Geneva — The Durban II outcome document might have been adopted yesterday afternoon, but that didn’t mean that the conference was over. Countries were still scheduled to grandstand . . . er, present their views. The ostensible reason for them to speak was no longer relevant, but that, apparently, was no reason to stop the show.
And quite a show it was, with Cuba and Sudan presiding over the main ring in the Durban II circus.
Cuba took the stage first, demanding that Western countries provide reparations and compensation for the trans-Atlantic slave trade and colonialism. Cuba went on to state that “Racism and racial discrimination make up a virus that develops into a cyst in the social tissue. This is a reality in every region of the world; but it is well known that this scourge has a greater impact and impunity in the countries from the rich and industrialized North . . .”
After an obligatory attack on Israel as an “occupying power that does not recognize the limits of justice, moral, or the international law [sic],” the Cuban delegate reached back to the 1970s for a solution to racism and inequality, calling for a “new international economic order . . . based on equality, solidarity and social justice.”
Cuba went on to attack freedom of expression, declaring that the “Internet and the new information technologies are a useful tool in the struggle against racism. However, this space is been [sic] improperly used in the diffusion of ideas based in the superiority [sic] and racial and religious hate . . . freedom of expression through any means of information cannot imply, in any case, freedom to hate, discrimination and violence.”
In a moment of (apparently) unintentional irony, Cuba claimed — while trumpeting the “merits” of its despotic and poverty-stricken political and economic system — that “all Cubans, men and women, with no exception enjoy the same rights without discrimination of any kind.” It may even be true, considering that they enjoy very few rights at all.
Sudan — the regime that has committed massive human-rights atrocities in Darfur (atrocities that, in the view of most people, rise to the level of genocide) — took the podium shortly after Cuba to add its contribution to the Durban Review Conference. The Sudanese deputy minister of justice implausibly claimed that Sudan had rejected racism and “came to adopt strategies and educational programs . . . against racism and its current forms [and] establish new relations on mutual respect and partnership for the sake of inculcating in our generations the values of acceptance of the other, solidarity, embracement of dialogue among culture and civilizations and religions, and full abandonment of extremism, bigotry, and division.”
He went on to claim that Sudan is opposed to all forms of racism and discrimination, to reject accusations that slavery is still practiced in Sudan, and to accuse Israel of conducting a racist military campaign in Gaza. For instance, the Sudanese representative stated, “The recent attack on Gaza emanated from pretensions of racial and religious superiority . . .” That’s right: “pretensions of racial and religious superiority” — not the hundreds of Hamas missile attacks on Israeli civilians.
At the end of his speech, many delegates and some NGOs applauded.
Welcome to constructive dialogue on racism in the U.N. world.