Clouds gather over Durban II

By Keren David and Dan Goldberg, April 14, 2009

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will attend the United Nations anti-racism conference in Geneva next week.

The news increased Jewish concerns about the conference, a follow-up to the 2001 conference held in Durban which was dominated by heated rows over the Middle East.

Israel, Italy and Canada are to boycott the Geneva meeting, with Australia expected to follow suit.

Australia’s Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said it was “most unlikely” his country would attend.

However, Barack Obama’s administration indicated last week that America may attend. In 2001 American and Israeli delegates walked out over a draft resolution that singled out Israel for criticism and likened Zionism to racism.

The conference eventually urged governments to take steps to fight discrimination and recognised the plight of the Palestinian people and the need for Israel to have security.

This year’s conference is likely to see a row over protection for religions.

Islamic countries, angry over cartoons and films attacking Muslims, want a resolution which would equate criticism of a religious faith with a violation of human rights. But European and American delegates argue that this would affect freedom of speech.

On Sunday before the main conference starts many NGOs will meet to discuss human rights abuses. This year, said Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, a Geneva-based human rights group.

“The Summit will be our last high-profile chance to urge the conference to help the voiceless, be they victims of Sudan’s genocide in Darfur or Iran’s institutionalized discrimination against gays and women,” said Mr Neuer.

Last updated: 5:05pm, April 14 2009