Article published on the 2009-04-20 Latest update 2009-04-20 15:55 TU
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon addressing the Durban review conference on racism in Geneva on 20 April 2009
France has called for "extremely firm action" against Iran, after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dubbed Israel a racist regime at the UN anti-racism conference in Geneva. The European Union delegation walked out of Monday's session as the Iranian leader spoke. The US, Israel, Canada, Australia, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and New Zealand boycotted the meeting.
A statement from French President Nicolas Sarkozy's office dubbed Ahmadinejad's statement "an intolerable call for racist hatred" and called for a strong European response.
"He is trampling on the ideals and values inscribed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights," it added.
Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner declared that "no compromise is possible" with the Iranian President's position.
Hecklers shouted "Racist!" as Ahmadinejad spoke and three protesters dressed in clown outfits were thrown out of the hall. Ahmadinejad condemned Israel's offensive on Gaza ealier this year and referred to the "occupation" of Palestinian land and he declared that western powers created a racist regime when they allowed Israel to be created in the aftermath of World War II.
At a press conference after his speech, Ahmadinejad called for a reform of the UN Security Council and slammed the right of veto held by some countries on it.
"Why should a limited number of countries enjoy such privileges?" he asked.
"Some nations who by rights should be helping us to forge a path to a better future are not here. Outside these halls, interest groups of many political and ideological stripes shout against one another in acrimony," said UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, opening the conference.
"Racism exists in every part of the world, there isn’t a single country in the world that doesn’t have a problem with racism," says Doune Parker, a spokesperson for the conference.
But following criticism of Israel in a draft communiqué at the event eight years ago, the US has said it will not participate in a conference which it describes as “hypocritical and counterproductive”, although the final Declaration and Programme of Action strove to reach consensus.
Other countries including Britain, France, Ireland and Japan will attend the event. While the campaign group Human Rights Watch has criticised the boycott and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay says she is “shocked and deeply disappointed” by Washington’s decision.
"Most countries from the Africa group, Asia and Latin America, have accepted the conference’s draft declaration, and declared that the real question of racism, xenophobia and religious discrimination, are hidden by political quarrels," reports Gaymard.
France said on Monday that Europeans would walk out of the conference if Ahmadinejad made any antisemitic remarks.
"We will have to be very clear. We will not tolerate any slips," French Foreign Minister, Bernard Kouchner told France Info. "If he utters racist or antisemitic accusations, we will leave the room immediately."
It is hoped that the conference will build on the 2001 event which included representatives from more than 160 countries.
"At that time, states came together and they agreed on a set of commitments to combat racism that really cover a wide range of measures: anti-discrimination legislation, campaigning for better education, access to health, access to administration of justice, campaigning for greater efforts to fight poverty and to secure development," Parker told RFI.
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