UN rights chief appeals for Durban 2

Rejects fears upcoming UN conference on racism might turn into an anti-Semitic diatribe.

Pillay UN rights gaza 248.88 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
Pillay UN rights gaza 248.88 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
The UN rights chief on Monday rejected fears that the upcoming "Durban II" conference on racism might be hijacked by critics of Israel, and urged countries to make the meeting a success by focusing on global issues. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said the April 20-25 conference has been disparaged in the media and attacked by a lobbying campaign of those who fear a repetition of the anti-Israel moves that marred the first racism conference in 2001. "This is unwarranted," Pillay told the UN Human Rights Council. She urged all countries to put aside "narrow, parochial interests and reflexive partisanship" and work for an agreement that would help eradicate discrimination. "Failure to do so may reverberate negatively on the full spectrum of human rights work and mechanisms for years to come," Pillay said. She did not name any countries specifically. But the Obama administration said Friday the US would boycott this year's conference unless its final document was changed to drop all references to Israel and the defamation of religion. US officials are also pressing European nations to boycott the conference unless there are revisions to that statement. The latest draft of the Durban II text, which was released in Geneva on Monday, continued to single out Israel, as past versions have done. Like the previous text, the new draft does not mention Israel by name but alludes to it, as when it speaks of how occupation has harmed the Palestinians. Israel is the only country in the text to be singled out in this way. The draft states that Israeli policies are racist and a contemporary form of apartheid. One version mentions "deep concern at the plight of Palestinian refugees and other inhabitants of the Arab occupied territories, as well as displaced persons who were forced to leave their homes because of war and racial policies of the occupying power and who are prevented from returning to their homes and properties because of a racially-based law of return." Meanwhile, Dr. Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress (EJC), the umbrella organization for Jewish communities in Europe, called upon the EU on Monday to show strong leadership and to boycott the conference, scheduled to take place in Geneva. Calling the language and tone of the Durban II Draft Outcome Document "completely unacceptable for an official UN document," Kantor stated, "Now is the time for EU countries and leaders such as French President Nicolas Sarkozy, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and German Chancellor Angela Merkel to take the lead on issues of human rights and racism in the UN and to make a strong and clear stand against the Durban Review Conference."