United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon
UN Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay

Following the immense damage to universal human rights principles at the NGO Forum of the 2001 Durban World Conference Against Racism, NGO Monitor urges you to use your influence in preventing a similar travesty at the Durban Review Conference, scheduled for Geneva in April 2009. While members of various NGOs will be able to state their views and advocate for their agendas elsewhere in Geneva, the UN should avoid providing official sponsorship or funding for another NGO Forum that is likely to be a venue used to promote hatred and antisemitism.

In examining this issue, it is important to recall that the 2001 NGO Forum was characterized by many instances of verbal and even physical violence. Indeed, the NGO Forum contributed to the perception of the United Nations as a major contributor to the erosion of universal human rights principles. As noted in an April 2008 statement signed by over 100 NGOs, "Observers were shocked by violations of procedure in the preparatory and drafting processes, the racist treatment including violence, exclusion, and intimidation against Jewish participants, and the misuse of human rights terminology in the document related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict." As a result, they also note that "progress on vital issues such as discrimination against Roma and caste discrimination was thereby diminished." 

After the conference, then UN Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson denounced the “hateful, even racist” antisemitic atmosphere in the NGO Forum. Robinson refused to endorse the final declaration, which demonized Israel through terms such as “apartheid”, “ethnic cleansing”, “racist crimes” and “acts of genocide”, while calling for “a policy of complete and total isolation of Israel as an apartheid state…the imposition of mandatory and comprehensive sanctions and embargoes.”  Some of the major funders for the NGO Forum, including the Ford Foundation and the Canadian government, also denounced the antisemitism and abuse that was displayed

In the preparations for the 2009 Review Conference, the evidence also clearly points to efforts by some NGOs to repeat the 2001 travesty. The accreditation of the Palestinian Grassroots Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign (whose sources of funding and membership are unknown) is a disturbing indication of the plans for the extensive involvement of destructive NGOs in this process. 

We therefore believe that it is not in the interest of the United Nations to hold an official NGO Forum that would further undermine universal human rights principles in the framework of the 2009 Review Conference.

Prof. Gerald M. Steinberg
Executive Director, NGO Monitor