Student delegation attends moving Geneva conference prior to Durban II

As an Israeli student and as part of the Jewish Students' delegation, listening to the stories of all the African speakers, both on the Genocide in Rwanda and on the political and human rights violations in Zimbabwe, was humbling.

durban II fight racism 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
durban II fight racism 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Shiri Cohen is a member of the International Jewish Students delegation of WUJS (World Union of Jewish Students) at the Durban Review Conference in Geneva The Geneva Summit which took place on Sunday, April 19th, a day before the Durban Review Conference began, served as strong proof that the issue of human rights violations is very relevant and that it can be discussed respectfully under the right conditions. In this summit, well-known human rights organizations, activists and speakers gathered in order to share their knowledge on some of the most sensitive matters regarding human rights violations across the world. President of the Stop Child Executions campaign, Nazanin Afshin-Jam, opened the summit with remarks on the Iranian government and on the suffering of the Iranian people saying "they are prisoners in their own country". Irwin Cotler - a renown human-rights activist, a former Canadian minister of justice and a former president of the Canadian Jewish Congress - who has served as counsel for several victims of genocide and discrimination, talked about the cruelty of genocide denial, referring especially to the Genocide in Rwanda in 1994. Most impressive and moving were the things said by Darfurians, the Rwandan Genocide's survivors and former prisoners of conscience from Cuba, Egypt, Burma, Zimbabwe and Venezuela. All referred to the fight against racism and unfair treatment and to the role of the governments and the international community in preventing human rights violations. Ester Mujawayo, a Tutsi survivor of the Rwanda Genocide and founder of Avega Agahozo: Association des Veuves du Genocide [Widows of the Genocide Association], became extremely emotional when referring to her entire family who was murdered in 1994. As an Israeli student and as part of the Jewish Students' delegation to Durban II, listening to the stories of all the African speakers, both on the Genocide in Rwanda and on the political and human rights violations in Zimbabwe, was a humbling experience. At one point in his speech, Gibreil Hamid, president of the Darfur Peace and Development Center, started crying and with him, so had all the Jewish students. Perhaps because their own history is marked by a Holocaust, perhaps because the Jewish community can relate easily to the Africans' painful past and present, we Jewish students were deeply moved by the speeches. Another highlight of the summit was the speech given by Dr. Ashraf Ahmad El Hagoug, a victim of torture and discrimination in Libya, who had also spoken at the UN Preparatory meeting to the summit on Friday and had received opposition from the Libyan president of the conference. El Hagoug was arrested in 1999 and was later charged with pre-meditated murder and causing an HIV epidemic by injecting 393 children with the virue. Only on 24 July 2007 was he transferred to Bulgaria, where he was pardoned. The phenomenon of 'bloggers for freedom' and the internet's new frontiers was also discussed; Esra'a Al Shafei, dissident blogger and director of referred to the possibilities opened up by the Internet for people to express themselves saying that "Google, Yahoo etc. have responsibilities for human rights" all over the world. Yoani Sanchez from Cuba, whom was not present at the summit, is one of the most passionate and well-known bloggers, working under a regime known for censorship and human rights violations. Sanchez is giving a voice to the voiceless. In 2008, she was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world. People such as Sanchez have an ability to make a significant change and it is an eye-opener. As a student here in Geneva, the stories told and the amazing work of human rights activists, dissidents, genocide survivors and others are just what we needed the day before the Durban II summit starts.