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France May "Disengage" From UN's Durban II Conf.

President Sarkozy: France to "disengage" from UN's Durban II racism conference if abuses recur: UN Watch urges other European leaders to set "red lines" at upcoming conference

Geneva, February 14, 2008 - UN Watch praised French President Nicolas Sarkozy for sending a powerful warning last night to organizers of the UN's "Durban II" racism conference, one that must now be emphasized by other European leaders.

In an address to over 1,000 guests attending the annual dinner of the French Jewish community's umbrella organization, known as the CRIF, President Sarkozy said, "the Durban conference in 2001 led to intolerable excesses from certain states and numerous NGOs that turned the conference into a forum against Israel, and no one has forgotten."

"France will not allow a repetition of the excesses and abuses of 2001. Our European partners share France's concerns. France will chair the EU in the final months preceding the review conference. I say to you: if ever our legitimate demands are not taken into account, we will disengage from the process."

"President Sarkozy showed great moral clarity as the first European leader to publicly set red lines for Durban II," said UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer. "To prevent the worst, the EU's 26 other leaders must also make clear that if the conference breaches basic principles, they will walk out."

"One such red line must be the venue," said Neuer. "If the majority forces the conference to be held outside the standard UN locations of New York or Geneva, this should be a deal-breaker."

President Mbeki declared conference will move to South Africa

South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki recently announced that his country will host the follow-up session of the discredited 2001 Durban anti-racism conference.

"Next year, South Africa will play host to the Review Conference to evaluate the implementation of the decisions of the World Conference Against Racism which was held in our country in [2001]," Mbeki told the South African parliament on Friday. (Click for full speech.)

Senior sources in South Africa confirmed that the government intends to host the final 2009 Durban Review Conference.

The original 2001 conference in Durban, South Africa was supposed to combat racism, but was widely criticized as having degenerated into a festival of hate, with virulent anti-Semitic street demonstrations and physical attacks, leading the United States and Israel to walk out. Canada recently announced it will not participate in what has become known as "Durban II," citing concerns that the process was heading once again in harmful directions.

"Those of us trying to prevent a recurrence of the 2001 violence and hatred are alarmed by the prospect of holding the sequel in the same country," said Neuer.

"Moreover, the text of the UN resolution on Durban II, as well as UN practice for all review conferences, require that the meeting be held within the framework of the General Assembly in New York, or at the UN's European headquarters in Geneva."

"Only the UN has the power to decide the venue," said Neuer, "and the European Union and other member states need to make clear that a breach of the rules on this question would be the crossing of a red line."

The location of the 2009 meeting is to be finalized at the upcoming April 2008 meeting in Geneva of the conference's planning committee. The African and Islamic blocs are expected to support South Africa's request, along with other countries including Cuba, China and North Korea.

"Venue is far from the only problem," added Neuer. "With Qaddafi's Libya as chair of the planning committee, and Ahmadinejad's Iran as a vice-chair, there are obviously many other serious concerns that need to be addressed."

ENDS

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