Ban Ki-moon, U.N. Secretary-General, and Navi Pillay, U.N. High Commissioner of Human Rights, among other diplomats, opened the conference today with hopeful language that danced around the main hall of the U.N. without a melody. "There comes a time to reaffirm our faith in fundamental rights and the dignity and worth of us all...," said Ki-moon.
Several hours later Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would take the podium, contradicting the very statements of tolerance Ki-moon stated in his opening speech. It is appalling that a man with anti-Semitic and anti-Israel views addressed a conference focused on combating racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerances.
In the overflow room, many of the conferees tried to listen to him speak, but the translation system would not work. The room exploded with outrage that the system was not working properly.
People shouted, "This is a violation of our rights! We have a right to listen, a right to criticize."
Within moments the entire room was up in arms and impassioned conversations were happening simultaneously in every corner, but soon our attention was directed to the monitor by the very few who were not distracted by individual debates.
As Ahmadinejad began to focus his attacks on the West and Israel, a demonstrator popped up from the first row in the main hall of the U.N. wearing a rainbow wig and launched a red clown nose at him. U.N. security officers grabbed the demonstrator and escorted him out of the room. The scene was representative of the circus atmosphere so many felt Ahmadinejad created at the conference. He continued to speak.
"The word Zionism personifies racism," said Ahmadinejad. "Efforts must be made to silence the will of Zionists and their supporters."
The debates in the overflow room continued to gather heat as teams of people from various non-governmental organizations stated their individual cases.
Those of us in the overflow room could not hear what Ahmadinejad was saying, but we looked up at the screen as more and more people in the room began cheering; the European diplomats were leaving the room. The U.S. and several other European countries boycotted the conference in fear that Durban II would become another anti-Semitic forum, and it was wild applause when those who were left in the room walked out.
It was a small moment of triumph.