Durban II text calls to remember Shoah

Document re-affirms 2001 statement that slammed Israel; except boycotters, all member states sign.

mottaki ban 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
mottaki ban 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
One day after listening to a speech by Holocaust-denying Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the United Nations' anti-racism conference adopted a 16-page text with a clause that states, "the Holocaust must never be forgotten." The text was passed on the second day of the week-long conference and its text cannot be changed, although amendments can be added during a debate scheduled for Friday, according to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay. She said that the text had been adopted by all 192-member states of the UN, except for the countries which are boycotting the conference, dubbed "Durban II." "The fact that this document was adopted by all but nine states is our answer" to Ahmadinejad'sspeech, she said. Pillay and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon have harshly criticized the Ahmadinejad's speech, in which he called for the eradication of Zionism and said that the Holocaust was a pretext for the State of Israel's creation. There were no last-minute attempts by Iran to change the document, Pillay told reporters in Geneva on Tuesday. The text of the 16-page document had been at the heart of the decision by nine countries - Israel, the US, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Germany, Italy, Poland and The Netherlands - not to come to Geneva. The Czech Republic pulled out of the conference Monday, after Ahmadinejad's speech. The countries were concerned that the document singled out Israel by re-affirming the text of the first UN World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, which took place in 2001 in Durban, South Africa. Diplomats were able to eliminate all references to Israel, Palestine and the Middle East from the 2009 document. But the 2001 text solely singles out Israel and the ratification of that document is seen as a nod of acceptance to that first conference, which was heavily anti-Semitic. The nine countries were also concerned about issues regarding free speech that cropped up in the initial debates regarding the text. The American Jewish Committee (AJC) immediately denounced the text. "Today, once again, the UN has chosen the unfair treatment of Israel over the real fight for equality and human rights," said AJC Executive Director David Harris, who is attending the conference along with a group of 25 young AJC activists. "And this document also threatens democratic values with a vague effort to criminalize incitement. The United States, Israel and eight other democracies were absolutely right to stay away from this conference and not endorse the document," he said. B'nai B'rith Honorary President and Head of Delegation Richard D. Heideman said, "The adoption of this document shows nothing has changed since 2001, no lessons have been learned - and the hope for a unified approach to fighting racism and intolerance around the world will again go unfulfilled." But Israel's Ambassador to the UN in Geneva Roni Leshno-Yaar told The Jerusalem Post that it was a document that Israel "could accept but not support." Overall, he said, the new text indicates a "positive development." The clause on Holocaust remembrance was a vast improvement over past drafts, he said. There is a direct mention of anti-Semitism and there is no direction mention of Israel, Palestine or the Arab-Israeli conflict, Leshno-Yaar added. "It could have been much worse," he said. France's foreign minister Bernard saluted the final declaration of the conference, saying that only a reference to sexual orientation did not make it into the document because of resistance by some nations. But "there is a mention of the Holocaust ... with the approbation of Arab countries, Muslim countries, as the very example of horror," Kouchner said. AP contributed to this report.