GENEVA – The world racism conference looked beyond the Middle East on Wednesday to concerns over the economic crisis, with speakers warning that increased joblessness could lead to greater intolerance of foreigners if governments fail to act.
A day after more than 100 countries passed a declaration of solidarity, speakers focused on the economic plight affecting the whole world and how nations should put into practice their pledges to fight racism.
"It would be naive to expect that our efforts will succeed in putting a quick and irreversible end to prejudice and hate," said Terry Davis, head of the Council of Europe, the continent's human rights watchdog.
He said countries cannot force people to be tolerant, but can promote dialogue among people of different races, religions and ethnicities. In the battle against hatred, "there are no easy fixes and no quick wins," he said.
Haiti, which relies heavily on money sent back by its citizens working abroad, said it could be hurt significantly by xenophobia linked to the crisis, which it claimed is already "increasing the hate against foreigners and especially against migrant workers."
Vice Foreign Minister Jacques Nixon Myrthil said "racism and discrimination are far from being reduced and are even taking worse forms," echoing a statement at the conference's opening by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
Ban said Monday it was important that nations address new technologies that were spreading hate messages more rapidly. He predicted "social unrest, weakened government and angry publics" contributing to increased intolerance, if countries failed to address the economic problems facing them.
U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said the global economic crisis meant many countries were cutting back on government programs.
But "efforts to diminish racism and xenophobia need not be among them," he said, adding that much of the effort to combat racism costs little money.
The discussions were more thematic on Wednesday after the tensions of the Middle East dominated proceedings at the start of the weeklong event.
On Monday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — the first government speaker to take the podium — launched into an angry diatribe against Israel, calling it the most "cruel and repressive racist regime." That sparked a walkout by European delegates, and strong condemnations from the United Nations, U.S. and several other Western countries.
The U.S. decided to skip the conference before it started out of concern it would focus largely on Israel at the expense of other issues.
Australia, Canada, Germany, Israel, Italy, Netherlands, New Zealand and Poland also boycotted. They were joined by the Czech Republic after Ahmadinejad's speech.
Disruption by mainly pro-Israel, Jewish and Iranian groups throughout the conference has prompted the United Nations to withdraw 46 access passes, spokesman Rupert Colville said.
On Monday, a pair of rainbow-wigged protesters threw clown noses at Iran's president and later, about 100 members of pro-Israel and Jewish groups tried to block Ahmadinejad's entrance to a scheduled news conference.
The anti-racism conference, including preparatory meetings, is estimated to cost around $5.3 million, Colville said.