In a recent column (Dec. 14), Charles Jacobs expressed his concern over plans for the upcoming Durban Review Conference scheduled for 2009. Human rights organizations like Amnesty International share his concerns that issues relating to discrimination and racism should be directed at all regions of the world, not just one region, let alone one country. To set the record straight, the 2009 Durban Review Conference was convened by the UN General Assembly in 2006. The GA asked the Human Rights Council to undertake preparations for the Review Conference. The Human Rights Council decided that it would act as the Preparatory Committee for the conference. The Preparatory Committee for the Durban Review Conference held its organizational session in Geneva in August 2007. It will hold two substantive sessions in the spring and fall of 2008, and the Review Conference itself will be held during the first half of 2009. The Preparatory Committee is open to the participation of Member States of the United Nations, members of the specialized agencies and observers in accordance with the established practice of the General Assembly.
Non-governmental organizations are able to participate in the sessions of the Preparatory Committee as observers. The Durban Review Conference and its preparatory process are state-driven and the agenda will be determined by governments. NGOs will be able to influence decisions in the same way as they do in other UN meetings. However, no one should be under any illusion that NGOs, however credible or influential, can set the agenda for the Review Conference or its preparatory process. It would be terribly naïve or disingenuous to suggest otherwise.
Your readers will be interested to know that in the weeks before the first Durban conference in 2001, the London-based Jewish Chronicle, the world’s oldest Jewish newspaper, reported on July 27 that Amnesty International “joined Jewish and Israeli leaders in warning that a forthcoming UN conference against racism could degenerate into an assault on Israel, Zionism, and the significance of the Holocaust.” Regrettably, we were not able to head off the ugly incidents that in fact did take place.
Northeast Regional Director
Amnesty International USA
This is a response to Joshua Rubenstein’s letter to the editor from The Jewish Advocate Online.
Dear Mr. Rubenstein,
Your letter in the Boston Jewish Advocate (December 27, in response to Charles Jacobs) included a welcome condemnation of the hijacking of human rights that took place at the NGO Forum of the 2001 UN-sponsored Durban Conference, in which Amnesty was an active participant. Rather than debating what was done, and not done in 2001, it is important to look forward to the 2009 conference, and the role of the NGO community. In order to avoid having to belatedly "regret" more "ugly incidents", as you put it, NGO Monitor is asking you, as an official of Amnesty USA, to publicly declare that you will actively oppose the demonization and singling out of Israel as a form of racism and discrimination. We also ask whether, you, as a member of one of the most powerful NGOs, will apply the resources at your disposal in order to campaign actively against such abuses of universal human rights norms.
I look forward to your response and would be glad to discuss this with you in detail.
Gerald M. Steinberg
Executive Director, NGO Monitor