Durban II in Geneva: An Inside View from the anti-racism conferenceBy FinalCall.com News | Last updated: May 26, 2009 - 3:02:19 PM
The Final Call was the only national Black news organization to have a media presence during the Durban Review Conference in Geneva, Switzerland, April 20 – 24. In a series of interviews The Final Call's Ashahed M. Muhammad was able to get reactions from many of the ambassadors, observers and non-governmental organizations as they spoke of the need for self-determination, and a unifying global effort to eradicate racism, discrimination and xenophobia. They also gave their views on the controversy surrounding the speech by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and their opinions of the Obama administration's choice to boycott the conference. These are perspectives that you will not have heard on CNN, MSNBC or FoxNews.
Ambassador Dayan Jayatilleka of Sri Lanka
The Final Call: What are your thoughts on the conference? Some of the issues that have come up, and the protest against Iranian President Ahmadinejad? In your view, has the conference been generally positive in its outcome?
There was nothing anti-Semitic about the speech. There was an over reaction to the speech: One, there was disruption by the protestors who somehow got into the main hall despite the security arrangements, and they repeatedly disrupted the speech. I was not very happy with the way security functioned in the hall. Secondly, there was a walkout by some Western states that is in addition to the boycott. But the walkout itself was wrong. If they had a disagreement they should have waited until the speech was over and then responded in their own speeches. That's democracy.
These Western states are so concerned, or shall I say are ostensibly concerned, about the right of free speech, about freedom of expression. Well, the President of Iran should (also) enjoy the right of free speech and free expression. The international media distorted the speech. They made references to earlier speeches which I suspect are distorted in translation. A virtual lynch mob was mobilized against the President of Iran.
The Final Call: If a majority of the member nations of the United Nations ratified the “Durban Declaration and Programme of Action,” yet the Western states decide that they don't want to be a part of it, what does it say about the power and authority of the United Nations, or lack thereof?
Amb. John Ukec Lueth Ukec: Those who just walked out, it is normal, but those who didn't participate were nine. Those nine countries, we hope in the long run they will join the group. This is our hope and we the African Group who have a responsibility, this is our baby. The Durban Review Conference is ours and we are the moving force of the Durban Review Conference. There is enforcement but we will morally always appeal to them, that it looks bad when there was those who committed the most violent form of racism in terms of slavery, occupation, all these they did. They have to redeem themselves by actively coming back to remedy all those things. We know the Durban Review and Durban Declarations speak also about reparations which is very essential. You make a mistake or do something damaging to somebody you ought to do the reparation. So I in particular, I don't really worry very much about what remains for all of us who are in this hall and all the countries that have come in here to work together.
This is just the beginning. Now we will work hard to come out with issues that will tell those who have moved out of the conference that it is not good because we also have resources. As a group, the Non-Aligned Movement, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, The League of United Latin American Citizens, the Arabs, and we, the Africans and Asians also, we constitute the largest population in a number of countries. So we are not going to take it lightly when a group of people just walk out. What will happen then? The good thing about diplomacy is there is reciprocity. There are certain things that we have that are important, then things will be brought by them sometime in the (future) and we will reciprocate by walking out, too. We, the African Group, we have been the group which has been very dedicated to the Durban Review Conference.
The Final Call: Right now, regarding President Omar al-Bashir, what is the latest and what do you want people to know about this situation?
Amb. John Ukec Lueth Ukec: We have nothing to say so far. Most of our African brothers are standing with us. The Arab countries are standing with us, some of the rest of the world particularly the Non-Aligned Movement and the Organization of the Islamic Conference.
All these countries are standing with my country and my President, he's traveling as normal according to his schedule. He was in Egypt, he spent two days there and he's back. I think we are doing all our things as usual, business as normal. They may be thinking about a way to isolate my country and they may do that with the European countries but I don't think so with the rest of the world.
The Final Call: Do you think that the conflict in Palestine is covered from the perspective of the international media as it should be so the people can see what is truly happening there?
Amb. Imad M. Zuhairi: Not at all. Not at all. The continuous occupation by the Israelis for the past 61 years is not reflected in a fair way in the international media.
The Final Call: What are your thoughts regarding groups that say they represent Islam, or other groups labeled as leftists, or anarchists, who at times wrap themselves up in the Palestinian issue and sometimes use that to commit acts of terrorism? There are some who believe they are just using the Palestinian cause in the furtherance of another agenda.
Amb. Imad M. Zuhairi: This is an extremely important question, let me give a clear answer on this. The issue of Palestine is the issue of the Palestinian people first. It is the issue of the Palestinian leadership and the issue of the Palestine Liberation Organization first. Then it is the issue of the Arabs, Moslems, and Christians who care for the interest of the Palestinian people, who recognize the Palestinians' legitimacy in this regard. The issue of Palestine has been tackled by some regional players; by some international players not only for the sake of interest of the Palestinian people but for other manipulative reasons which has to do with their local interests. What we are trying to do is to get control of the Palestinian issue which is not an easy thing to do and we will not allow whosoever to confuse the issue of Palestine. We determine our needs. We determine our priorities. We determine our actions. We determine our plans. We determine and control our vision, our strategy according to the national program of the Palestinian people which is the program of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
The Final Call: So where does everything stand right now? Are we at an impasse, just rebuilding after the Gaza attack? Where does everything stand right now with Hamas and the conflict between the two factions? Is it like brothers discussing things?
