Calls for ‘Durban III’ rejected after Geneva rows

The United Nations should set up its own antisemitism unit, according to one of Britain’s leading antisemitism campaigners.

John Mann, chair of the Commons All-Party Committee on Antisemitism, told MPs in a debate in the House on Tuesday that antisemitism was one of the reasons that the UN was created after the Second World War.

The short debate was an assessment of the UN’s racism review conference held in Geneva last week, eight years on from its 2001 World Conference Against Racism in Durban, known as Durban I.

Mr Mann decried the “overt racism” of the original conference, saying: “It is well beyond irony that an initiative against racism should become a festival of hate and racism.”

He said the UN should consider setting up an antisemitism unit, perhaps like that of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), which deals successfully with racism, xenophobia and antisemitism.

Gillian Merron, Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign Office, said she would raise the suggestion with Lord Malloch-Brown, the minister responsible for human rights.

Meanwhile, talk of a third conference on Durban brought a swift response from the Jewish Human Rights Coalition, the umbrella Jewish group in Durban.

Jeremy Newmark, chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council and a leader of JHRC, said: “Forces are already pushing the UN Human Rights Commissioner to commit to holding a Durban III. In our view there are several important questions that have to be answered, given the conduct in Geneva [Durban II]. The entire build-up to it did not inspire confidence that Durban III would not be a re-run of something similar.

“I am sure we would also be looking for reassurances that the lessons of President Ahmadinejad’s speech would be learned properly.”

He said the opening-day speech, in which the Iranian leader accused Israel of being racist, had sidelined issues that were going to be raised by non-governmental organisations involving groups such as the Sinti and Roma, as well as African issues. These groups were now leading the call for a third conference.

“Ahmadinejad must take the blame for that. It was an anti-racism conference which failed to address many of these critical issues,” said Mr Newmark.

“I don’t sense a huge appetite for a Durban III. The OSCE gives pride of place to seasoned practitioners rather than heads of state and Holocaust deniers. That’s where the real work of combating racism happens.”

    Last updated: 10:23am, April 30 2009