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For Immediate Release             Contact: Shawqi Issa, +972-50-219747



Durban, South Africa, 5 September 2001


We are shocked and dismayed by the refusal of Mrs. Mary Robinson, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, to receive and endorse the NGO Forum Declaration and Programme of Action. The International Steering Committee on 4 September 2001 reaffirmed the endorsement and adoption of the Declaration and Programme of Action by the majority vote of the NGO Forum during the final plenary session on 1 September. In accordance with agreed procedures, at the final plenary session of the NGO Forum each caucus held one vote in adopting each section of the text, proposals made by individual caucuses, and for the final adoption and endorsement process.


As High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mrs. Robinson has an obligation to carry the message of the voices of victims throughoutn the world to the governments who will in turn implement mechanisms to address these needs. Her failure to support the Declaration and Programme of Action, which was voted in through a legitimate, transparent and democratic process, reinforces the position of those forces at the World Conference Against Racism (who were also present at the NGO Forum) who are seeking to pursue specific governmental political agendas.


In refusing to accept the document and pass it on the Government plenary, and thereby delaying receipt of the document by Government representatives, Mrs. Robinson has rejected the voices of all the victims of racism and the thousands of delegates who were present at the NGO Forum. Mrs. Robinson's action has prejudiced the ability of all the NGO communities to influence the processes at the on-going Governmental plenary through their agreed document. We voice our strong support and solidarity for all the victims of racism and their rights to be heard.


Mrs. Robinson has voiced objection to language used by Palestinians in the Declaration of the NGO Forum. Palestinians as victims of racism have exercised their rights at the NGO Forum to describe their experiences of racially-motivated human rights violations perpetrated against them, and have done so with specific reference to international human rights and humanitarian law standards and norms, including in relation to acts of genocide, systematic perpetration of war crimes, and the crime of apartheid.


Specific acts of genocide have included the massacre of 3,500 Palestinian civilians of Sabra and Shatila in Lebanon of 1982, in respect of which the Israeli Kahan Commission found the then Defence Minister, Ariel Sharon indirectly responsible. The UN General Assembly itself in UN Resolution 123 (A/RES/37/123) and the UN Commission of Human Rights in a resolution (E/CN.4/RES/1985/4) have both described the massacre as an "act of genocide" and imputed responsibility to the State of Israel. Likewise, references of "acts of genocide" in the NGO Forum Declaration impute genocidal intent to those perpetrators of, or those responsible, for such acts, who have included individual Jewish Israelis and the State of Israel. These references do not impute genocidal intent to all Jews or all Jewish Israelis. No individual or State should enjoy impunity for their crimes - references to "acts of genocide" are an accurate reflection of specific historical incidents on the basis of the Genocide Convention of 1948. Accordingly, Palestinians should not be precluded from using such terms. The rejection of this term also preempts the outcome of any future prosecutions including the current investigation in the Belgium courts in which victims of the Sabra and Shatila massacre are seeking the prosecution of those responsible.


Israel's systematic perpetration of grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention 1949 (namely war crimes) have been documented by a number of national, regional, international, NGOs, Governmental and UN bodies, including the UN Inquiry Commission in their report of March 2001.


There has been evidence of the use of ethnic cleansing methods to drive out Palestinians including during the 1948 war, and since 1967 to date from the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Ethnic cleansing methods used have included uprooting by military attacks; arbitrary arrests and detention/unfair trials; attacks on specific vulnerable groups including women and children; destruction and confiscation of property, land and homes; and harassment designed to make life so unbearable that people leave.


Palestinians have called for acknowledgement that what underlies these violations is racism, and have called for solidarity in their struggle to fight all forms of that racism including Israel's brand of apartheid. Israeli practices fulful the elements of the crime of apartheid as defined by the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid, including by racial segregation and discrimination, and inhuman acts designed to establish domination of one group over the other. In addition, South African governmental and civil society representatives have drawn clear parallels with the system of apartheid practiced in South Africa with that used by the Israeli apartheid regime.


We condemn in the strongest terms any and all anti-Semitic and anti-Jewish materials including any that may have been circulated during this conference. Those materials that condemn the State of Israel for its systematic violations of international human rights and humanitarian law or condemn those racist practices conducted in the name of Zionism are not anti-Semitic or anti-Jewish.


We call for the Government plenary to accept the document endorsed at the NGO Forum as the voice of the victims of racism from around the world. The victims of racism cannot be blamed for the ultimate success or failure of the World Conference Against Racism by seeking to have their daily suffering from racism addressed, whomever they may be, including the Palestinians and those victims seeking reparations. The responsibility lies with the Governments to hear the victims. Governments should not derail the Conference in order to avoid responsibility for their racist practices.