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“UM Schmum,” Or: The UN? Who Needs It? (Part Three)

Tension and anticipation filled the room. Would Ahmadinejad live up to the mission of the Durban Review Conference’s focus on ending racism and speak to the thousands of oppressed Baha’i in his country? Would he admit the existence of homosexuality … Read More

By / December 1, 2009

Tension and anticipation filled the room. Would Ahmadinejad live up to the mission of the Durban Review Conference’s focus on ending racism and speak to the thousands of oppressed Baha’i in his country? Would he admit the existence of homosexuality in Iran? The balcony, filled with international media including our crew, looked on. It took him 45 seconds to deliver – "Ladies and gentlemen, let us take a look at the UN Security Council. Following World War II, they resorted to military aggression to make an entire nation homeless on the pretext of Jewish sufferings." All of the sudden a large group of UN representatives and pro-Israel NGO representatives stood up and walked out in a dramatic protest. Jewish student activists who had smuggled in clown suits screamed ‘You’re a racist!!’ while being tackled by UN security. The Iranians and Muslim countries and NGOs cheered voraciously. The Middle East issue had obviously continued to disrupt. I wanted to speak to the Iranians, people from a country whose president had repeatedly denounced Israel, incited violence against Jews and denied the Holocaust. If they believed in Ahmadinejad’s message then I wanted to give them the chance to explain. Although polite, they were very suspicious of our project and only after our cameraman cornered Iranian UN Ambassador Moayeri on the last day of the conference did we manage to get a statement.
– Ambassador Alireza Moayeri, UN Ambassador, Iran: "He never crossed the line. His position was perfectly focused on the subject matter of racism. He was just giving examples and instances, which we can see the most vivid examples of it taking place in occupied territories of Palestine by the Zionist regime of Israel." As I spent the week in Geneva attending conference events and events thrown by activists outside of UN jurisdiction I got a much better understanding of how these groups interact on the international level. Inside the UN they form into political and strategic blocks of influence in order to get enough votes to pass resolutions, in the NGO community they talk past each other not to each other – a pro-Palestinian event in one room, and pro-Israel event in another. If you were to shut your eyes while sitting in the Serpentine Lounge, where delegates gather for espresso and sandwiches, and just listen to all the groups from all over the world huddled up by interest group, cacophony might be a good way to describe it. With so much intense emotion behind the Middle East issue a lot of the other major issues that need to get addressed in the world don’t seem to get the attention they deserve. In address after address to the conference, leaders from countries as varied as Indonesia and Syria all made it a point to express their support for the Palestinian people. Leaders from many western countries made it a point to express their support for Israel. It struck me as sad. Where were conversations going on about the 170 million Dalits in South Asia who suffer repression every day, the homosexuals being hanged in many countries around the world including Iran, about the oppression of women and the rights of indigenous peoples? The UN did provide a space for side events on certain pre-approved topics and it was here some of these issues were addressed. ‘Lost issues of Asia’ was one, "Freedom of Expression and Incitement to Racial or Religious Hatred" another. There were thirty people in one event I attended, fifty in another. How could such a small group ever come close to addressing the suffering? And where was Darfur in this conversation? Didn’t we as Jews vow never to allow another genocide? The topic was not on the conference agenda because it was ‘country specific’, which might offend another country. The Darfuris were sidelined to a street protest while their people continued to die. We also spoke to many of these victims, victims not only of their countrymen’s oppression but of the international system. –Gibreil Hamid, Darfuri Rights Advocate: "Darfur is not counted as a subject in the Durban Review Conference taking place. So I would like to ask the question: Are we not people or human beings? Are we a second class of human beings or what kind of people we are?"

–Rajani Jerome Welix, Tamil Rights Advocate: "We are very angry. They don’t see us. They don’t listen to us. We are crying. We are calling. What’s this world? We don’t ask anything. We don’t ask but peace. We want to live … like everybody, everybody in the world." In the end I think we made a well-balanced film that listens to the message each group was trying to express and presents it in a balanced way. It is also a film that exposes the UN for one of its major flaws, its relentless focus on the Middle East to the detriment of millions of victim’s of racism world-wide. All these years of arguing and political jockeying and killing – what effect has the UN really made to bring peace and happiness to the world? But was I left feeling like the UN is a hopeless venture? Not at all. A powerful feeling still lies underneath my cynicism. I don’t want to live in and can’t imagine a world without it. It still seems to me Israel needs the power of the Security Council to prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons. Even though Obama didn’t attend the Durban Review Conference he has renewed interest in the UN and has begun to engage the Human Rights Council. It seems like the US needs it. All the good work UNICEF has done feeding the hungry shouldn’t be underestimated. UN Peacekeeping operations are active in 15 countries around the world. Brave UN officials provide election support in Afghanistan, Congo, Sudan, Haiti and Iraq. The world needs it. At the end of all my internal debate, it was the words of Winston Churchill that seemed to ring most true, ‘The UN is the worst multilateral institution in the world, except for all the other multilateral institutions". Judge for yourself after you see the film. "The Battle of Durban II" is screening Wednesday December 2nd at 6:30 PM at NY’s Simon Wiesenthal Center. For more information about the film go here.

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