More western countries shun Geneva conference

The United States, the Netherlands and Australia have confirmed they will not attend a controversial United Nations anti-racism summit in Geneva.

This content was published on April 19, 2009

The Obama administration on Saturday said it would "with regret" boycott the conference over objectionable language in the meeting's final document that could single out Israel for criticism and restrict free speech.

On Sunday, Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen said in a strongly worded statement that some countries were planning to use the summit as a platform to attack the West and to put religion above human rights.

Verhagen called the proposed closing declaration "unacceptable".

Australia's foreign minister, Stephen Smith, called the conference's tone objectionable.

"Regrettably, we cannot be confident that the review conference will not again be used as a platform to air offensive views, including anti-Semitic views," Smith said in a statement, adding concern about limits to free speech.

Britain on Sunday said it would participate but that it would send no high level representatives.

US officials had wanted to attend the four-day meeting, beginning on Monday, but warned in late February that they would not go unless significant changes were made to the draft text.

US officials said that while they appreciated revisions made to the final document, elements retained support for restricting free speech. The document also affirmed the findings of the first World Conference Against Racism, held in Durban, South Africa, which was unacceptable to the US.

The US and Israel walked out of that meeting, in 2001.

swissinfo with agencies

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