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UN anti-racism meeting marred by recriminations and boycott


In New York, officials from 180 UN member states are observing the 10th anniversary of the Durban anti-racism conference. But Germany and others are staying away due to the meeting's controversial past.

A special session at the UN commemorating ten years of the Durban Conference against Racism is being boycotted by around 10 western countries, including Germany, due to clashes over anti-Semitism and colonialism which marred past conferences.

Ten years ago in Durban, South Africa, the UN's member states, with the exception of Canada, the United States and Israel, voted unanimously on a draft resolution calling for nations to set up plans to actively fight racism.

But critics charge that Germany and many other countries who signed on to the proposals a decade ago have either done little or nothing at all in the meantime to fight racism at home.

Now the UN's special session on the 10th anniversary of the 2001 Durban conference, which was marked by vitriolic clashes over the Middle East and slavery, is being boycotted by several countries, including Germany because, as Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said, the government cannot exclude the possibility that "the meeting will be misused in order to express anti-Semitic sentiments as has been the case in past conferences."

Controversy in 2001, 2009

On the edges of the 2001 meeting and during a parallel conference held by NGOs, some representatives gave anti-Semitic and anti-Israel speeches accompanied by inflammatory signs and pamphlets.

Some African countries - led by Nigeria and Zimbabwe - and African-American NGO's wanted individual apologies from countries responsible for slavery, recognition of it as a crime against humanity and the payment of reparations.

At an April 2009 conference held in Geneva, called Durban II, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad attacked the Israeli government, calling it a racist regime.

Despite these incidents, the German Institute for Human Rights thinks Berlin is making a mistake in boycotting Thursday's session.

Petra Follmar-Otto, who heads the institute's human rights department, says Germany's withdrawal from the conference is regrettable, since the recognition of racism as a human rights problem is important for establishing Germany's credibility when it comes to human rights.

But Berlin has been under pressure from Jewish organizations which have used to events in Durban and Geneva, according to critics, to launch a systematic campaign to discredit the UN's anti-racism program

Leading groups in this effort include the American Jewish Conference and the allegedly independent UN Watch, an NGO founded by the AJC. To AJC Director David Harris, Thursday's session in New York is nothing more than "the tenth anniversary of an anti-Israel, anti-Semitic hate fest."

Wrong strategy?

However, others say groups like the AJC are working under false assumptions, including the final document from the Durban conference.

"If critics had taken the trouble to read the final documents from the Durban conference they would have seen that its expressing said there that the Holocaust should never been forgotten," said Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Another section addresses the suffering of the Palestinians and their right to self-determination, while calling on security for all nations in the region, including Israel.

But that has failed to move the German government and decided instead to leave the stage in New York to Iran's Ahmedinejad, just like in 2009 in Geneva.

That is unacceptable to Willy Wimmer, a conservative German parliamentarian and member of the foreign affairs committee, especially given the character of the United Nations. He told Deutsche Welle that instead of boycotting an event because of "crude" images and speeches from some UN members, Germany should push back against poisonous invective with a vocal dissent.

Germany's own record

In fact, Germany's general human rights track record has been the target of criticism from people in the field.

"Racial discrimination is considered a normal part of everyday life," said Nuran Yigit, who heads the Anti-Discrimination Network in Berlin, especially by non-white immigrants. While Berlin has a network in place that offers counselling, layers and psychologists to victims of discrimination, in many parts of Germany, people have nowhere to go.

Germany did come up with a national action plan after the Durban 2001 conference, but the outcome has been meagre, observers say.

"(The plan) contains measures that Germany would have put in place anyway and is not very results-oriented," said human rights expert Follmar-Otto.

In New York, many fear that the Durban III meeting will descend into yet another mud-slinging match over anti-Semitism and Israeli settlement policies and could serve as a positioning strategy ahead of the General Assembly on Friday.

On that day, the application by the Palestinians for UN statehood recognition is on the agenda.

Author: Andreas Zumach, Ulrike Mast-Kirschning (jam)
Editor: Anke Rasper,,15409218,00.html

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