The UN's tough win in Geneva
Al Jazeera's Alan Fisher on how the world body snatched victory from defeat.
Last Modified: 22 Apr 2009 10:42 GMT

The final declaration carries less clout since a number of nations boycotted the conference [EPA]

The United Nations needed a big diplomatic victory, and they got it. 

Delegates at the Geneva conference on racism managed to adopt a closing resolution – and it has come three days ahead of schedule.

It carries no small demand, just that the world fights intolerance, racism and hatred of foreigners. 

The countries that boycotted this gathering, including the US, Australia and Canada are not among the signatories.  

It has been a difficult few days for the UN. The fall-out from the speech by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, carried over into the second day, with some of the delegates who walked out of Monday's gathering during his controversial attack on Israel opting not to return, and instead boycotting the rest of the conference.

Behind the scenes, in the high ornate halls, officials worked hard getting the agreements they needed from the diplomats, trying to win back the headlines.

While they were doing that, the Iranian President arrived back home in Tehran to what the official news agencies described as a "sensational welcome". 

Ban Ki-Moon's caution

Alan Fisher's related articles

 Racism talks expose deep divisions
 Geneva searches for the right words

But here in Geneva it was revealed that his provocative speech had initially been even tougher in tone.

Before he walked onto the stage on Monday, he met with Ban Ki-Moon, the UN secretary-general who reminded him about the UN's stance on the Holocaust and asked him to tone down his rhetoric.

Still, he called Israel a racist state guilty of genocide, but on the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day, he dropped part of his speech that described the systematic destruction of up to six million Jews as "ambiguous and dubious".

Among those who walked out in protest at the speech was one of America's best known lawyers, Alan Dershowitz.  He was part of the team that defended OJ Simpson in his criminal case, and is now a leading advocate for Israel in the US. 

Representing a NGO, he shouted and pointed at those still sitting, refusing to join those leaving: "Silence in the face of evil is complicity," he said. 

Twenty-four hours later on the sun-kissed lawn outside the UN building in Geneva, his mood had not softened. 

"I saw evil yesterday. This man [Ahmadinejad] wants to kill me and my kind, my family, my children. Those who applauded would have applauded Hitler too. Ahmadinejad is Hitler's spiritual heir and was should not allow him to get his hands on a nuclear bomb".

Helping the Israelis

Some said Ahmadinejad of diverted attention from the plight of Palestinians [Reuters]
However, there were many in the hall who believed that not only did the Iranian president have the right to say what he did but that he was right to say what he did.

But one man believes Ahmadinejad's outburst helped the Israelis by allowing them to avoid any serious discussion of the treatment of the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. 

Jamal Zahalka is an Arab-Israeli and sits in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset.

He told me: "What the Israelis are doing to the Palestinians is worse than what happened to black people in the time of apartheid.  They are separating not just Palestinians from Jews, but Palestinian from Palestinian. 

"Yet no one can discuss what is going on because President Ahmadinejad dominated the agenda."

Despite the drama and the controversy, the UN has arrived at where it wanted to be. For months there have been debates, discussions and divisions. Now it has a declaration. 

It has been described as a foundation, the basis of a unity of purpose. But it is missing some important names, and therefore, significant political clout. 

Al Jazeera
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