U.N. Watchdog Group Barred From Next Week’s ‘Racism’ Meeting in N.Y.

Patrick Goodenough | September 15, 2011 | 5:04am EDT
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U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon looks on as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, addressing with Durban II conference in Geneva on Monday, April 20, 2009, calls Israel the world’s “most cruel and racist regime.” (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) – A watchdog group that has frequently angered human rights-violating regimes at the United Nations has been blocked from attending next week’s controversial “Durban III” racism meeting in New York.

U.N. Watch, based in Geneva and accredited by the U.N., has been excluded from a list of 88 approved non-governmental organizations, but a group with close ties to Libya’s former Gaddafi regime was approved to attend next Thursday’s event.

The high-level meeting marks the tenth anniversary of the Durban Declaration and Plan of Action (DDPA), first adopted in Durban, South Africa. The U.S. and at least 10 other Western democracies have announced they will not attend, because both the 2001 “Durban I” and a 2009 review conference, “Durban II,” picked out Israel for condemnation.

News of the NGO decision was made public by Anne Bayefsky, editor of the Hudson Institute’s Eye on the U.N. project and organizer of a counter-conference in New York coinciding with Durban III.

Queries sent to the U.N.’s NGO Branch on Wednesday about the process of NGO accreditation received no reply, but according to a U.N. Web site, the final list of civil society groups permitted to attend was “approved by Member States.”

Among those on the list is the Geneva-based group, North-South 21 (“Nord-Sud 21” in French), a group funded by Muammar Gaddafi in the late 1980s to administer something called the “Al-Gaddafi International Prize for Human Rights.”

Past recipients of the award include former Cuban president Fidel Castro – described in the citation as a “freedom fighter” (1998), the “children of Iraq, victims of hegemony and embargo” (1999), Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez (2004), and Roger Garaudy (2002), a French communist-turned-Muslim who was convicted in 1998 on charges of denying the Holocaust.

Another recipient of the Gaddafi Prize was Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who won the award last year and early this year was criticized at home for not repudiating it.

Nord-Sud 21 was a participant in an NGO Forum that was held on the sidelines of Durban I in 2001.  Attendees recall that the event was characterized by pro-Israel speakers being shouted down while pro-Palestinian groups circulated anti-Semitic caricatures and posters equating Israel with Nazi Germany and apartheid South Africa.

Pro-Palestinian protestors demonstrate in Geneva on the eve of the "Durban II" conference in Geneva. (Photo: ICARE)

The forum’s final document declared Israel to be “a racist, apartheid state” and called for the establishment of a tribunal to bring Israelis to justice for “war crimes, acts of genocide and ethnic cleansing.”

Nord-Sud 21 also took part in the April 20-24, 2009 event Durban II in Geneva, where it hosted a side-meeting to complain about the fact that a final text being considered by participating governments did not include language directly referring to Palestinian occupation and Israeli “apartheid,” according to a European anti-racist monitoring group that monitored the week’s events.

(In the end the Durban II text reaffirmed the DDPA, which singled out Israel alone for criticism, by identifying “Palestinian people under foreign occupation” as victims of racism. Durban III is similarly set to “reaffirm … the full and effective implementation of the Durban Declaration.”)

‘Ominous sign’

While U.N. member states have decided to allow Nord-Sud 21 to participate in Durban III, they have ruled out attendance by U.N. Watch, which monitors the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.

U.N. Watch executive director Hillel Neuer said late Wednesday that the U.N. had given no reasons for turning down its application.

It was the first time ever that U.N. Watch had been “barred” from a U.N. meeting, he told CNSNews.com, calling it an “ominous sign that the only U.N. watchdog group is being kept out.”

It was “telling,” Neuer added, that a Gaddafi “front group” was being welcomed.

“It is an embarrassment for the U.N.” he said, adding that U.N. high commissioner for human rights Navi Pillay should speak out.

U.N. Watch has become a thorn in the side of countries on the Human Rights Council that have poor human rights records.

Its representatives have used their brief speaking slots to accuse governments of abuses and hypocrisy – using direct language seldom heard in U.N. chambers – and frequently are interrupted by complaints from delegates of such countries as Cuba and China.

In an unusual but effective tactic, U.N. Watch has at times used its time slot to feature a guest – such as the former commander of British forces in Afghanistan who defended the conduct of Israel’s 2008-9 offensive against Hamas in Gaza; and a Syrian opposition supporter who last month challenged countries like China, Russia and Pakistan by name, asking them how they could justify their “support for a regime that slaughters its own people.”

According to Bayefsky, three other NGOs applications to attend the U.N. event were also rejected.

One was a group dealing with human rights in Iraq, she said, and the other two were Denmark- and Nepal-based organizations focusing on the plight of Dalits (“untouchables” in the rigid Hindu caste system.)

Critics of the Durban process have said that because of the Israel-centric focus of the 2001 event, the concerns of aggrieved groups like Dalits and the Roma of Eastern Europe were largely sidelined.

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