UN Side-Events: The silencing of Palestinian NGOs

Badil[Pictured from left: Ingrid Jaradat Gassner of Badil, Maysa Zorob of Al Haq, and Harley Eagle of the Mennonite Central Committee] According to the United Nations website:

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has organized a series of events and cultural activities during the Durban Review Conference to highlight the issues being discussed at the conference.

Under themes such as the rights of indigenous peoples, the link between racism and poverty, and policing in diverse societies, the side events organized by OHCHR have enabled a large number of stakeholders to exchange views and share good practices on the issues at the heart of the Durban review process.

Non-governmental organizations and other civil society actors, such as victims’ groups and academics, are essential in combating all forms of racism and OHCHR has encouraged their participation in the review process.

To help showcase the activities of civil society actors, OHCHR also made several meeting rooms available for the organization of further side events for organizations accredited to take part in the Conference.

Yesterday afternoon I spoke with Ingrid Jaradat Gassner, the head of Palestinian residency and refugee rights group Badil. She told me they were called into the UN office a few weeks before the conference started and told that they could not hold side-events that were region-specific.

Ingrid told me that
a) the Palestinian people rather than Palestine, is the human rights category (that would include dispersed Palestinians in other countries, for example) and so, like the Roma, they should still be entitled to a panel.

b) the UN staff said the Palestinian delegation had given up any demands for specific mention of I-P
issues in the outcome document, to enhance the likelihood that the US and other countries would attend, and that it was suggested that the Palestinian NGOs do the same (this is all oral, there is no documentation). and

c) all of the Palestinian NGOs- Adalah, Al Haq and Sabeel submitted proposals that were turned down, and not once did the UN office communicate with them a way to make it work. “We would have happily changed it, if they had told us,” said Ingrid.

Meanwhile, I’ve been to sessions sponsored by UN Watch, Anne Bayefsky’s Eye on the UN and the Hudson Institute, all extended attacks on the UN, Muslims and Palestinians. There was also a Simon Wiesenthal Center panel that I did not attend.  You can look at the list of (sometimes Orwellian-named) side-events here.

Maysa Zorob of Al Haq (who I just met this week and who I continue to be impressed by)  just called the conference to task for purposely excluding Palestinian NGOs before her searing indictment of separate and unequal laws in Israel.

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