By FRANK JORDANS – 6 hours ago
GENEVA (AP) — Muslim-backed references to Israel and the “defamation of religion” have been dropped from a draft declaration being prepared for next month’s world racism meeting, United Nations officials said Tuesday.
The United States and the 27-nation European Union have threatened to boycott the April 20-25 meeting in Geneva unless Muslim countries back down from demands to limit free speech that criticizes Islam or other faiths. They also objected to passages that singled out Israel for its treatment of Palestinians.
The draft declaration now speaks only of concern about the “negative stereotyping of religions” while omitting direct references to Israel.
“We believe this shortened text represents a solid and meaningful basis for negotiations by member states toward a positive outcome for the conference,” said Doune Porter, a spokeswoman for the U.N. human rights office in Geneva.
Western diplomats declined to comment immediately on the new draft, except to indicate that it appeared to go in the right direction.
The meeting is designed to review progress in fighting racism since the global body’s first such conference eight years ago in Durban, South Africa. The 2001 event was dominated by clashes over the Middle East and the legacy of slavery, and U.N. officials have expressed alarm that the follow-up conference could collapse over the same issues.
Israel and Canada had already said they would boycott the meeting.
U.N. Watch, a lobby group affiliated with the American Jewish Committee, said the changes were welcome, but cautioned that some of the language in the draft was still problematic.
“Numerous red lines are breached,” said the group’s executive director Hillel Neuer, noting that a Dutch demand for references to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation had been removed.
The draft also promotes the idea that religions themselves — not just their believers — deserve to be protected under human rights law, he said.