including all those under foreign occupation.
It reaffirmed the Durban Declaration and Program of Action and acknowledged the need to enhance the effectiveness of the mechanisms dealing with or addressing racism with a view to achieving better synergy, coordination, coherence and complementarity in their work.
It also urged countries that have not yet done so to consider ratifying or acceding to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
A HARD-WON SUCCESS
Navi Pillay, the UN high commissioner for human rights, hailed the hard-won "successful outcome" of the meeting on Friday.
The delegates had adopted a "carefully balanced and yet meaningful" final document, which enshrined "a common aspiration to defy racism in all its manifestations and work to stamp it out wherever it may occur," Pillay, also secretary-general of the conference, told the closing session.
Amos Wako, the Kenyan president of the conference, also hailed the adoption of the outcome document, while making "a strong appeal" to the Untied States and a few other countries that had boycotted the conference to "rejoin the international community" in the fight for a world free of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.
The delegations also highlighted the importance of fully implementing both the Durban Declaration and Program of Action adopted in 2001 and the new outcome document adopted in Geneva so that the pressing challenges posed by all forms of racism and discrimination can be really tackled.
"The Durban Review Conference outcome document constitutes a platform for a new beginning," Pillay told delegates.
"The magnitude of the tasks ahead should prompt all of us to gather and make the best use of our energies and resources with a view to create a world of equal opportunity and treatment for all, irrespective of their race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status," she said.