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Peter Willetts, Emeritus Professor of Global Politics

Primary Sources for The Voice of Which People?


Personal report from the meeting of UN HCHR, Ms. Robinson, with the

NGO International Steering Committee (ISC), on the 6th September 2001 at 12:00 md


Ms. Robinson apologized for the postponement of this meeting due to serious problems at WCAR. She stressed she had never rejected the NGO document and she repeated this several times during the meeting. She thought there are very good parts in it. She considers just three paragraphs as inappropriate in the whole context of WCAR they do not help to keep the spirit and to achieve progress in the human rights' causes of victims of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance. The preamble of it was extremely well drafted and she wished the governments could adopt a similar language. She was afraid of problems with the following paragraphs of the NGO document:

418 It is extremely unhelpful to ask for the reopening of the question "Zionism is racism" at WCAR. The governments have already closed this issue. "How can I recom-mend it now?", asked Ms. Robinson.

419 The accusations of Israel as a perpetrator of war crimes, ethnic cleansing and even genocide have hurt a lot of human rights defenders, as Ms. Robinson heard from them. She has never thought that such a forum would have adopted that language. It is neither possible for her to recommend it to the delegates.

424 The call for a total blockade of Israel is not seen by Ms. Robinson as a positive proposal which is being expected from NGOs. However, as a human rights defender and as the High Commissioner for Human Rights (HCHR), she is ready to make every effort to stop the human rights violations in Palestine (and elsewhere).

She explained that the press and some delegate read her words in an inappropriate way so that they helped to advocate the withdrawal of US and Israeli delegations from WCAR.

Ms. Myrna Cunningham, on behalf of ISC, explained that the ISC has really been facilitating NGOs to express their views and that it had tried very hard to have all the voices of victims included into the NGO document. This was for the first time NGOs have never before got such an opportunity. She told that the ISC had also reservations but since the full consensus among NGOs has not been reached, the document would not contain much if only general language were left therein. She stressed the importance to get a support from HCHR. She invited Ms. Robinson to the NGO meeting for tonight in order to explain her views and opinions to the broad NGO constituency. She also asked for tolerance as from NGOs' as from Ms. Robinson's side because it is necessary to continue to work together after Durban. She said: "We would like to hear from you officially that you respect our position." She believed that Ms. Robinson should be proud of that NGOs were able to produce such a document. Than she handed Ms. Robinson the NGO Declaration and Programme of Action which Ms. Robinson took over and thanked.

Jerald Joseph asked if the explanation of Ms. Robinson was her personal position, or the position of the office of HCHR.

Berhane Ras-Work appreciated Ms. Robinson's involvement to bring representatives of all the civil society to Durban. She expressed that it would be very discouraging and disempowering to dissociate oneself from the whole document. She believed that we all should go back home with a view that the High Commissioner stays on our side.

Khader Shkirat insisted that he was speaking not as a Palestinian but as a human right activist. He said that no state should enjoy impunity for its crimes. He also said that Ms. Robinson's statement undermined the trial held in Brussels against Ariel Sharon when different commissions and tribunals had considered the massacres in Sabra and Shatila as genocide.

Ms. Robinson, in her response appreciated as well NGOs as ISC as having been working very hard. For this cause, she insisted, she took a big care for every word used and she repeated she had never said she rejected the whole NGO document. Indeed, she would have never envisaged the situation in which she had been put. Her opinion was that if she endorsed the NGO document as such to the delegates it would have had no comments but more delegates might have walked out. She was keen to meet with NGOs if time allows. She also said that she had already urged the UNO to monitor the sufferings of Palestinians on the occupied territories. She stressed that, literally, the only agenda she had as HCHR is to defend human rights.


Durban, 6th September 2001

Mirek Prokes, UNITED for Intercultural Action


The first real use of the NGO Declaration and Programme of Action

The deputy chair of the Education caucus, Mr. Kazunari Fujii from Geneva, negotiated successfully with the Secretariat of the UNESCO Conference on Education in Geneva this morning that the parts of the NGO Declaration and Programme of Action concerning Education have been distributed to 190 delegates of governments and UN agencies as an official document of that conference.