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Swiss delegation named for UN racism conference

Delegates met recently in Geneva to discuss the Durban conference agenda

(Keystone Archive)

The Swiss government has announced that the country's delegation to the United Nations World Conference against Racism, which opens in Durban, South Africa, next week, will be led by the general-secretary of the Interior Ministry, Claudia Kaufmann.

Anti-racism groups had said before the decision they would be dismayed if the Swiss were not represented at the conference by a high-level delegation headed by the Swiss president, Moritz Leuenberger, or a representative who is at least of ministerial rank.

The Swiss-based Group for Action against Anti-Black Racism (GRAN) had called on the government to send a senior delegation to South Africa for the event, which begins August 31, adding that Switzerland has "good reasons for doing so."

"Switzerland," the group said in a statement, "which maintained strong links with the apartheid regime, has a moral debt to the South African people."

Following the announcement, the government said it recognised that the conference offered a "chance to discuss racism in a global context" and would offer delegates the opportunity "together to find ways of fighting it."

Mixed reaction

Mascha Madörin, a leading campaigner on behalf of developing countries, told swissinfo she was disappointed by the government's announcement.

"I am very upset by the decision, because the Durban conference is very important from an international and political perspective," Madörin said.

Madörin called the Swiss government's decision not to send a cabinet minister to Durban an "affront against both the African people and the South African government."

But Doris Angst, of the Federal Commission Against Racism, said that Switzerland remained committed to the conference.

"The Swiss delegation has been very active...and has been in contact with other countries as well as various non-governmental organisations around the world," Angst told swissinfo.

"We have not had a low profile in the build-up to the conference, and we will not be giving a low profile during the conference itself," she added.

Mediator role urged

Kanyana Mutombo, editor of the journal, "Regard Africains", and a member of GRAN, told swissinfo last week that he was disappointed by the apparent failure of the Swiss government to take a leading role at the summit.

"Switzerland has neither been involved in the slave trade nor been a colonial power," Mutombo said.

"She was therefore in a position to act as a mediator on the crucial issue of compensation owed to Africans in recognition of the wrongs incurred by the slave trade and colonialism. She could have put forward new proposals and she hasn't done that."

The UN-sponsored conference suffered a setback earlier in the month when the United States announced it planned to boycott the event.

Washington said it objected to an insistence by Arab states that Israeli policies, such as the colonising of Palestinian areas, should be debated in Durban.

Switzerland also suffered an early setback during preparatory talks ahead of the conference, when a number of the texts it supported - on racism and the Internet, and mechanisms to continuously monitor racism - were not even discussed.

swissinfo with agencies

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