UN tries to woo Western boycotters with anti-racism pledge
Several countries, including Germany, have boycotted the conference for fear it would turn into an anti-Semitism platform when the Iranian PM addressed the delegates.Geneva -- The United Nations Wednesday was seeking to convince 10 Western countries boycotting its anti-racism conference here to join in a declaration, countering the Iranian leader's verbal attack on Israel.
"Among the countries that boycotted the conference, a certain number took part in putting together the draft of the final declaration so there's nothing in the way of their signing it," a UN source told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Australia, Canada, Germany, Israel, Italy, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Poland and the United States boycotted the conference from the start for fear it would turn into an anti-Semitism platform when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addressed the delegates on Monday.
And during that speech, Ahmadinejad launched a verbal onslaught on Israel leading several other European countries to walk out -- with the Czech Republic staying out.
However, the Europeans among the boycotting nations had already agreed last week on the text of the declaration that was adopted by consensus on Tuesday.
Technically it is endorsed by the UN's member states, minus those that stayed away, officials said.
The adoption of the declaration was advanced by several days as diplomats scrambled to find a way of countering the focus on Ahmadinejad, whose incendiary speech completely overshadowed the core issue of rising racism, discrimination and xenophobia outside the conference halls.
US-based rights campaign group Human Rights Watch on Wednesday publicly called on the 10 boycotting nations to endorse the meeting's anti-racism pledge.
"States that boycotted the conference for fear it would foster hatred should be reassured by this declaration and should join the global consensus against racism," HRW advocacy director in Geneva Juliette de Rivero said.
HRW said it affirms the right to freedom of expression while combating racism, and calls on governments to take action to eradicate multiple or aggravated forms of discrimination.
The declaration also says that the Holocaust must never be forgotten and leaves out references to specific countries.
The 16-page text enumerates a huge range of related issues that need to be tackled, such as discrimination against migrants, guarantees for HIV/AIDS patients, access to justice, social services, and racism in sports.
"The adoption of this document by consensus only a day after Ahmadinejad’s divisive speech is a clear message against intolerance," de Rivero added.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said that she had received an explanation from the United States.
Pillay also welcomed US President Barack Obama's stance in being ready to support efforts to tackle racism despite Washington's absence.
But the UN rights chief had not received any explanation from the boycotting European nations.
"The countries that boycotted the conference, especially those that are members of the European Union, will have a lot of trouble explaining their position since the text has been adopted," Mexican ambassador Luis-Alfonso de Alba said.
However, the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, a Jewish international human rights group, maintained its support for boycotting nations, saying Ahmadinejad's speech vindicated the stance of those who had stayed out from the start.
"You can win all the brownie points here because you have the maths behind you, but you're not going to win anything in the real world, on the ground," associate dean Abraham Cooper told AFP.
"Not just the average Israeli, but the average Jew is deeply disturbed by what has happened and worried about the future, because from their point of view Ahmadinejad got away like a bandit," Cooper said.