UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon 311 R.
(photo credit: REUTERS/ Joshua Lott)
UNITED NATIONS - A decade after an acrimonious summit on racism, UN chief Ban Ki-moon urged nations on Thursday not to use the issue for "inflammatory rhetoric," a reference to attempts to brand Israel as racist.
"We are all aware that the original Durban conference and its follow-up two years ago caused immense controversy," the UN secretary-general told a meeting on Thursday marking the 10th anniversary of the Durban, South Africa, conference.
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"We should condemn anyone who uses this platform to subvert that effort with inflammatory rhetoric, baseless assertions and hateful speech. Our common commitment must be to focus on the real problems of racism and intolerance," he said.
The Durban event was marked by wrangling about Middle Eastern and African demands for reparations for slavery, and attempts by Islamic countries to brand Israel as racist. Israel and the United States walked out of the conference.
A follow-up conference in Geneva in 2009 also descended into chaos after
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called Israel a "cruel and
repressive racist regime." Ahmadinejad addressed the UN General Assembly
The tensions remain. Thursday's meeting was boycotted by more than a
dozen Western nations, including the United States, Britain and France,
and caused a coalition of pro-Israel groups to publicize a rival
gathering across the street.
Closing remarks by Swaziland Prime Minister Barnabas Sibusiso Dlamini indicated the controversy was unlikely to abate.
"Several speakers referred to people under foreign occupation and the
situation in the occupied Palestinian territories," he said. It was that
reference in the original Durban declaration that angered Israel and
Dlamini noted that other speakers stressed the importance of not singling out a specific country or region.'Divisive chapter'
The Durban conference "and the anti-Semitic atmosphere in which it was
held was a particularly unpleasant and divisive chapter in the UN's
history," British Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a statement
this month. "It is not an event that should be celebrated."
The White House said the United States had not taken part in the event
because "since its inception... the Durban process has included ugly
displays of intolerance and anti-Semitism."
"We remain fully and firmly committed to upholding the human rights of
all people and to combating racial discrimination, xenophobia,
intolerance, anti-Semitism and bigotry," the statement said.
Israel's UN ambassador, Ron Prosor, criticized the world body for
holding Thursday's event and hosting speeches from countries such as
"We cannot -- and will not -- ignore such a willful misuse and abuse of
the United Nations," Prosor said in e-mailed comments. "Many of the
world's free nations are joining Israel in refusing to give legitimacy
to this year's Durban Commemoration. Fourteen nations are boycotting the
event outright. This is a powerful message."
Ban said in his speech that racial intolerance "has increased in many
parts of the world over the past decade" and that indicates "we have not
done enough to stem the tide."
South African President Jacob Zuma said "racism continues to pose a challenge the same way it did in 2001."
"Racism and racial discrimination continue to be a brutal attack on
human dignity, an affront to self-worth of individuals and has a
prolonged and negative impact on its victims," he told the meeting.