The original article was published in the Jewish Chronicle on March 28, 2008, please click here to read.
Following the carnage of the Second World War, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights marked the dawn of a new age where the world would recognise the basic rights of every human being. Sixty years later, and these values have been turned on their head.
The scandalous UN World Conference Against Racism in Durban in 2001 was hijacked by a coalition of far-left and pro-Palestinian groups to produce an Orwellian orgy of Israel- and Jew-hatred. The human-rights concerns of Roma and Sinty communities, indigenous populations and other groups were disregarded in favour of wholesale demonisation of Israel and antisemitic rhetoric. Since then, the reformed UN Human Rights Council, created in 2006 to replace the discredited UN Commission on Human Rights under whose auspices Durban took place, has proved to be anything but reformed, and human-rights non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have continually pursued the “Durban strategy”.
UN plans for a 2009 Durban Review Conference (commonly called “Durban II”) make the prospect of a repeat of the 2001 debacle very real. Serial human-rights abuser Libya chairs the preparatory process, and, despite official protests, April’s planning meeting will take place on Passover, limiting Israeli and Jewish participation. Nonetheless, a determination exists among Israeli and global Jewish leaders to ensure that “Durban II” will either tackle a real human-rights agenda or be exposed as the farce many feel it is likely to become.
Canada has already decided to boycott the “Durban II” process. This brave decision has placed the boycott option firmly on the table and, as a result, French President Sarkozy, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni have all stated their intention to follow suit, should it become clear that “Durban II” will be a repeat of 2001. April’s preparatory meeting should provide some clarity for these world leaders decisions are expected on the conference venue, some parameters for discussion, and the extent of NGO involvement in the conference. World governments will soon have to consider whether their red lines have been crossed or whether to play the game for a little longer…
The question of NGO involvement is critical in this balancing act. It was not the governmental forum in 2001 which produced the sickening slogans of “Zionism is Racism” and “Stop Israeli Apartheid” this badge of shame belongs to the parallel UN-sanctioned NGO forum, where copies of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion were openly displayed and whose final declaration singled out Israel, accusing her of ethnic cleansing and genocide.
Government decisions on whether to boycott “Durban II” will doubtless grab the headlines, but NGOs will be at the forefront of shaping the conference regardless. It is they, including UK groups such as War on Want and Christian Aid, who have driven the implementation of the NGO declaration from 2001, by manipulating the rhetoric of human rights and international law to delegitimise Israel.
The credibility of the event relies just as much on the participation of NGOs and human-rights groups as it does on world governments. Just as a boycott by a coalition of western democracies would immensely hurt the credibility of “Durban II”, so would the non-participation or opposition of major human-rights groups.
Sadly, the likes of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, the supposed torch-bearers of the human-rights movement, are silent witnesses to the abuses of 2001. Since then, they have continued to display moral bankruptcy, selectively applying human-rights principles. Unsurprisingly, they have so far remained silent on the controversy surrounding “Durban II”. However, they will soon be forced to decide whether to engage in a world conference that promises to make a mockery of the universal human-rights norms they claim to protect.
Should they fail to take a moral stance, looking on while “Durban II” repeats the grave mistakes of 2001, they will have ignored the concerns of marginalised and oppressed people across the world in favour of a political attack on Israel. They will have helped bring about a disastrous turn in the history of the human-rights movement, draining meaning from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, leaving a historic and noble document in tatters.
Dan Kosky is communications director of NGO Monitor