Ahmadinejad polarizes UN Racism Conference
More than 40 European diplomats walked out in protest over the Iranian leader's speech, in which he called Israelis "the racist perpetrators of genocide."
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"Ahmadinejad continues to invert law, morality, and history," says former Canadian justice minister, Irwin Cotler, who is also a vocal defender of Israel. "The best response was that of the community of democracies
– those who decided early on not to come to begin with, as my country, Canada; and those who decided to walk out when Ahmadinejad began - yet again - his incitement to hatred and abuse of the UN podium and Charter." [Editor's note: This quote replaces one attributed to an anonymous source, a practice which the Monitor strives to avoid when possible.]
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In Iran, human rights at 'new lows'
UN officials were already on edge about the conference. The 2001 event, held in the South African city of Durban, was overshadowed by a related forum that branded Israel and its founding ideology, Zionism, as "racist" – likening the Jewish state to apartheid-era South Africa.
"We certainly don't want a repeat of what happened eight years ago," one UN official said on Sunday.
Yet just as in Durban eight years ago, the event offered a platform to a polarizing figure from the developing world: In 2001, Cuba's Fidel Castro was greeted by thousands of Cuban flag-waving activists.
This time it was Ahmadinejad, under whose leadership human-rights protections have "deteriorated to new lows," according to Human Rights Watch, the New York-based group that monitors human rights worldwide.
Specifically, the country is criticized for its treatment of minorities like the Baha'i, homosexuals, Jews, and others. Most recently, its conviction of Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi on espionage charges after a closed-door trial has drawn criticism.
Ban Ki Moon sits through speech, then condemns it
In a sign of concern at the highest level, Mr. Ban released a statement after he met briefly with Ahmadinejad on the sideline of the conference, before his speech.
The UN chief "stressed the need to look to the future of unity, not to the past of divisiveness," read the statement. "In this regard, the Secretary-General reminded the President that the UN General Assembly had adopted the resolution to revoke the equation of Zionism with racism."
After Ahmadinejad's incendiary speech, Ban – who remained seated behind the Iranian leader during the entire speech – issued a swift condemnation.
"I deplore the use of this platform by the Iranian president to accuse, divide and even incite," he stated. "We must all turn away from such a message in both form and substance."