European Union countries Tuesday stepped up their opposition to Muslim attempts to shield Islam from criticism and attack Israel through a UN conference on racism.
EU members were unusually outspoken in appearances before the UN Human Rights Council, saying they were worried about preparations for a global racism conference to be held next month because attention was being diverted from the real problems of racial discrimination.
"I am deeply disturbed by the turn this event is taking," Dutch Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Verhagen said.
"The thematic world conference is used by some to try to force their concept of defamation of religions and their focus on one regional conflict on all of us," Verhagen told the 47-member council.
References to Israel and protection of religion in the current draft conclusion being negotiated for the so-called Durban II conference are unacceptable, Verhagen said.
"We cannot accept any text, which would put religion above individuals, not condemn discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, condone anti-Semitism or single out Israel," he said. Denmark, Germany, Belgium and Italy voiced similar concerns.
Islamic countries, still angry over cartoons and films attacking Muslims, have been campaigning for wording that would equate criticism of a religious faith with a violation of human rights. The informal negotiations have proven difficult with many issues that marred the first UN conference on racism in 2001 re-emerging - such as criticism of Israel.
The April 20-25 meeting is designed to review progress in fighting racism since the global body's first such conference eight years ago in Durban, South Africa. That 2001 meeting was dominated by clashes over the Middle East and the legacy of slavery, and particularly marred by attacks on Israel and anti-Israel demonstrations at a parallel conference of non-governmental organizations.
The US and Israel walked out midway through the 2001 conference over a draft resolution that singled out Israel for criticism and likened Zionism - the movement to establish and maintain a Jewish state - to racism. The European Union also refused to accept demands by Arab states to criticize Israel for its "racist practices."
In the end, the 2001 conference dropped criticism of Israel. It urged governments to take concrete steps to fight discrimination and recognized the plight of the Palestinian people and the need for Israel to have security.
Israel and Canada had already announced they would will boycott Durban II. The Obama administration said Friday the US will stay away from this year's conference unless its final document is changed to drop all references to Israel and the defamation of religion.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Monday that countries should not put conditions for the participation in the meeting. Durban II should deal with contemporary forms of racism, such as religious profiling and Islamophobia, he said.