International: Boycott of UN conference on racism growing

The Guardian & HRW
Germany, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the Netherlands have all joined the US and Israel in announcing their withdrawal from the Geneva conference.
Today, on the first day of the conference, there will be an address and a press conference by Ahmadinejad, who has previously made comments calling into question the facts of the Holocaust and hosted a 2006 conference to review its history. The Iranian president's speech today, on a rare visit to western Europe, comes on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, raising concerns that he will address the subject again. The US said on Saturday that it would not be attending today's UN conference because of what Washington said was "objectionable" language in a draft statement.
The draft statement for this week's conference does not single out Israel, but formally upholds the 2001 declaration, which does. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said she was "shocked and deeply disappointed" by the US boycott.

Previously, Juliette de Rivero, Geneva advocacy director at Human Rights Watch had said, "We've made enormous progress to overcome the problems surrounding the preparatory process of this conference and produce a declaration to unite the world against the scourge of racism. Governments should stand firm in Geneva to ensure that Ahmadinejad's presence isn't used to undermine a process that's now backed by so many nations, or to undercut the constructive spirit of the negotiations."

There was a significant turning point in the negotiations leading up to the review conference a few weeks ago when participating nations agreed to remove any reference to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (or any other specific situation) and to "defamation of religion." These two issues had polarized delegations and damaged prospects of a successful outcome to the conference.

Human Rights Watch said that governments should deepen their engagement with the conference to ensure that it stays on track, focusing on the important issues of addressing racism in the world.

"The issue of fighting racism and discrimination is too important to be derailed by anyone," de Rivero said.

Human Rights Watch called on Ahmadinejad to use his presence at the UN racism conference to announce an end to repression of the Baha'i people in Iran and a commitment to allow freedom of expression - an essential protection in the fight against racism worldwide.

Ahmadinejad's government routinely represses dissent and has continued the decades-old repression of Iran's religious and ethnic minorities, including the Baha'i religious minority (, Human Rights Watch said. Iran's record of repressing peaceful dissent does great injustice to the struggle against racism and discrimination.

"Saying you won't negotiate unless everyone else accepts all your demands first is not the way to get the changes you want," de Rivero said. "This attitude is especially disappointing given President Obama's promise to engage with other nations rather than trying to impose Washington's will upon them."