Don't Let Any Nations Derail UN Racism Conference


Editor’s Note: Human Rights Watch published the following article yesterday, reporting on UN’s upcoming conference on racism. They call on President Ahmadinejad to ‘use his presence at the conference to announce an end to repression of the Baha’i people.’ While no one expects this to happen, the conference puts human rights abuses in Iran in the spotlight, increasing attention given to the Baha’i case.

(HRW-Geneva) – The likely presence of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the UN’s upcoming conference on racism should strengthen the resolve of governments to attend the talks and ensure the adoption of a strong declaration against racism, Human Rights Watch said today. Ahmadinejad has announced he will attend the Durban Review Conference to be held on April 21-24, 2009 in Geneva, while the United States has said it will not participate because of continuing concerns about the proposed text.

“We’ve made enormous progress to overcome the problems surrounding the preparatory process of this conference and produce a declaration to unite the world against the scourge of racism,” said Juliette de Rivero, Geneva advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “Governments should stand firm in Geneva to ensure that Ahmadinejad’s presence isn’t used to undermine a process that’s now backed by so many nations, or to undercut the constructive spirit of the negotiations.”

There was a significant turning point in the negotiations leading up to the review conference a few weeks ago when participating nations agreed to remove any reference to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (or any other specific situation) and to “defamation of religion.” These two issues had polarized delegations and damaged prospects of a successful outcome to the conference.

On April 15, the Russian chair of the preparatory negotiations produced a new, revised version of the draft declaration for the conference which provides a basis for a broad global agreement. The document takes stock of efforts to end racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance and paves the way for future UN action. On April 21, the representatives of nearly every member state of the UN will meet to finalize this text and pledge themselves to a renewed commitment to defeat racism.

Ahmadinejad’s past statements on Israel and the Holocaust have made him a divisive figure. Some fear that during his appearance at the conference he could make controversial comments on the two issues that the other countries agreed to keep out.

“It’s clear Iran stood isolated when it tried to reintroduce the concept of defamation of religion in negotiations last week,” de Rivero said. “If Ahmadinejad tries to reopen issues that states have taken off the table, delegations should react firmly to uphold the current consensus.”

Human Rights Watch said that governments should deepen their engagement with the conference to ensure that it stays on track, focusing on the important issues of addressing racism in the world.

“The issue of fighting racism and discrimination is too important to be derailed by anyone,” de Rivero said.

Human Rights Watch called on Ahmadinejad to use his presence at the UN racism conference to announce an end to repression of the Baha’i people in Iran and a commitment to allow freedom of expression – an essential protection in the fight against racism worldwide.

Ahmadinejad’s government routinely represses dissent and has continued the decades-old repression of Iran’s religious and ethnic minorities, including the Baha’i religious minority (, Human Rights Watch said. Iran’s record of repressing peaceful dissent does great injustice to the struggle against racism and discrimination.

Human Rights Watch criticized the continued failure of the Obama administration to commit to participate in the racism conference. After attending previous discussions the United States had publicly announced key changes that it required in the draft final text before joining in. This week, US officials acknowledged that most of the requested changes had been made, including the removal of references to “defamation of religion” and the Middle East, but still said the United States would not return to the negotiations until all of its demands were met.

“Saying you won’t negotiate unless everyone else accepts all your demands first is not the way to get the changes you want,” de Rivero said. “This attitude is especially disappointing given President Obama’s promise to engage with other nations rather than trying to impose Washington’s will upon them.”



19 Responses

  1. Bill

    April 17, 2009 7:10 pm

    While President Ahmadinejad is unlikely to announce a sudden about-face on the treatment of Baha’is, it would appear that the UN’s World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance has already been severely undermined by countries that seek to make the conference a grandstand in which to equate Israel with racism and to rail against criticism of the actions of some Muslims and their governments as “defamation of religion.” Majority Muslim countries need to look in the mirror regarding their accusation of “defamation of religion” since the Baha’i Faith is the object of systematic attacks in the press and by the apparatus of the state in certain countries well known to the readers of Iran Press Watch. They also need to look in the mirror regarding racism, since textbooks in countries such as Saudi Arabia carry particularly atrocious characterizations of Jews and some parts of the Arab world still practice the enslavement of black Africans.

    Even if Ahmadinejad were to defend the Baha’is – an act that would surely cause jaws to drop and also place his own power in jeopardy – his expected responses will simply exacerbate an already distorted discourse.

  2. LizKauai

    April 17, 2009 7:46 pm

    Racism will end when the oneness of humanity is demonstrated in homes and delivered as a spiritual principle with mothers’ milk.

    In the meantime we, society, can do our best to protect ourselves from the scourge of racism through remedial education and good laws.

  3. sb

    April 17, 2009 8:07 pm

    The presence of Iranian President Ahmadinejad at the UN conference is but another instance of a united global voice calling upon Iran to reverse its retrogressive course in human rights and step into the light of a new century.

