UN rights chief dismayed Iran blocked Jews, Bahais
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 21 (Reuters) - U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson has expressed her dismay that Iran blocked the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Bahai International Community from attending a meeting in Tehran this week to discuss combating racism.
Robinson, "while appreciating the efficient arrangements of the Tehran meeting ... expressed her dismay at the 'procedural and technical' difficulties that did not allow the (two groups) to attend the regional meeting," her office said in a statement released on Wednesday at U.N. headquarters.
The center, an international Jewish human rights group, was granted an entry visa just hours before the meeting began while an application by the Bahai organization was never considered, the statement said.
The Bahai faith, though it originated in Iran 150 years ago, is considered heresy by Iran's religious leaders and the U.S. State Department in October 1999 accused Tehran of seeking to "eradicate" the religion.
Iran's refusal to recognize Israel and its recent trial of 10 Iranian Jews accused of spying for the Jewish state have triggered widespread accusations of anti-Semitism by human rights groups.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center had announced ahead of the racism conference's start that an Iranian official had told it that Jewish groups "would not be welcome in Iran." The conference opened Monday and wrapped up its work Wednesday.
A U.N. spokesman told Reuters at that time that Robinson's Geneva-based office was looking into the report and that it would be concerned if "properly accredited'"groups were not allowed to attend.
Governments, rights experts and nongovernmental groups from Asia attended the three-day meeting called to define a common regional position ahead of the World Conference against Racism, Xenophobia, Racial Discrimination and Related Intolerance, being held in Durban, South Africa, from Aug. 31 to Sept 7.
The center had urged Robinson last July to hold the regional meeting in "a venue more respectful of the universality of U.N. invitations."
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