On June 8, 2011, the UN General Assembly adopted a draft resolution on the “Durban III” conference, scheduled for September 22, 2011 marking the tenth anniversary of the World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa.

At the 2001 Durban Conference, the UN hosted an NGO Forum at which antisemitic cartoons were distributed, Israel was accused of perpetrating a “Holocaust,” and Israeli soldiers were portrayed as Nazis. Based on the Forum’s Final Declaration, NGOs have promoted the “Durban strategy” of demonization, targeting Israel with BDS (boycotts, divestment, and sanctions) and legal attacks (“lawfare”).

In contrast, NGO abuse was limited at the Durban Review Conference in 2009 because NGO activity was concentrated on the margins of the proceedings. There was no NGO Forum, and NGOs only addressed the plenary at the very end of the conference, after the diplomatic sessions had ended.

In advance of September 2011, the draft resolution on Durban III outlines a key role for selected NGOs:

  • Speaking at the opening event: “…the speakers at the opening plenary will be the President of the General Assembly, the Secretary-General, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights… and a representative of a non-governmental organization active in the field of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance;”
  • Participation in round table meetings: “In order to promote a substantive and constructive dialogue, participation in each round table will include Member States, observers, representatives of entities of the United Nations system and experts, as well as selected representatives of civil society organizations and non-governmental organizations…;”
  • Observing the meetings: “Accredited delegates, observers and selected non-governmental organizations…will be able to  follow the proceedings of the round-table sessions in the overflow room;”

This draft resolution only provides vague information as to how these “selected” organizations will be chosen; specific criteria for the inclusion or exclusion of NGOs are also unavailable. Sole authority for NGO participation appears to be placed with the President of the General Assembly, who is charged with “draw[ing] up a list of representatives of civil society organizations, including non-governmental organizations active in the field of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related forms of intolerance  and, taking into account the principle of equitable geographical representation.” The list will be approved by “Member States for consideration on a no-objection basis, for participation in the high-level meeting.”

The UN has also not publicized safeguards to ensure that NGOs that exploit human rights will not be given a platform, as occurred in 2001, and to prevent discrimination in selecting these groups.  Before the 2001 Durban Conference and the Durban Review Conference in 2009, Iran and other Member States blocked the participation of Jewish and Israeli NGOs in preparatory meetings and at several conference events.

As preparations for Durban III progress, NGO Monitor will continue to provide updates on planned NGO participation in the conference, and the powerful role afforded to them by the UN.