'The best riposte is not to walk away'

UN high commissioner encourages response to Ahmadinejad's address calling to eradicate Israel.

Ban Ki Moon 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Ban Ki Moon 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay called on countries to remain engaged in this week's UN anti-racism conference in Geneva, even though Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad used it as a platform on Monday to call for the destruction of Israel. "The best riposte to this type of event is to reply, to correct, and not to walk away; not to withdraw and boycott the conference. If that happens, who is going to provide a rational response to what had been said?" she asked. "Generally, I feel that if you focus on this one intervention you would be doing a great disservice to the outcome of this conference and a great disservice to the expectations of victims of racism," she said. Prior to the start of the conference, nine countries, including the US and Israel, had announced they were boycotting the event, partially out of fear that it would disintegrate into an anti-Semitic debacle similar to the first such conference which was held in Durban, South Africa in 2001. After Ahmadinejad's speech, the Czech Republic pulled out of the conference as well. Pillay harshly condemned the speech in a press conference she held along with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. "It is improper for a United Nations forum to be used for political grandstanding and I find this totally objectionable," said Pillay. "Much of the speech of the president of Iran was clearly beyond the scope of the conference, which is, as you all know, racism, racial discrimination and action plans to implement the undertakings made by the states eight years ago," said Pillay. Ban added that it was unusual for a head of state to give this type of speech. "I have not experienced this kind of destructive proceedings in an assembly, in a conference, by any one member state. It was a totally unacceptable situation," he said. Still, Pillay defended Ahmadinejad's right to address the parley - whose official name is the 2009 World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance. At the United Nations, she said, "everybody has a right to speak, and more especially a head of state. And that was his right."