  4. Mark Obenauer

    April 17, 2009 9:15 pm

    I think it is honorable that Mr. Ahmadinejad is attending this conference. It is a sign that Iran is willing to participate in the family of nations. Anything accomplished during this meeting will be an advance in human rights.

  5. Glenn Franco Simmons

    April 17, 2009 10:17 pm


    Let’s hope you are correct.

    It’s time for all nations to work together, to support the rights of minorities, including religious, but also other minorities who should also be protected by basic human (civil rights).

    Iran has a notable historic legacy. Let’s hope it does rejoin the family of nations, and once again advances its contributions for the betterment of all.

    Iran has many talented individuals, skilled scientists, a rich tradition of literature and poetry, not to mention religion.

    While we hear so much negative about Iran, it is important to remember that Iran is a vibrant society.

    Human Rights Watch should be commended for demanding that Iran stop its oppression of minorities. I hope Iran listens.

    If it does, its society can only catapult itself back into international relevancy as a solid citizen/nation of the world community.

  6. Ali

    April 19, 2009 5:59 pm

    What have you all been reading?

    With a stroke of his pen, Aya Ali Khamanie put a period where God had placed a comma! It is now Khamanie who speaks as god throughout the world.

    He honours the god of nuclear bomb –NOT human rights– to deliver into his hands all the treasures of the earth from the Arab lands, the Glorious land, Russia, China, Japan, India, Europe, Africa, Australia and America.

    He has become so omnipotent that he no longer has any regard for the God of his fathers let alone human rights of men, women or children. He had magnified himself above all these things while the world was sleep walking.

  7. Mark Obenauer

    April 19, 2009 8:42 pm

    The people of Iran have embraced Mr. Khamanie’s leadership or else he wouldn’t still be in power? He is the legitimate leader of Iran. Perhaps people that are his assistants will help him see more clearly that improving the human rights situation in Iran is to Iran’s benefit.

  8. Sangi

    April 20, 2009 3:55 am

    Mark, the people of Iran have most certainly NOT embraced Mr. Kh’s dictatorial supremacy. The people of Iran don’t even have the right to say I am a baha’i or a sufi, so how would YOU know whether or not they have EMBRACED him? The man was elected by a secret conclave of mullahs who were themselves appointed or elected by the previous leader and rigged “elections” which people in Iran have to vote in to get a stamp in their ID Cards so they will not be thrown out of their jobs. Legally speaking, he is the head of state of Iran, yes, but let’s not go over board, and will fully turn our eye the other way and pretend that Iran is ANYTHING resembling a free society, where people freely elect ACCOUNTABLE leaders, shall we? Ok? OK. Thanks.

  9. Glenn Franco Simmons

    April 20, 2009 4:47 am

    To all,

    I have two points related to this Iran Press Watch post. The first is in regard to the comments that have followed and I have this to say:

    It’s important to remember that change can come quickly or slowly.

    Look at World War IV, the Cold War, and how long it took for godless communism to be defeated, and then look at how quickly the Berlin Wall fell.

    While many may criticize Iran, and I have been one of them, and as I respect Human Rights Watch, and as I view Iran Press Watch with great admiration and interest, it is best to keep conversations civil, without accusations.

    Iran is a nation with a long history. It has had many high and low points, but what civilization hasn’t, especially one as long, stories and ancient as Persia?

    My second point has to do with the Iran Press Watch post, specifically in reference to defamation of religion.

    While Iran’s president is entitled to his view, I believe that it is important to note that many people do not believe it is correct to defame the religion of Islam, as that involves stereotypes and generalizations that lead to repugnant discrimination and prejudice.

    Thus, to me, it is not the religion that is being defamed in terms of “radical Islam.”

    What is being challenged is the fact that some self-professed Islamic clerics and believers say their brand of Islam is correct at the expense of religious minorities that is at issue.

    To criticize oppressive religious authorities is not defaming Islam.

    By the same token, does not the Iranian president see the irony in his own agenda? While he asks for anti-defamation language, his own political and religious leadership defames Bahais, but also Christian converts from Islam to Christianity (apostasy to him) and Zoroastrians.

    I pose this question to the Iranian president with all due respect: How can you desire a halt to defamation against religion when your own deeds prove you are defaming other people’s religions?

    Secondly, how is compulsion in religion Islamic? Even the Ahmadi Muslims believe that compulsion is not Islamic. For that and other beliefs, they, too, are persecuted by other Muslims.

    Which brings me back to the original context of this post: human rights and the need that they be respected, that racism, that oppression be rooted out. We cannot do that by anger, which is not conducive to civilized discourse. I should know, as I have written in anger before and lived to regret it.

  10. Ali

    April 20, 2009 12:01 pm

    Mark, Aya Ali Khamanie has banned God from speaking in Iran! He is no head of state. He is The Antichrist!

  11. sb

    April 20, 2009 6:19 pm

    BBC is reporting “UN Dismay” today, reporting that “Diplomats have walked out of a speech by the Iranian president at a UN anti-racism conference after he described Israel as ‘totally racist’.”


