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National Diversity Forum marks cemetery attacks

National Diversity Forum marks Wellington cemetery attacks

A national forum aimed at strengthening cultural diversity is to be held later this month, a year after community representatives first met in Wellington to plan action in the aftermath of the desecration of two local Jewish cemeteries.

In the first of the attacks, graves were vandalised in the historic Bolton Street cemetery, which was followed three weeks later by the desecration of 100 Jewish graves and a prayer house at Makara cemetery (a year ago tomorrow). Despite considerable efforts, the Police have been unable to identify the perpetrators.

The Police have had greater success with two other incidents targeting Muslims living in New Zealand: The sending of hate mail to Muslim families and organisations in September last year, and the recent vandalising of Islamic centres in Auckland.

Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres says that while these incidents of prejudice have resulted in anger and anxiety, it is important to remember that in the cases in which Police have caught those responsible, only one person was involved.

“Although these actions were the work of a very few, the incidents remind us to be vigilant about any rise in the level of prejudice or harassment in the community which might lead to further criminal acts. We must also ensure that the communities who are affected do not feel unsafe or isolated,” Mr de Bres says.

The desecration of the Jewish cemeteries led to a multi-party unanimous resolution in Parliament on 10 August in which MPs:

- Deplored the attacks on Jewish graves and a Jewish chapel in Wellington;

- Recalled the terrible history of anti-Semitism stretching over many centuries, culminating in the Holocaust; and

- Expressed their unequivocal condemnation of anti-Semitism, violence directed against Jews and Jewish religious and cultural institutions, and all forms of racial and ethnic hatred, persecution, and discrimination.

The resolution was supported by a statement signed by a wide range of community leaders of many different faiths and ethnicities. Writers James and Helen McNeish issued a call to action which led to a community leaders’ forum hosted by the Speaker at Parliament two weeks later. The forum adopted a ten step programme to strengthen cultural diversity. This has become the New Zealand Diversity Action Programme.

Some forty national and local organisations have now become partners in the Programme, and contributed sixty projects to support it.

A year on, in the wake of the London bombings and the vandalising of Auckland mosques, a further national forum is to be held at Te Papa on 23 August to look at the Challenges of Diversity.

A group of forty young people from around New Zealand will present a challenge to others who will take part. Children’s Commissioner Cindy Kiro will give the keynote address, and Parliament’s Speaker the Hon Margaret Wilson will chair a panel of four prominent New Zealanders; Mark Solomon of Ngai Tahu, the Hon Margaret Austin of UNESCO NZ, Judge A’eau Semi Epati of South Auckland and former Dunedin Mayor Sukhi Turner, who will share their vision of the future and the challenges and benefits of a diverse society.

The programme will include eight concurrent workshops with a wide range of expert speakers on topics including diversity and the mainstream media, religious diversity, national languages policy, diversity and public policy, community dialogue, refugee and migrant settlement, diversity in schools and diversity in the cultural sector. People from government agencies, NGOs and the wider community are encouraged to attend. Information on the forum can be found at www.hrc.co.nz/forum.

The forum is being jointly hosted by the Human Rights Commission, the Office of Ethnic Affairs, the New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO and Te Papa.

ENDS

Full details of the programme and a copy of the registration form are available at www.hrc.co.nz/forum. The forum will begin with a multicultural group of conference participants being welcomed onto the Marae at Te Papa.

A list of organisations participating in the New Zealand Diversity Action Programme and their projects can be found at: www.hrc.co.nz/diversity

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