Amb. Imad M. Zuhairi: Of course, it is. We are always brothers. Hamas should be brought back to the family, back to the Palestinian family. Hamas should be brought back to the Palestinian house away from the influence of the regional powers. Hamas is part of the Palestinian society. We will spare no effort in bringing back Hamas to their right place where they belong.
The Final Call: What is the most important thing that you and your organization wanted to see addressed at the Durban Review Conference?
Mohammed Shafiq: I think it is important not only just to identify the values that we want to adopt in all nations in terms of freedom and to eradicate racism, but also monitoring and identifying racist attacks and racist elements and monitoring what other countries are benchmarking and have actually seen success. Certainly in the first draft of the program we did put amendments in that were accepted in terms of monitoring, but certainly the governments have rejected that, so we are disappointed with that.
The Final Call: What do you think about that? It seems like the draft committee bent over backwards to try to make the language pleasing to Israel and the United States; and then they, plus the seven other nations, still boycotted.
Mohammed Shafiq: Nine out of 192 nations. That kind of puts it into context.
The Final Call: Exactly. So what does that say to you?
Mohammed Shafiq: I don't think you can single out in this particular country. Yes, we got things against Israel; yes, we believe that the genocide that has been committed in Gaza is very important to talk about and to hold them to account but I don't believe that the anti-racism summit is the ideal opportunity to talk (about) Israel or any of the particular nations. So I think in taking that language out of the declaration is good. I think what President Obama failed to recognize was that in the Durban text from 2001 there are a lot of good things in there, so to totally disregard the (entire) Durban text I think was wrong.
The Final Call: Do you think it was all the political pressure or an actual disagreement with draft document?
Mohammed Shafiq: Yes, I think so. Obviously there is a massive Zionist and pro-Israeli lobby in the United States who obviously didn't want the Obama administration participating. Actually, the message people are taking away is that people think that once you have a Black President somehow racism has been eradicated. If you talk to people in Chicago, in Washington and Detroit and places like that, massive racism is still evident. This is the conference that hopefully will put the strategy together to (get) people to start working toward its eradication.
The Final Call: Regarding the Durban Review Conference, as you know Britain did participate in the Durban Review even though many of the European nations decided to not participate in various aspects of the Durban Review Conference. You had Israel, the United States, Germany, some of the other European nations boycott and normally Britain follows the United States. This time it appears that didn't happen. Do you have any insight as to why?
Hughie Rose: What they decided to do was send a lesser delegation or lesser official delegation to the event. When they looked at the drafted text that had been worked upon by the conference organizers, they saw fit that it fit into what they were prepared to go ahead with.
But we here at the conference have been saddened by the fact that President Obama, knowing the struggles of racism, knowing the events from 2001 decided to pull out of it, but yet he's going around the country asking for people to open up and to dialogue. I felt that this would have been an opportunity for America to show itself as being one who wants to listen as well as lead.
Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Weiss of Naturei Karta International, attended the Durban Review conference as a part of an Iranian human rights NGO
Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Weiss: Simply we always say it's so nice just to take the time and the opportunity to cross from Manhattan over the Williamsburg Bridge and ride through the most concentrated religious Jewish area and you won't find one Israeli flag. They are all anti-Zionist because Zionism is simply the diametric opposite of what Judaism is. It's antithetical to Judaism and it violates all the concepts of Judaism. Anybody who is truly knowledgeable about Judaism, and truth to be told, the Jewish teachings, knows that to support and to be a Zionist you are rebelling against God.
Now unfortunately, the support that they enjoy, the Zionists in the State of Israel, comes from the fact that most of the people are ignorant of the laws of The Torah. Just to elaborate on that, very consisely, Judaism states that we were in exile since the destruction of the Temple 2,000 years ago. Around then we were expressly forbidden to create our own entity. We pray for the day when all Nations together will recognize God and serve him in harmony. Prior to that time we are forbidden to have our own entity.
The Final Call: So you are saying that Zionism is not compatible with Judaism and Zionist is more of a political... .
Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Weiss: It's a transformation of Judaism the religion into base nationalism and materialism and taking God out of the equation. It's very clearly incompatible with Judaism. The other counterpart of it is that being that it was an inhabited land, Palestine was inhabited by people to steal their land, and to expel these people from the land is of course against all the teachings the concepts of The Torah of thou shall not steal; and of compassion, because God is compassionate, you should be compassionate.
All the concepts of The Torah are breached by the State of Israel and the Fathers of Zionism, Theodore Herzl, (Ze'ev) Jabotinsky, (David) Ben-Gurion, these guys were not religious, (they) detested the religion and proudly announced that they don't follow God's teachings, so how can they be the representatives of the religious? You see that they simply kidnapped the religion of Judaism and the representation of the religion of Judaism. But the ones who are true to Judaism may be what we would call the silent majority of religious Jews. The non-religious of course are ignorant and they just bought into the Zionist propaganda. The ones who are true, the more religious the area, whether here or in Occupied Palestine or in Jerusalem or any other, you will find that they are anti-Zionist.
(Extended interviews with the ambassadors and NGO representatives in this article, and others, as well as additional photos from the Durban Review Conference in Geneva, Switzerland, can be seen on Ashahed M. Muhammad's blog located at http://ashahed.blogs.finalcall.com.)