Mon, Apr 20, 2009 - Page 5 News List

Australia joins boycott of UN’s racism conference

REUTERS AND AP , SYDNEY AND THE HAGUE

Australia joined the US and Canada yesterday in boycotting a UN conference on racism next week, saying it was concerned the conference would be used as a platform for anti-Semitic views.

The UN organized the forum in Geneva to help heal the wounds from the last such meeting, in Durban, South Africa. The US and Israel walked out of that 2001 conference when Arab states tried to define Zionism as racist.

“Australia has decided not to participate in the Durban Review Conference,” Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said in a statement. “The 2001 Declaration singled out Israel and the Middle East. Australia expressed strong concerns about this at the time. Regrettably, we cannot be confident that the Review Conference will not again be used as a platform to air offensive views, including anti-Semitic views.”

The US State Department said on Saturday that Washington would boycott the conference, citing objectionable language in the meeting’s draft declaration. The Obama administration has come under strong pressure from Israel not to attend.

Canada has said it will not go next week because of fears of a repeat of the “Israel-bashing” that occurred at the last conference. The EU is still deliberating.

The Czech Republic, which holds the rotating EU presidency, had called a meeting for last evening to evaluate the bloc’s stance on attending. Britain, however, will send a delegation to the conference, albeit without a high-level official.

Human Rights Watch said the meeting in Geneva would lack needed diplomatic gravitas without Washington’s presence.

A draft declaration prepared for the conference removed all references to Israel, the Middle East conflict and a call to bar “defamation of religion” — an Arab-backed response to a 2006 controversy over Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed that Western states see as a way to quash free expression.

The US said there had been improvements to the document, but not enough.

Later yesterday, the Dutch foreign minister announced was boycotting the conference.

Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen said in a strongly worded statement that the proposed closing declaration for the meeting was “unacceptable.” In recent weeks, Dutch diplomats had worked feverishly behind the scenes to try to salvage a final statement that would be acceptable to all nations, but Verhagen described the negotiations as “grim” and said Western nations were subjected to political attacks.

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