NGO Committe on Racism Goes Rogue, Until Stopped by UN Watch
In addition to the vitriolic draft produced by the prep session’s governmental conference, a motley crew of radical left-wing, anti-Western, and anti-Israel non-governmental organizations—including Libyan front organization “North South 21”—assembled on the sidelines of the preparatory session, to demand that the final Durban II conference in April include a “NGO Forum,” the most noxious element of the 2001 Durban fiasco. Their efforts appear to be coordinated with the Libyan regime of Colonel Qaddafi, chair of the UN conference.
The 2001 NGO Forum, which gathered thousands of activists, degenerated into an anti-Semitic hatefest, and was condemned even by sympathetic participants such as UN human rights chief Mary Robinson, Human Rights Watch, and South African Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad. (See list of quotes at bottom.)
Though it sounds lovely to have a broad gathering of non-governmental organizations for the world’s unheard voices, this is hardly what the organizers have in mind.
Moribund Committee Rises From Dead to Organize Global “NGO Forum”
For one thing, the NGO Forum campaigners are using questionable methods of organization. On the sidelines of the recent UN preparatory session in Geneva, they convened three meetings on “Organizing the NGO Forum”, under the name of the NGO Committee on Racism. The lead person behind it was committee secretary Charles Graves, of Interfaith International.
That this committee was now organizing a NGO Forum for Durban II came as news to UN Watch. We’re a member in good standing of the committee, as well as vice-president of its parent body, the NGO Special Committee on Human Rights. When we spotted the event flyer posted on the UN walls, we found it curious that the members of the Committee on Racism had never been consulted, much less informed.
Particularly odd about the whole thing was that the committee in question has been moribund for many months. Its veteran president— Jean-Jacques Kirkyacharian of MRAP—gave up his functions last year, and was never replaced. Elections are long overdue. It has failed to hold meetings or any other consultations. Yet suddenly, as if rising from the dead, pretenders to the throne of this non-functioning entity emerged to claim sponsorship of what may be one of the most controversial and dangerous political gatherings of our time. They also suddenly claimed to have broken free of the parent body that funded them over the years, and to which they are constitutionally bound.
UN Watch and Responsible NGOs Decried Breach of Procedure
UN Watch immediately took action. We filed a series of detailed protests, invoking basic rules of procedure and NGO principles. Other responsible NGO figures in Geneva quickly followed suit, expressing surprise with the actions of the Graves group, and describing the resulting situation as “chaos.”
As they say in Alaska, the committee had gone rogue.
Long-time members were surprised to learn that their committee name was being used publicly as an organizer of a future NGO Forum. They noted that the committee had failed to hold meetings for over half a year, and that no decision had ever been taken regarding a NGO Forum for Durban II. Even those supportive of the Durban conference expressed concern that any NGO gathering be a transparent and inclusive process, and they voiced confusion and frustration at what they saw instead as an erratic and exclusive process.
There was some irony in the sad display. From the very start, the would-be organizers of a worldwide forum for thousands of NGO activists proved unwilling or unable to consult with barely a dozen members of a tiny sub-committee in Geneva, in whose name they purported to act.
Following UN Watch inquiries, Graves revealed that he had used the committee’s name to lobby for the forum in letters to High Commissioner Navi Pillay, in closed-door meetings with the Libyan-led committee of 20 governments planning Durban II, as well as with officials of the UN Anti-Discrimination Unit. All of this occurred without any mandate, and in contravention of committee rules against the issuance of statements in the name of the committee.
The scenario is rather clear. Whoever is taking the lead, the Libyan chair and her allies are engaged in a dance with a small group of fringe organizations, to coordinate a NGO forum like that held in 2001. And while Ban Ki-moon and other responsible figures in the UN want nothing to do with a repeat of the 2001 fiasco, certain others in the UN secretariat seek the opposite.
Activists Admit: We Used Committee Name to Lobby Governments, High Commissioner, other UN Officials
All they and the Libyans need is a collaborator among the NGOs that can claim to speak in the name of a broad authority. In this manner they hope to win the support of new High Commissioner Navi Pillay, who has reportedly decided that, “if there is momentum and a critical mass, the UN Secretariat will consider holding a NGO Forum.”
What no one inside the UN is likely to tell Pillay is that this coalition, apart from Graves, is led by groups such as “North South 21”, a Geneva-based outfit that was created in 1989 by Libya—making it a “GONGO”, or “Government Operated NGO”—and which also functions as the committee for the Muammar Qaddafi Human Rights Prize, which it has awarded to Holocaust denier Roger Garaudy and anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan, among others. Abdelbagi Jibril, listed here as an officer of North South 21, works closely with the Graves group. For more details on North South 21—known in French as “Nord Sud 21″—click here.
Another member of the NGO Forum lobbying campaign is EAFORD, an openly anti-Semitic group, also created in Libya, that in September told the UN Human Rights Council that “Jews everywhere” were “allowing Israel to inflict [a Holocaust] on the Palestinian people.”
The same UN secretariat that twice censored innocuous submissions of ours, concerning questionable UN officials, had no trouble distributing this racist statement with the UN imprimatur. Even more shocking, the High Commissioner’s website on racism offers a permanent link to only two NGOs, and anti-Semitic EAFORD ranks as one. (Click here and scroll to the bottom-left column.)
In wake of UN Watch’s sustained action in defense of the committee’s rules and reputation, which Graves decried as undue “pressure”, he finally agreed to cease and desist. Stopped from going rogue, he now formally acknowledges that the NGO Committee on Racism “is not an official supporter or member of the Coordinating Committee for an NGO Forum for the Durban Review Conference and does not officially support the idea of an NGO Forum at that Conference.”
Moreover, Graves has written, “no member of our NGO Committee should think that our NGO Committee officially supports the NGO Forum or participates as such in the new Coordinating Committee.” Finally, “any further meetings supporting the NGO Forum at the Durban Review Conference can be called by those NGOs in favour of such an NGO Forum, and not by the NGO Committee Against Racism.” (And he may even agree to finally allow committee elections—but that is another story.)
Unless this happens—unless NGOs take a stand today by issuing public statements, and by writing letters to High Commissioner Pillay, to the Swiss government, to the City of Geneva, and to every other entity now being pressured to support a sequel to the 2001 hatefest—the Libyans and their allies within the UN will win the day.
And human rights, which should be celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration, will be the greatest loser.
All of which is perfectly fine by us. If every single one of the Libyan front organizations in Geneva, aided by their fellow travelers in Canada, Sweden, and elsewhere, want to sponsor an anti-Western and anti-Semitic circus, let them at least do so in their own names only. But not in our name.
Time For Real NGOs to Say: Not in Our Name
Now is the time for every NGO with courage to speak out and say: Not in our name. True heirs of the human rights movement must rise up to denounce an assembly that—dominated by GONGOs and their enablers, witting and unwitting—is as far from being non-governmental as it is from being an open forum.
- May 26, 2008 joint letter lobbying for NGO Forum
- October 2008 joint letter lobbying for NGO Forum
- NGO Monitor Report: Will NGOs Lead a Repeat of 2001 Fiasco?