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All Over but the Crying at Durban II


Geneva — Speed was the order of the day here at the Durban Review Conference. The Main Committee up and adopted the draft outcome document and recommended that the plenary adopt it as well. Shortly thereafter, the plenary adopted it by consensus. Mighty fast action, indeed.

Such speed is highly unusual for U.N. conferences. Generally, they are designed to culminate with the adoption of the outcome document on the last day.

The newly elected president of the conference, Kenyan Attorney General Amos Wako, tried to spin today’s swift service as a triumph of engagement. He went on to chastise the countries that boycotted the conference. In truth, it was a testament to growing anxiety about the conference. The U.N. had grown increasingly fearful that the conference might devolve into an even more embarrassing failure, with even more countries walking out. And the European Union states still attending were increasingly nervous that the outcome document would be made even worse with rewrites — a development that would reveal the failure of their “engagement” strategy.

Clearly, discretion — in the form of calling a quick vote before the situation, and the document, deteriorated further — was the better part of valor.

Not to say that some folks didn’t want to prolong the debate. The Organization of the Islamic Conference and other such worthies were itching for a chance to recast the document even more to their liking. This led to another of today’s ridiculous moments in which the conference president lauded the conference as a triumph of engagement, even as he refused to acknowledge Libya’s boisterous effort to be recognized, so it could express its dissappointment that the document did not contain more condemnatory language on Israel. Now that Durban II’s climactic act has been wrapped up days ahead of schedule, will the delegates go home? No way.

The rest of the week will be filled with countries making prepared statements and NGOs voicing their thoughts — even though the document these comments ostensibly were supposed to influence is now writ in stone. It will be interesting to see how the NGOs react, now that their chance to have a final say in the document has been short-circuited.

Things might well get even livelier. Today’s precipitous action may “liberate” some countries to speak freely. Minutes after the outcome document was adopted, Yemen accused Israel of genocide. Libya looks set to vent its spleen over being disregarded today as well. At Durban II, the heavy-lifting may be over, but the fireworks may just be getting started.


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