Anti-Israel NGOs get head start in Geneva ahead of Durban II

At least one group meets to address outcome of Durban's original declaration, namely, that Israel's policies were tantamount to racism.

durban II palestinian woman 248 88 (photo credit: AP [file])
durban II palestinian woman 248 88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Geneva was abuzz with activity over the weekend, as NGOs from around the world began preliminary activities and side-meetings in the run-up to the Durban Review Conference, which will begin Monday in the Swiss city. At least one group met over the weekend to address the outcome and implementation of Durban's original declaration, namely, that Israel's policies, along with Zionism, were tantamount to racism. The Israel Review Conference, a body of Palestinian and anti-Israel NGOs, met on Saturday with the stated goal of examining "the progress made in implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (DDPA) adopted by the World Conference Against Racism (2001) and strengthen its recommendations." The conference also planned on bringing together experts and actors for social and political justice to examine "how the UN anti-racism instruments apply to Israel's policies and practices regarding the Palestinian people and develop practical recommendations on how to make Israel accountable to international law and protect the rights of the Palestinian people" On Sunday, according to the IRC, are to be workshops and meetings of the global Campaign for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel, an initiative that aims to target the Jewish state economically, "until it complies with international law." No mention is made on the IRC's Web site of Palestinian terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians, nor are the reported human rights violations committed by Hamas members against Fatah supporters in the Gaza Strip, which the former took control of in a bloody coup in 2007. But in addition to the anti-Israel activity gearing up in Geneva over the weekend, a planning meeting chaired by Libya was given a bit of jolt on Friday, when Dr. Ashraf Ahmed El-Hojouj, a now-famous Libyan political prisoner, announced the delivery of the legal complaint he is filing, along with five Bulgarian nurses, to the UN Human Rights Council. Hojouj and his colleagues were imprisoned for the HIV epidemic that broke out at Libya's Bengazi Hospital in 1999, and all six medical professionals were tortured, convicted, and sentenced to death in the case. "The United Nations should condemn countries that scapegoat, falsely arrest, and torture vulnerable minorities," said Hojouj, who addressed Najjat Al-Hajjaji, the Libyan chairwoman of the proceedings. "Countries that have committed such crimes must recognize their past, and issue an official, public, and unequivocal apology to the victims." Hajjaji was reported to have been visibly uncomfortable during the proceedings and interrupted Hojouj three times during his testimony. She then gave Libya the floor to make an objection, and finally cut Hojouj off. Both Hojouj and Bulgarian nurse Kristiyna Valcheva will testify before the Geneva Summit for Human Rights, Tolerance and Democracy on Sunday, and Hojouj will be able to deliver his full speech. Also over the weekend, it was announced that a well-known former Iranian political prisoner will address an NGO human rights gathering to call attention to the human rights victims and political prisoners in Iran, the day before Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is scheduled to address the Durban Conference. Former prisoner Ahmed Batebi was made famous when his picture appeared on the cover of The Economist, holding the bloodied T-shirt of a fellow student demonstrator. The photo was called "an icon for Iran's student reform movement." Shortly after the photograph hit the newsstands, Batebi was arrested and sentenced to death, a sentence that was reduced to 15 years in prison after an international outcry. Batebi was regularly tortured during his time in prison, and managed to escape to Iraq, later Austria, and eventually the United States while he was temporarily hospitalized for medical care after two strokes and numerous seizures. "I never intended to be a famous dissident," says Batebi. "Now that I have been granted asylum and am safe, it is my responsibility to tell my story and speak out for all those in Iran who still cannot. I take this responsibility very seriously."