Geneva — President Ahmadinejad’s racist speech yesterday at the Durban Review Conference certainly got results: EU delegates walked out in the middle of it, and the Czech Republic announced it would not return. Even U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay condemned the performance, stating, “I utterly deplore the speech of the president of Iran delivered this afternoon at the Durban Review Conference against racism . . . Much of his speech was clearly beyond the scope of the Conference. It also clearly went against the long-standing U.N. position adopted by the General Assembly with respect to equating Zionism with racism.”
But Pillay also criticized states for boycotting Durban II (Australia, Canada, Germany, Israel, Italy, New Zealand, Poland, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, and the U.S.). “The best riposte for this type of event,” she said, “is to reply and correct, not to withdraw and boycott the Conference.”
This is disingenuous. The writing was on the wall well before Ahmadinejad opened his mouth Monday. The draft outcome document — prepared before the conference — contains provisions hostile to free speech and expression, urges states to constrain freedom of assembly, and encourages discrimination to ensure “fair representation” of minorities. It also indirectly criticizes Israel by completely endorsing the Durban Declaration and Program of Action and using the phrase “foreign occupation.”
In short, the text represents a retreat on fundamental freedoms. The best any freedom-loving nation could hope for from the conference was to keep the document from getting worse. Since the current draft is hardly worth endorsing, what’s the point?
If Pillay had tried harder to excise the problematic passages in the preparatory meetings, she might have justification for her statement. Instead, she publicly defended the flawed process and lashed out at those who decided it left them with no consciencious option other than to boycott. The flawed Durban II process has earned both the boycott and the scorn it is increasingly reaping.