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NZ's No-Show at Anti-Racism Conference Cowardly

20 April 2009

NZ's No-Show at Anti-Racism Conference Cowardly

The Green Party is deeply disappointed that the Government has withdrawn from the United Nations anti-racism conference which is about to begin in Geneva.

Foreign Minister Murray McCully today pulled New Zealand out of the UN anti-racism conference citing his concerns that the conference may be used by some sectors for 'anti-Israeli' views.

"The fact that we won't agree with all the speeches at the conference is hardly a reason to withdraw. The whole point of the UN is that it encompasses a diversity of voices," said Keith Locke, the Green Party Foreign Affairs spokesperson.

"There may be some criticism of Israel at the meeting, but surely that is par for the course at UN meetings, and has some validity given the way a number of Israeli administrations have treated Palestinians, particularly those residing in Gaza.

"Pulling out of the conference is an unacceptable insult to the UN, just at the time when our former Prime Minister Helen Clark is taking up a major UN post," said Mr Locke.

"It is also a slap in the face for Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, who will be opening the conference and played such a key role in getting Helen Clark appointed as head of the UN Development Programme."

The UN High Commissioner on Human Rights Navi Pillay apparently went to great lengths to produce a draft conference text that avoided controversial issues, such as the Middle East, and any restrictions on criticising religion.

The US and Israel were still not satisfied due to the fact that the current text re-affirmed the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action agreed to at the end of the 2001 UN anti-racism conference - which both countries had withdrawn from, deeming it to be a forum for anti-Israeli views.

"New Zealand shouldn't be abandoning a key forum for fighting global racism, just because it disagrees with a paragraph in an earlier document, reaffirmed in the current text," said Mr Locke.

"The current text can hardly be considered anti-Semitic, when it states that 'the Holocaust must never be forgotten, and deplores all forms of racism including 'anti-Semitism'.

"Our boycott is letting down the victims of racism around the world and putting us at odds with most other nations.

"It is not a good look for us to be seen once more as a pawn of the bigger Western nations trying to enforce their will on a world body, to stop any criticism of Israel."

ENDS

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