Over 100 countries at the United Nations-sponsored global summit on racism on Tuesday unanimously approved a declaration calling on the world to combat intolerance, as they sought to shake off the impact of a walk-out triggered by remarks from Iran.
The text, which "reaffirms" a contentious 2001 document that refers six times to Israel and the Middle East, was adopted by consensus and without debate at a public session, well before the end of the week-long meeting.
The original statement was issued after the United Nations' first global racism meeting in Durban, South Africa. Israel was the only nation named specifically in that first declaration as a racist state. This was cited by the United States as a reason to boycott the Geneva meeting.
The 143-point declaration was a broad call to fight racism and discrimination against minorities. It also warns against stereotyping people because of their religion, a key demand of Islamic states who say Muslims have been unfairly targeted for their beliefs since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States.
The early endorsement of the text, which was negotiated over several months in preparatory talks in Geneva, should help steady the troubled conference and return the focus to issues on its formal agenda, such as the links between poverty and discrimination.
The decision by consensus Tuesday comes a day after the UN meeting in Geneva was shaken by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's fiery condemnation of Israel as a racist country.
That speech prompted a walkout dozens of Western countries. France, which returned to the conference after walking out of Ahmadinejad's speech, said it was optimistic the UN would move on and approve a declaration by Tuesday night committing the world to fight racism.
"The meeting is not at all a failure but the beginning of a success," Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said on French radio. The global body was similarly hopeful.
"In the drama of [Monday] everyone forgot what the conference is actually about," UN spokesman Rupert Colville said. "I think we're back on track now."
Conference organizers have sought desperately to avoid the same problems that marred the last global racism gathering eight years ago in Durban, South Africa. The U.S. and Israel walked out midway into that event over an attempt by Muslim countries to liken Zionism to racism.
Even though the final document will have no enforcement power, and will likely do little in the short-term to improve the situation of minorities around the world, it arouses great passion from all governments.
Israel is not mentioned anywhere in the current agreement, which seeks to avoid any offense but has angered many in the Muslim world for its failure to point the finger directly at the Israel for its policies toward the Palestinians.
Iran has fought to minimize any reference to the Holocaust, while the Obama administration has said it cannot accept a reaffirmation of the UN's 2001 declaration, which in its final version noted the plight of the Palestinians and Israel's right to security.
While themes from African poverty to the suffering of South America's indigenous peoples were discussed Tuesday in Geneva, the U.S. and eight other boycotting nations were joined on the sidelines by the Czech Republic, which holds the rotating EU presidency.
China, which has prevented any criticism of how it treats Tibetans or members of the Falun Gong spiritual sect, called for dialogue and consensus to combat racism.
"New forms of racism keep cropping up so it is a very challenging job," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said in Beijing. She called for zero tolerance to racism at both the international and national levels.
But some delegates at the conference refused to look beyond the Middle East. Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Maliki called Israeli policies in Gaza and the West Bank the "ugliest face of racism."
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