In 2001 in Durban, the UN held their first racism conference, designed to gather all nations of the world to tackle racism of all forms. The problems started before the conference even began. The United States walked out of the conference in Durban claiming that the conference was “wrecked by Arab and Islamic extremists whose aim was to condemn Israel as racist.” Every UN event that does not involve the United States or any of the Security Council members is deemed by many to be illegitimate and even though the 2001 conference produced a declaration agreed upon by the participating members, most of the headlines revolved around the absence of the world’s most powerful nation.
Eight years later, the UN decided to bring the world’s nations together again this time in Geneva, Switzerland with the aim of putting aside old differences and sticking to the important issues at hand, namely how to neutralize the racism that exists in every country today. The UN felt that a change in venue from Durban, a South African city that cannot dispel its Apartheid past to Geneva, a city in a neutral country. Sadly, the UN conference this week was again overshadowed by individuals and individual nations as opposed to all nations coming together.
This year the conference was dominated by Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who spoke on the Conference’s opening day. Before the Conference began, Australia, Holland, The United States, Israel, and Italy announced they were boycotting the conference because of the anti-western and anti-Semitic biases that were bound to come up especially in Mr. Ahmadinejad’s speech. In his speech on the opening day, the Iranian president accused Israel of being a “racist state” which prompted many delegates to storm out and protesters to stand and jeer. The speech, walkouts and boycotts ruined the five day conference. Anne Bayefsky, of the watchdog group Eye on the UN summed up the event by stating, “Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s appearance in Geneva, Monday, at the UN’s so-called anti-racism conference, Durban II, made the point better than anyone else. The UN’s idea of combating racism and xenophobia is to encourage more of it.”
Many people make the argument that the UN is only as effective as its member states want it to be and this excuse was used again this week to defend the failed conference. It is quite clear that the UN’s policy of trying to bring together all of its member states for a racism conference isn’t working and other options need to be discussed in the future. The conference did little to promote a united front by all nations on racism and did more to show how the world’s nations are ultimately split on the racism issue. Racism is and will continue to be a big problem in every nation on earth and when the nations of the world cannot agree upon what is and is not racism, we have a major problem.