Thursday, April 23, 2009
By ELIANE ENGELER Associated Press Writer
GENEVA — The United Nations expelled three groups from its conference on global racism Thursday for unacceptable behavior related to the opening speech that Iran's president gave denouncing Israel.
The disciplinary action was the latest sign of the rancor at the weeklong conference caused by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinajad's claim that the West used the Holocaust as a "pretext" to harm the Palestinians. But it did not prevent officials from around the world from achieving their main goal on Tuesday: a consensus document calling for action against racism and xenophobia.
The groups whose passes were withdrawn are the French Union of Jewish Students; Coexist, a related French-based organization that fights racism and anti-Semitism; and the Tehran-based Neda Institute for Political and Scientific Research, said Rupert Colville, a spokesman for U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.
He told reporters that members of the first group had been involved Monday in disrupting Ahmadinejad's speech.
He did not elaborate, but a pair of rainbow-wigged protesters threw clown noses at Ahmadinajad, while others shouted, "You are a racist!" and "Shame! shame!" from the gallery. Iranian spectators also cheered loudly. Later about 100 members of pro-Israel and Jewish groups tried to block Ahmadinejad's entrance to a news conference.
The Neda Institute from Iran distributed inflammatory material to meeting participants, Colville said.
Altogether, 64 badges of representatives of the three non-governmental organizations were revoked, he said.
On Tuesday, U.N. officials announced that the badges of some members of these groups were withdrawn. But "After examining the types of conduct, and patterns of conduct, as well as the risk of possible disruptive behavior during the remainder of the conference, the High Commissioner has issued an instruction that the badges of all the participants of three NGOs be removed," Colville said. That ends the groups participation in the conference.
Meanwhile, the controversy of the opening speech, which caused many European officials to walk out of the conference room, continued.
On Wednesday, Iran sent a letter of protest to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for criticizing Ahmadinejad's speech. The Iranian president "was subjected to unfair and unwarranted harsh criticism," Iran's ambassador to the U.N. in New York, Mohammad Khazaee, said in the letter.
The U.N. Office in Geneva was unable to comment on the letter early Thursday because it had not received it.
Ban said Monday he deplored "the use of this platform by the Iranian president to accuse, divide and even incite. This is the opposite of what this conference seeks to achieve."
"It is deeply regrettable that my plea to look to the future of unity was not heeded by the Iranian president," Ban said in a statement, adding that he met with Ahmadinejad before the U.N. conference stressing the importance of uniting in the fight against racism.
Ban's comment was a response to Ahmadinejad's denunciation of Israel on the first day of the conference in Geneva, calling it the most "cruel, and repressive, racist regime." That sparked and strong condemnations from the U.N.; the U.S., which had boycotted the conference; and several other Western countries.
Iran's ambassador noted that tolerance and freedom of expression were among the basic principles of the world racism conference.
"It is unacceptable, and indeed regrettable, that these very principles were utterly disregarded in the same conference where we witnessed a manifestation of intolerance by some," he said.
Khazaee said the U.N. secretary general should be impartial and fair, adding that the majority of U.N. member states were concerned about the plight of the Palestinians caused by Israel's policies and practices.
Some campaigners say the conference's focus on the Middle East occurred at the expense of other urgent cases of racism, such as plight of "untouchables," the social outcasts at the bottom of India's complex caste system.
"Caste discrimination is one of the most important issues being left out of this conference and because of the predominant attention to one specific issue, all other concerns within the field of racism, discrimination, xenophobia and racial intolerance, are being excluded," said Peter Prove of the Lutheran World Federation.
The International Dalit Solidarity Network, which campaigns on behalf of untouchables in India and elsewhere, says some 260 million people in Asia and Africa suffer discrimination because they are deemed to belong to inferior castes.
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