France, US may boycott Durban II

The office of the UN high commissioner for human rights says that no final decision had yet been made.

France and the United States have threatened not to participate in the 2009 United Nations anti-racism conference if it showed signs of being dominated by the same anti-Semitism that was so prevalent in the controversial 2001 event held in Durban, South Africa. "The Durban conference in 2001 led to intolerable excesses from certain states and numerous NGOs which turned that conference into a forum against Israel that no one has forgotten," said French President Nicolas Sarkozy. He spoke on Wednesday night at the annual dinner of the Representative Council of France's Jewish institutions, known as CRIF. "France will not allow a repetition of the excesses and abuses of 2001," said Sarkozy. He noted that France would be a significant player when it came to the 2009 conference, because it is slated to hold the rotating EU presidency around that time. "If ever our legitimate demands are not taken into account we will disengage from the process," said Sarkozy. His remarks were provided to The Jerusalem Post by the nongovernmental Geneva-based group UN Watch, who along with the American Jewish Committee welcomed his words. "It is a very powerful statement. Europe's heads of state need to follow his lead. For the first time we are seeing a real red line being laid down by a European head of state regarding the alarming developments of Durban II," said UN Watch Executive Director Hillel Neuer. The 2001 conference had been intended to highlight issues of racism and xenophobia around the globe, but quickly disintegrated into a forum in which to bash Jews and Israel. Among other things, it equated Zionism with racism. Canada has already announced that it would not attend the 2009 follow-up event. Speaking in Washington on Wednesday, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that the US could similarly decide not to attend this time around as well. The US and Israel walked out of the last conference to protest the excessive anti-Jewish bashing that occurred. The final decision regarding US attendance at the 2009 conference will, however, be made by the newly elected president and not by President George W. Bush, who leaves office in January 2009. In contrast, South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki proudly announced last Friday in a speech before his parliament that the conference would once again be hosted in Durban. "Next year, South Africa will play host to the Review Conference to evaluate the implementation of the decisions of the World Conference Against Racism which was held in our country in [2001]," Mbeki said. The office of the UN high commissioner for human rights said that no final decision had yet been made. All formal decisions regarding the 2009 event are handled by the planning committee, which is headed by Libya. Neuer, whose group has already protested the composition of the planning committee, told the Post on Thursday that he was concerned about Mbeki's statements and believed they bore testament to the fact that the 2009 event would indeed be in Durban. "This has to be stopped," he said. The 2009 event is known as a review conference, and such conferences are typically held in Geneva or New York. The venue of the last conference played a large role in its disintegration, said Neuer. People were physically attacked there, he said, and added that the conference needed to be in a much more controlled environment, like Geneva or New York.