    From the BBC article:
    ” The walkout by delegates from at least 30 countries happened within minutes of the speech starting on Monday.

    The delegates planned to return later to participate in the rest of the conference.

    Mr. Ahmadinejad, the only major leader to attend the conference, said Jewish migrants from Europe and the United States had been sent to the Middle East after World War II “in order to establish a racist government in the occupied Palestine”.

    Apparently, Mr. Ahmadinejad began to verbally assault the oldest historical object of human prejudice, the Jewish people of Israel, with charges of “racism.”

    Does it occur to Mr. Ahmadinejad that Israelis have a better track record of respecting the rights of two of the biggest Iranian minorities than does his own nation?


  12. Glenn Franco Simmons

    April 20, 2009 6:25 pm

    Fanaticism in any form is dangerous and damaging to the world community.

    Thank you, Human Rights Watch, for your report.

    Thank you, Iran Press Watch, for your publication of this information.

    For those criticial of Iran, my advice: measure your words carefully. Iran remains a vibrant society with many talented and wonderful human beings.

  13. Mark Obenauer

    April 20, 2009 9:29 pm


    I agree with you and Sangi. I am torn about how to respond to tyrants because I understand that I must be obedient with the government where I reside whether or not I agree with its policies. The exception is when they want to make me renounce my religious belief. Please understand, I grew up fundamentalist and I still have fundamentalist or rigid ways of looking at things (more so than I was aware). Things are either black or white and I can be rather coldly analytical (people don’t even figure in the equation). So if I continue this just write “Mark, wake up!” and I won’t take it personally.

    So I apology if I have exasperated people. I realize that this if off topic but I wanted to let you know that I have heard what you are feeling and writing.


  14. sb

    April 21, 2009 11:14 am


    As I have said here before, there are many Iranian-Americans in my profession. As a people Iranians have always struck me as one of the most enlightened and creative groups of people I have had the honor to encounter.

    Nothing can excuse the disparity between the reality of how wonderful Iranians actually are and the extreme positions that the Iranian government takes on human rights. The Baha’is of Iran happen to be the IRI’s most vulnerable target, but it is understood that they are not the only ones in Iran to suffer. It is also understood that the will of the Iranian nation is not in the least, adequately expressed by the actions and speech of Mr. Ahmadinejad. The waste of such enormously great potential is what we decry here. Without doubt, the day will come when all will be set right.

  15. Ali

    April 21, 2009 11:50 am

    Glenn, sb, Mark and others. Please correct me on this if I’m wrong. Your writings tells you to support the government where “you live”. It doesn’t tell you to support the government where I live. Actually, if I read it correctly it tells you to bring to light the injustices that are done where I live.

  16. sb

    April 21, 2009 12:19 pm


    I certainly DO NOT support the actions of the Iranian government in the area of human rights; they are unspeakably unjust.

    However, I want to make clear that I am not NOT anti-Iranian, not do I wish harm to any government. Governments do so much more than make political statements; government is vital to civilized society.

    Happy Ridvan, Ali-Jan. One of my dear friends called Tehran yesterday and I assure you the Baha’is there were having a big, big, happy celebration! Cheers! Eid Mubarak shoma!

  17. Ali

    April 21, 2009 12:41 pm

    Thank you sb! Eid Shoma Mubarak. Thanks to America the world has gotten smaller through Internet. This storm in Iran will blow over and sun will shine again in my country. We Iranians will never forget the peoples and nations of the world who stood by us and helped us in this most difficult stage in Iran’s history. Of course when a country gets to be as sick as Iran is, it takes time for it to recover and come back to health. But when recovery comes, it will be unexpected. So just stay with us. The dead are ruling us but we’re not all dead.

  18. Glenn Franco Simmons

    April 21, 2009 4:36 pm


    I am not asking anyone to accept my beliefs and I will not discuss them in this forum as per the effort to remain on topic. This forum is not a forum to express my beliefs in specificity, as it might be offensive to others who do not share them and off topic.

    However, in answer to your question and because I use Human Rights Watch and Iran Press Watch to write about human rights, I would like to show you that I do defend the oppressed of all or no faith in Iran.

    Here are my writings telling the world about Iran. I am not listing them to get hits, as my blogs are minute and matter little. They are just a continuation of my journalism, since I am now unemployed.

    I don’t think it’s off topic to include them here because it relates to your post to me prompted by all our posts about the initial Iran Press Watch post.

    My posts also relate to the Human Rights Watch post above, because, as HRW asks, I usually put the tag “human rights” in my tag lines. I don’t think I’m off topic by showing you I have stood up for all Iranians.

    Nor would I ever ask someone who does not share my faith to do as I do as prescribed by my faith, and even in trying to adhere to my own faith, I make mistakes in my commentary.

    I have also, as a managing editor of a daily newspaper that is no longer in print, written about Khatami’s visit to the UN and the Iranian president’s. I have written about Iran for 30 years in various forms.


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