In retrospect, it is pretty clear that the UN anti-racism summit was an accident waiting to happen. And so it has proved. About an hour ago, there was a walk-out by European delegates – after President Ahmadinejad of Iran unleashed his usual anti-Israel rant. The Americans and Canadians would doubtless have walked out as well – but they were already boycotting the conference.
The UN Human Rights Council, which is running the conference in Geneva, was meant to be a marked improvement on its predecessor, the UN Commission on Human Rights. That had been widely condemned in the west for focussing obsessively on Israel – while studiously avoiding the discussion of human-rights violations in places like Burma and Sudan. But the new council has fallen into the old trap. It was brought into being in 2006. By spring 2007 it had passed eight resolutions condemning Israel – but none that specifically targeted other countries.
Nonetheless, the Obama administration was initially inclined to take part in the Geneva conference – in line with its new policy of diplomatic engagement But, in the end, the Americans pulled out. It was not just the Israel issue that bothered them. They, and the Dutch, were also bothered by the council’s recent endorsement of a Pakistani-sponsored resolution against the condemnation of religions – which sounds like a restriction on freedom of speech.
So this great revamped council was left with the heads of just three states attending the Geneva meeting – Iran, Togo and Montenegro. But, rather than walking away from a conference that was obviously turning into a farce, Ban Ki-Moon – the UN secretary-general – has thrown his prestige behind the meeting This looks like a bad mistake. With the Obama administration in power, the US is clearly keen on the idea of re-engaging with the UN. Obama has made Susan Rice, one of his closest aides, ambassador to the UN – and given her a cabinet position. But the Geneva conference will play into the hands of all the UN-haters in America.