Friday, April 17, 2009
By Patrick Goodenough, International Editor
(CNSNews.com) – As negotiations come down to the wire ahead of Monday's opening of the United Nations' politically charged racism conference in Geneva, several European countries are expected on Friday to announce that they will boycott the event.
U.N. officials' attempts to avert a widening boycott of the gathering appear to have been undermined by continued wrangling over wording in the conference's draft declaration, and by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's decision to attend.
"Germany, like several other E.U. nations, will very likely not be taking part in the conference," Guenter Nooke, the top human rights official at the foreign ministry in Berlin, told the DPA press agency, adding that a final decision would be taken on Friday.
Germany's Welt newspaper on Friday quoted Nooke as saying that he could see more reasons to stay away from the conference, known as Durban II, than to attend, citing among others Ahmadinejad's planned participation. The paper said Germany had never before skipped a U.N. conference.
Canada in January 2008 became the first country to announce a boycott, attributing the decision to what it called "intolerance and anti-Semitism" at the U.N.'s last such event, the World Conference Against Racism (WCAR) in the South African port city of Durban in 2001. Later last year, Israel confirmed that it too would not attend.
The State Department this week signaled that the United States still did not intend to go, and Australia, Italy and the Netherlands have taken similar positions.
Other E.U. countries thought likely to declare Friday that they will stay away include Denmark and Britain. There is even speculation that the Czech Republic, which holds the E.U. presidency, may do so on behalf of the entire 27-member bloc.
Czech officials on Thursday said the latest version of the often-amended draft outcome document remained problematic. They pointed in particular to language on religion (the controversial "defamation of religion" was excised earlier, but terms such as "negative stereotyping of religions" remain) and the recently-reinserted reference to "foreign occupation."
A preparatory committee finalizing the draft document was meant to meet in Geneva on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday this week for three days of negotiations.
Instead, it met for 45 minutes on Wednesday, and for less than two hours on Thursday, according to Internet Center Anti-Racism Europe (I-Care), a non-governmental organization monitoring the proceedings. Groups of delegates were otherwise engaged in behind-closed-doors haggling.
Among the issues impeding progress during the truncated public session on Thursday, I-CARE reported:
-- E.U. members said the religious stereotyping and foreign occupation paragraphs were unacceptable.
-- Iran and other Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) members opposed a paragraph stating that "the Holocaust must never be forgotten." Australia's representative insisted the paragraph was non-negotiable.
-- South Africa, on behalf of the African Group, proposed that the Holocaust paragraph be replaced by one on genocide. Its suggested wording including a reference to genocide of Tutsis in Rwanda but not to the Nazi genocide of European Jews during World War II.
-- Armenia wanted to insert a paragraph rejecting denial of genocide; Turkey objected. (Turkey is sensitive to charges that the mass killings of Armenians in the crumbling Ottoman Empire in 1915 and the years following amounted to genocide.)
-- Sudan raised concerns about a paragraph urging states to cooperate with international criminal tribunals in the context of crimes of genocide. (Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.)
The aim of next week's conference is to review progress made in implementing the declaration adopted at the end of the 2001 WCAR.
The Bush administration sent a downgraded delegation to that event, unhappy about aspects of the draft declaration including exclusive condemnations of Israel and calls for reparations for slavery.
Attempts to liken Israeli policies to those of apartheid-era South Africa roiled the official conference, while a parallel non-governmental forum was characterized by anti-Semitic rhetoric and the intimidation of Jewish participants.
Part way through the week-long event, then Secretary of State Colin Powell withdrew the delegation, saying a conference that condones "hateful language," that "supports the idea that we have made too much of the Holocaust" and that singles out Israel "for censure and abuse" could not be successful. Israel also pulled out.