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Switzerland regrets US withdrawal from racism conference

Demonstrators in Durban protest against Israel

(Keystone Archive)

Switzerland has said it regrets the United States and Israel's decision to pull out of the United Nations world conference against racism in Durban, South Africa.

"We regret that the conference was politicised and that key issues were put on the back-burner," said Peter Maurer, a representative of the Swiss delegation in Durban.

Israel and the US could have made an important contribution to the conference which ends on Friday, Maurer continued. Instead, their withdrawal will hamper discussions concerning the conflict in the Middle East as well as slavery and colonialism issues.

But Maurer is confident the conference can still fulfil its mandate and produce a final declaration outlining recommendations to fight racism.

Washington announced on Monday it was pulling out of the conference in protest at attempts to single Israel out as a racist state.

"I have instructed our representatives at the world conference to return home," the US secretary of state, Colin Powell, said. He criticised any attempt to single out "only one country in the world, Israel, for censure and abuse," and suggestions that apartheid existed in Israel.

Israel ordered its low-level delegation home soon after the announcement. "We regret very much the very bizarre show in Durban. An important convention that's supposed to defend human rights became a source of hatred," said Israeli foreign minister, Shimon Peres.

Draft conference texts had referred to Israel's treatment of Palestinians in the occupied territories as "a new apartheid" and a "crime against humanity". The document also accused the Jewish state of "practices of racial discrimination."

Diplomats had tried to find wording acceptable to Israel and its ally, the US, and Arab and Islamic states which wanted Israeli action in the West Bank and Gaza Strip condemned.

The UN high commissioner for human rights, Mary Robinson, said she regretted Washington's decision. "Nevertheless, I believe that the journey we began must continue until the end of the conference with a view to achieving a successful outcome," Robinson said in a statement.

swissinfo with agencies


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