EU countries worried about Durban II

Dutch FM tells UNSC references to Israel in current draft for anti-racism conference are unacceptable.

Durban 248.88 ap (photo credit: )
Durban 248.88 ap
(photo credit: )
The Netherlands and France have sharply chastised the UN for singling out Israel in the preparatory text for its upcoming "Durban II" anti-racism conference, but said they are not yet ready to boycott the event. "I am deeply disturbed by the turn this event is taking," Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen said on Tuesday in a speech before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. "The way in which the preparatory process for this conference has been proceeding suggests that it is unlikely to be a useful exercise." The previous night, in an address to a large dinner hosted by the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions (CRIF) in Paris, French Prime Minister Francois Filion warned that his country would withdraw if changes were not made to the draft text with regard to Israel. On Friday, the US became the third country after Canada and Israel to announce it will not attend the April 20-24 event in Geneva, which is a follow-up conference to the 2001 UN World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance that met in Durban, South Africa. The final text of the 2001 conference singled out Israel, and the nongovernmental groups that attended it created such an anti-Israel and Jewish atmosphere that both Israel and the US walked out in protest. The text for Durban II again attacks Israel and no other nation. With less than two months to go until the conference, critics as well as the governments of the US, Canada and Israel have concluded that nothing can be done to change that problematic aspect of the text. The three nations are also concerned with items in the text regarding defamation of religion and free speech. In his speech in Geneva on Tuesday, Verhagen said, "I fully understand why some countries have decided not to participate. For the Netherlands, too, the draft outcome document is not acceptable in its present form." His country, he said, would not accept a text that placed religion above individuals, failed to condemn anti-Semitism and discrimination based on sexual orientation, and that singled out Israel. "These are clear red lines for the Netherlands," he said. Still, he added, "we do want to participate and work together on a useful outcome, but not at any price." Czech Republic Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, said, "The EU remains committed to the Durban Review Conference" and is ready to fully participate. Still, he warned that the EU would not "subscribe to the outcome of the conference" if it limited or undermined human rights and fundamental freedoms. Schwarzenberg added that he believed the final document would be much shorter, and reflect "our principles as we have clearly outlined them from the beginning." Belgium, Denmark, Italy, Portugal and Luxembourg all said they supported the conference. A Belgium representative added, however, that he was concerned by the direction it was taking. The European representatives spoke to the Human Rights Council, even though that body is not directly responsible for the review text, which is being revised by a separate committee that is associated with the council. Hillel Neuer, the executive director of the Geneva-based UN Watch, provided The Jerusalem Post with transcripts of the speeches. He applauded the position taken by the Netherlands. "Every EU state has a moral obligation to follow the example set today by Dutch Foreign Minister Verhagen and to explain how the Durban process constitutes an assault on the true principles of human rights and anti-racism," Neuer said. On Monday night, in his address before the CRIF, its president Richard Prasquier called on France and the EU to boycott Durban II, given that there was only a slim chance that the text could be satisfactorily amended. On Tuesday, the Office of the International March of the Living said its annual trip that brings 10,000 teens to Auschwitz to commemorate the Holocaust and reject racism, fell this year on April 21, during the Durban II conference. International March of the Living chairman Shmuel Rosenman said, "We call upon all governments with conscience to follow suit and demonstrate the ultimate repudiation of genocide through participation in the March of the Living 2009 at Auschwitz."