BRUSSELS (EJP)--Sweden said it will not send any ministerial official to the UN conference on racism in Geneva which opened on Monday.
"This has been a difficult and problematic negotiation that has certainly become more constructive and positive in the last week, but we have decided that Sweden will not be participating at the ministerial level," Swedish Integration Minister Nyamko Subini declared.
She said Sweden refuses to participate in a meeting where individuals such as the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has taken controversial stances on many of the issues, will be present.
Sweden joined Poland, Australia, Canada, Germany, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and the United States in refusing to participate in the ‘Durban II’ conference.
In explaining his country’s decision, Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said:“We have reason to believe that the Conference will once again be exploited, as was the case in Durban in 2001, as a forum for unacceptable statements contrary to the spirit of respect for other races and religions.”
Britain, Ireland and the Czech Republic, the country which currently holds the rotating EU presidency, attend the meeting but sent only low-level delegations headed by their ambassadors in Geneva.
Belgium on Sunday urged its fellow EU member states to attend the event "in large numbers" despite the boycott. "Consultations at the European level are underway," the Belgian foreign ministry said.
EU Commission plays down withdrawals
The European Commission attempted Monday to play down European discontent over a the UN conference.
"Several member states have decided to withdraw from the review conference. However, a strong majority, which means 23 out of 27, are still engaged in the process in Geneva," said Christiane Hohmann, spokeswoman for EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner.
The European Commission, the EU's executive arm, "is attending the conference as an observer and in doing so it is our position that the EU red lines... have been preserved," Hohmann added.
The EU spokeswoman admitted that the meeting's text "is not ideal."
Without mentioning Ahmadinejad, known for his anti-Semitic diatribes, she
recognised that "there is a risk that this conference might be hijacked by questions absolutely disconnected with... the theme to fight racism."
Hohmann stressed that the commission would "react appropriately to any
unacceptable statement" made at the conference.
UN chief Ban Ki-Moon opened the five-day conference on racism Monday, saying he was "profoundly disappointed" at the boycotts by some Western countries while all forms of racism persist.
Ban also released a statement condemning those who might deny or minimise the Holocaust.