Iran Demands Respect As NGOs Berate U.N. Racism Conference

By Patrick Goodenough | April 24, 2009 | 4:29 AM EDT

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaking at the U.N. racism conference at United Nations Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, on Monday, April 20, 2009. His comments about Israel prompted a walkout by angry Western diplomats. (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus)

( – Iran’s delegation at the U.N. conference on racism in Geneva on Thursday repeatedly tried to silence speakers from non-governmental organizations as they accused the gathering of providing a platform for anti-semitism and failing to take countries to task for racism and discrimination.
As the boycott-hit conference known as “Durban II” trundled towards a close on Friday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s controversial contribution on its opening day continued to dog the event.
A number of European Union government delegates, who had walked out during Ahmadinejad’s anti-Israel tirade, used their turns at the microphone on Wednesday and Thursday to rebuke the Iranian leader.
Iranian representatives, invoking their “right of reply,” defended Ahmadinejad’s comments, repeated his accusations against what they called the “illegitimate regime,” and scolded those who had criticized him, including U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
Iran’s Alireza Moaiyeri drew attention to “the applause given to the [Iranian] president by so many delegations” as he delivered his speech.
When some NGO representatives took the floor on Thursday, the confrontation level deepened.
In a fiery denunciation of a kind rarely heard at high-level U.N. meetings, Anne Bayefsky of the Hudson Institute lashed the conference for giving Ahmadinejad “a global megaphone,” accused the world body of enabling anti-semitism and criticized “all those states without the courage to reject a forum for bigotry when it masquerades as human rights – however transparent the veil.”

Iranian representative Seyed Hossein Rezvani protests criticism of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the U.N. racism conference in Geneva on Thursday, April 23, 2009. (Image: UN videoclip)

Iranian envoy Seyed Hossein Rezvani twice interrupted, demanding that the conference chairman, Amos Wako of Kenya, pull Bayefsky into line. Rezvani was incensed at the “mentioning names of countries,” and said the dignity and status of heads of state must be respected.
As she continued, Bayefsky replaced the phrase “the Iranian president” in her prepared notes with the words “the president of the country that’s not allowed to be mentioned” and resumed her attack.
She was interrupted twice more – once by the delegate for South Africa who complained that she was referring to “Durban II” instead of the event’s official name, the Durban Review Conference, and a third time by Rezvani who, after admonishing Wako for referring to “the republic of Iran” instead of “the Islamic Republic of Iran,” said that the Hudson Institute representative’s time was up.
Bayefsky was given a few more seconds, and concluded by declaring that the conference “will be remembered for poisoning the wellspring of universal values, it will be remembered for representing the triumph of hate over hope – and the dustbin of history is its only desert.”
In his presentation, U.N. Watch executive director Hillel Neuer also caused a stir when he listed situations around the world which he noted had not been addressed at the conference, including torture and child executions in Iran, discrimination against women in Saudi Arabia, ethnic repression in Tibet and the “racist genocide” in Sudan’s Darfur region.
“Why does [the conference outcome document adopted on Tuesday] ignore all of the situations represented by these victims?” Neuer asked. “In a conference that promised to review country performance on racism, why did the conference in fact fail to review a single country that perpetrates racism, discrimination and intolerance?”
Rezvani twice interrupted, asking the chairman to rule Neuer out of order.
Neuer said afterwards the Iranian intervention “encapsulate[d] the disappointment of many human rights activists attending the Durban II conference.”
The U.S., Israel and eight other Western countries boycotted the week-long meeting.
Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow