Ban, opening the global body’s first racism conference in eight years, said racism including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia needed to be tackled.
“I fear that today’s economic crisis, if not handled properly, could evolve into a full-scale political crisis marked by social unrest, weakened governments and angry publics who have lost faith in their leaders and their own future,” the UN chief said. “In such circumstances, the consequences for communities already victimized by prejudice or exclusion could be frightening.” He also said he regretted the absence of the United States and eight other Western nations that have pulled out because of fears Muslim nations will dominate the conference with calls for to denounce Israel and for a global ban on criticizing Islam.
“There comes a time to reaffirm our faith in fundamental human rights and the dignity and worth of us all,” Ban told the gathering of thousands of ministers, diplomats and dignitaries at the UN’s European headquarters in Geneva. The administration of Barack Obama, America’s first black president, announced Saturday it would boycott the weeklong meeting because it makes reference to a declaration made in 2001 at the global body’s first racism conference in Durban, S. Africa.
That document was agreed after the United States and Israel walked out over attempts to liken Zionism -- the movement to establish a Jewish state in the Holy Land -- to racism. Organizers have sought to steer clear of the controversies that marred the Durban meeting, but have run into many of the same contentious issues.