Belgium won't send minister to UN anti-racism conference

Belgium won't send minister to UN anti-racism conference
Foreign affairs minister Sophie Wilmès has announced Belgium will not send a minister to the conference. Credit: Belga

The Belgian government has decided not to send a minister to the United Nations conference against racism which will take place in New York later this month.

The World Conference on Racism in Durban (WCRD) will mark the 20th anniversary of the first global summit against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance, which was held in Durban, South Africa, just days before the terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001, and which has been criticised for being a "gathering for hatred against Jews and Israel".

"It is obvious that this conference has become a place where anti-Semitic speech and sometimes revisionist held the upper hand," Foreign affairs minister Sophie Wilmès told Belga news agency on Friday, adding that "Belgium doesn't want to validate this with a ministerial presence."

In doing so, Belgium is joining other EU Member States, including France, Germany, as well as Hungary, that previously announced that they will boycott the fourth edition of the so-called "Durban IV Conference" held on September 22 "owing to concerns about antisemitism and the platform being misused to attack Israel."

Sending 'strong message'

At the end of August, right-wing N-VA party chairman Bart De Wever called on Belgium to stay away from the anti-racism conference for the same reasons, stating that "efforts of some political regimes and actors to undermine the UN's anti-racism efforts are extremely alarming and dangerous."

These remarks followed a campaign previously launched by the President of Israel, Isaac Herzog, who denounced the conference as "a gathering of hatred and slander, an anti-Semitic event in the worst sense of the word" during the 'Global Forum to Combat Antisemitism' in July this year, and called on countries to ensure the conference did not take place.

According to various delegates and European governments, criticism of Israel and its occupation of the Palestinian territories has veered into undisclosed anti-Semitism during the conference.

One incident, during the second conference of its kind, in Geneva in April 2009, saw Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran at the time, calling the Israeli government "cruel and racist", resulting in several European and American delegates walking out of the conference.

The "Durban III" conference held in New York, in 2011, was boycotted by 14 Western countries, including Canada, the United States, Israel, Germany, Great Britain, France, among others. This year, Belgium has announced it will do the same.

Instead, it will send a non-political representation, possibly a diplomat, to represent the country and to send a "strong message" against racism and antisemitism during the conference.

"We will also continue to express strongly our will to fight against racism and anti-Semitism," Wilmès added, saying both items are very high on Belgium's agenda. 

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