Pier Paolo Cito/AP
Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Urges Support For UN Racism Conference Despite US and Western Europe Boycott

April 20, 2009 05:30 PM
by Rachel Balik
The Pope has publicly endorsed the UN Racism Conference, saying it encourages unity; meanwhile, the U.S. and others maintain their boycott.

Pope Praises Racism Conference; European Diplomats Walk Out

The day before the UN Racism Conference was scheduled to begin, Pope Benedict XVI offered his support, establishing the Holy See as a separate voice from the U.S. and other nations that have made the decision to boycott. Even Italy was threatening to boycott the event, the Associated Press reported, but the Pope insisted that if countries worked together for the rights of all men, that atrocities could be prevented in the future. 

Despite the Pope's urging for peace and compromise, European diplomats walked out of the conference today after Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke out against Israel. The AP reported that not only did he call Israel a racist nation, but also inferred that the Holocaust was a fabrication.

Background: U.S. Confirms Boycott Despite Changes to Document

In late February, the U.S. State Department announced its intent to boycott the conference. Delegates had traveled to Geneva in mid-February to review the agenda for the conference and begin negotiations but The Washington Post reported that both the United States and Israel felt that the current document was “unsalvageable.”

The entire EU also voiced dissatisfaction with the agenda set. The United States, Israel and Canada demanded changes in the document, arguing that it attacked Israel while failing to scrutinize the actions of various Islamic countries in the region. Israel is the only country within the document accused of racism. Israel, Canada, Italy and Australia plan to boycott, and the 27-country EU block was considering doing the same.

All the countries expressing their opposition, including the United States, said they would only attend the conference if significant alterations were made to the document.

In response to the threat of boycott, working group chairman Yuri Boychenko drafted a new 17-page document that eliminated controversial references to the Middle East, highly contentious statements that labeled critiques of religious faith racist and a violation of human rights were removed, a source told Reuters.

But ultimately, the changes were not sufficient. The U.S. State department confirmed the boycott, stating that an anti-Israel sentiment was still present in the document, despite changes. It also said that the ideas in the document conflicted with the U.S.'s commitment to free speech, the BBC reported.

Reference: UN Human Rights Council

The Human Rights Council is a UN organization formed in 2006; it comprises 47 nations responsible for promoting and strengthening human rights around the globe.

The Council is responsible for organizing the conference, the Durban Review Conference, in an attempt to revisit the unresolved issues from the 2001 conference. As stated on the United Nations' Web site, the goal is to reaffirm a commitment to the policies that were proposed but not carried out, at the 2001 World Conference.

Information about the first UN Conference on Racism can be found on the conference’s official site. The issues page includes documents describing topics discussed. There is a focus on the rights of women, indigenous people and ethnic minorities.

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