Concern rising over Durban II conference
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Concern rising over Durban II conference

At least one watchdog group has sounded the alarm about preparation for the upcoming U.N.-sponsored conference against racism.

Eye on the UN condemned the Organization of the Islamic Conference, which in a written statement included in a report of a working group circulated late last month, called for the Durban Review Conference to address the  “human rights situation” of the Palestinians.

The conference, scheduled for next year in Geneva and sometimes referred to as Durban II, is intended to review progress made since the first Durban conference against racism in 2001. That event is widely regarded as having devolved into an anti-Semitic carnival, leading some to warn of a possible repeat in 2009.

Eye on the UN also has drawn attention to the fact that the conference’s preparatory committee will be holding a meeting on Thursday, on Yom Kippur, and to the prominent role of Iran in organizing the conference.

In its statement, the Organization of the Islamic Conference said, “[T]he Palestinian people continue to be denied the fundamental right of self-determination. In order to consolidate the occupation, they have been subjected to unlawful collective punishment, torture, economic blockade, severe restriction on movement and arbitrary closure of their territories.”

Canada already has announced a boycott of the conference. And while the United States has thus far resisted such a move, its House of Representatives adopted a resolution Sept. 23 calling on the government to lead efforts to “divert” the conference from its purpose by attacking Israel.

Navanethem Pillay, the United Nations human rights chief, acknowledged Monday that “the virulent anti-Semitic behavior of a few nongovernmental organizations” had overshadowed the first Durban conference, and noted that the review process “is burdened, understandably” by the fear of such incidents recurring.

In September, Pillay criticized countries considering a boycott of the conference, earning her a rebuke from U.N. Watch, a Jewish-affiliated organization based in Geneva. But her statement this week was welcomed by the World Jewish Congress, which said it was both “needed and appreciated.”

“We hope Madame Pillay and others in the room will continue to stand firm against those governments already pushing for the universal anti-racism agenda to become further dominated by anti-Israel partisans, with the rest of the world taking a back seat,” said Matthew Bronfman, the chair of the WJC’s governing board.