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November 13, 2008

H.E. Ms. Najat Al-Hajjaji
Chairperson of the Bureau of the Preparatory Committee for the Durban Review Conference
Permanent Mission of the Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya to the United Nations
Geneva, Switzerland

Re: NGO participation at the Durban Review Conference

Your Excellency,

We are writing concerning the participation of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in the next steps of the Durban Review Conference and its preparatory process. Human Rights Watch has been engaged in and has contributed to the Durban Review process, in particular by monitoring the proceedings and providing feedback on the process based on our experience advocating against racism, as reflected in our position paper of April 2008. We share the view that the fight against racism and related intolerance is a major human rights concern for the international community.

We consider that the most important contribution that NGOs can make at the multilateral level is to contribute to the formal negotiation processes by sharing their expertise and views on key issues. This holds true for the Durban Review Process, where we hope to regularly comment on issues under negotiation. During the Review Conference itself, we expect to be able to fully state our views and interact with Member States within both the formal Plenary and other meetings of the Conference.

It is our understanding that a group of NGOs have taken steps to promote the organization of an NGO Forum. We would like to clearly state, that while Human Rights Watch remains faithfully involved in the Durban Review Conference, it does not support the proposal made by this or any other group to have an NGO Forum. The NGOs that have put forward the idea therefore speak on their own behalf – and not on behalf of a larger constituency of NGOs.

We are mindful that all participants to the review conference should avoid a repeat of the conduct that so marred the 2001 conference, in particular, the offensive behavior in the NGO Forum at the Durban Conference which undermined the wider process as noted in our April 2008 position paper. The High Commissioner in her opening address to the Second Preparatory Committee on October 6, 2008 underlined that “seven years ago at the 2001 World Conference against Racism, the virulent anti-Semitic behavior of a few non-governmental organizations on the sidelines of the Durban Conference overshadowed the critically important work of the Conference. Measures were taken to address this betrayal of the core principles of the Durban Conference, and the NGO document was not forwarded to the Conference.”

States and NGOs participating in the Review Conference must commit themselves to rejecting racism in all its forms, and to working together in a spirit of mutual respect. Such an approach includes a commitment to avoiding expressions of hatred against any group. The Durban process springs from an awareness of the importance of challenging the discrimination and hatred that drives groups apart. It must live up to those ideals itself.

Positions taken by NGOs so far in the process have highlighted a wide diversity of opinions and views – many being diametrically opposed on fundamental issues. We strongly believe that an NGO Forum would not represent the views of all NGOs engaged in the process or civil society at large, and are concerned that there might be a risk of a repeat of the behaviour that spoilt the 2001 Forum.

Furthermore, engagement in an NGO Forum to the Durban Review Conference would divert the work of NGOs away from the Conference’s official proceedings and strain the little resources many NGOs have to engage.

States should instead commit to strengthening the participation of NGOs in the conference and its preparatory process. Many uncertainties related to pending organizational issues during the second session of the Preparatory Committee critically affected the way in which NGOs could contribute to its proceedings, in particular those who traveled long distances to Geneva, and often could only stay for a few days. During the second week of the Preparatory Committee NGO speaking slots were delayed several times and this affected NGOs’ ability to engage effectively in the process. States and NGOs were unclear of the speaking modalities for NGOs. Efforts should be made to ensure that the problems experienced by NGOs in the second session of the Preparatory Committee are not repeated. Instead, a more serious commitment needs to be made to ensure that NGO participation is fully integrated throughout the review process.

I would like to reiterate our commitment to engaging in this process constructively and remain at your disposal for any further exchange of views on this matter.


Juliette de Rivero
Geneva Director

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