21 Apr 2009

Race commissioner defends anti-racism summit despite walkout

8:52 pm on 21 April 2009

The New Zealand Government's decision to boycott a United Nations anti racism conference in Geneva appears to be have been vindicated.

Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sparked a walkout by 23 delegates and applause from others when he called Israel a cruel and repressive racist regime.

He'd ignored pleas from the UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon not to make such comments which have been widely condemned.

On Monday the New Zealand Government decided not to attend the conference because it feared a repeat of the rancorous and unproductive debate that it says took place at the first UN conference in 2001.

Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres is attending the summit and believes the Iranian president's speech was predictable but it will not affect the purpose of the summit.

He said a draft outcome document on tackling racial discrimination has been written up.

"The hope is that despite the boycotts and the Iranian president's speech the document will be adopted at the end of the conference," he said.

"What is underlying the conference is real divisions in the world about freedom of expression, about the Arab-Israel conflict and about the issue of slavery."

Listen to Joris de Bres on Checkpoint.