Italy will not be there, nor will countries such as the U.S., Holland, Canada and Australia. Nevertheless, South African UN High Commissioner Navi Pillay curtly dismissed the dissent expressed toward the UN Conference on racism opening today in Geneva. Minister for Foreign Affairs Franco Frattini limited himself to pointing out that the “High Commissioner’s criticism has been debatable on other occasions, so I will simply note this without responding. This is the way things stand: Italy, and not only Italy, has no intention of negotiating non-negotiable values”. And, he adds, as for the “handful of countries” (the expression used by Pillay), that will be absent in Switzerland today, the truth is that “of the 160 UN Member States, only 50 have confirmed their definitive participation”. In this interview the chief of the foreign ministry explains why the decision could not have been otherwise; and why the final draft document, despite massive efforts to temper it, remains unacceptable.
Europe once again sparsely represented. One more missed opportunity?
«That’s right. The most serious problem is precisely the lack of unity of opinion and a single European Union voice. Italy worked long and hard on this and was able to achieve major results in the council of foreign ministers. The 27-State agreement envisaged that, if the final draft document was not agreeable to all, that we would present the Dutch text together united. Instead, in the end, we lost some along the way, despite the fact that the agreement left no alternative; and as a convinced pro-European, let me say that this has been a great disappointment».
What parts of the draft to be discussed in Geneva does Italy deem intolerable?
«The main one is that we do not consider it possible to define Israel a racist state, and do not accept incitements to anti-Semitism. Unfortunately, the controversial text does not recognize the Holocaust as the most inhuman tragedy of the 20th century. Moreover, it does not fully ensure freedom of expression and critique, which are always legitimate even when referring to other religions or religious expressions ».
An original defect that undermines any outcome of the Conference from the start?
«It surely reduces its credibility, despite the fact that the theme is one particularly dear to Italy and to the European Union. It is necessary to send unequivocal signs, and certainly not to use the international limelight to label Israel a racist state».
Avoiding, in other words, a repetition of what happened in Durban, where the first edition of the Conference was held?
«The key point is that in the first paragraph of the document on the table in Geneva cites the Durban I conclusions in total [named for the city where the previous conference was held, editor’s note]. And this means reasserting everything that Durban I stood for, i.e. incitement to hatred against Israel and the Jewish people. This is proof, unfortunately, that arguments with which racism has nothing to do continue to be utilized in the struggle against it».
The Vatican doesn’t see it that way, and will be there in Geneva.
«The Vatican has chosen mediation and compromise on the basis of motivations that are certainly, and cannot but be, those of any other State. The Vatican has the high moral authority of the Holy Father and, therefore, I can fully understand its decision. I understand much less that of other Union Members that should be more firmly anchored to the principles of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights».
Is there any chance of a last minute re-write?
«A re-write is possible, but it would be better if the Dutch text were accepted as the basis for continuing negotiations, which is not going to happen—we already know that—although we have spared no effort thus far. Many have tried to mediate but the text, as it is, is still unacceptable».