Australia’s boycott of racism summit stuns UN

The Geneva meeting is meant to take stock of progress in fighting racial discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance.

The Geneva meeting is meant to take stock of progress in fighting racial discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance. (REUTERS : Denis Balibouse)

The UN High Commission for Human Rights (UNHCHR) says it is shocked Australia has pulled out of a major anti-racism conference in Geneva this week.

Australia and several European countries have joined the US, Israel and Canada in boycotting the conference, amid concerns the meeting will serve as a platform against Israel.

The Geneva meeting is meant to take stock of progress in fighting racial discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance since the controversial World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, eight years ago.

That meeting was deemed anti-Semitic when Arab countries tried to define Zionism as racism.

UNHCHR spokesman Rupert Colville says there was nothing offensive in this conference’s text.

“The Islamic states, the organisation of Islamic conference states, Palestine – they made huge compromises,” he said.

The Executive Council of Australian Jewry has welcomed Australia’s boycott, saying the conference agenda was prejudiced against Israel.


EU undecided

EU states are split on whether to follow the boycott.

Germany became the latest country to announce it would not be attending the five-day Durban Review Conference, but it did hold out the possibility of joining the event later in the week.

France, on the other hand, is expected to attend.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrived in Geneva on Sunday. He is one of the few heads of state attending.

Mr Ahmadinejad, who has called for Israel to be “wiped off the map” and described the Holocaust as a “myth”, is to address the gathering about 3:00pm Monday (local time).

Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yossi Levy has denounced the event as a “tragic farce”.
Pope on board

However, Pope Benedict has expressed his support for the conference.

Speaking at his papal retreat outside Rome, Pope Benedict – a long-time critic of racism – urged countries to join together at the conference to eliminate intolerance.

He said he hoped delegates would work to put an end to every form of racism and discrimination.

The Pope made no reference to the boycott by Australia and other countries.

He is currently trying to improve relations with the Jewish people ahead of his visit to Israel next month.

– ABC/AFP/BBC

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