In the lead up to the World Conference Against Racism (WCAR) in Durban, South Africa, 2001, Rights and Humanity built consensus around a formulation of words on a number of contentious issues. Our wording on issues affected by the Israeli/Palestinian conflict concerning anti-semitism, Islamophobia, Zionism, and the Holocaust, and on the calls for an apology and/or reparations for slavery, was found helpful at the Durban Conference.
On the eve of the Duban Conference, Rights and Humanity’s assistance was sought by the special representative of the UN Secretary-General - Dr Nafis Sadik, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights - Mrs. Mary Robinson, and the South African Mission in Geneva.
Hosting an Emergency Meeting
In July 2001, we held an Emergency Meeting in London, UK, under the patronage of HRH Prince El Hassan bin TalaI of Jordan and with the encouragement of the Secretary-General Kofi Annan, to propose a formulation of words on these two issues. This brought together representatives from both sides of each dispute.
Bearing in mind the depth of feeling on the two political controversies, Rights and Humanity proposed a set of ground rules to guide the discussions and ensure that they did not become unnecessarily accusatorial. These were found to be helpful and despite the difficult nature of the controversies, the participants adopted consensus language. Of particular note was our proposed language recognising the Holocaust as a unique example of racism and anti-Semitism, which was balanced by an additional paragraph, acknowledging the plight of the Palestinian people.
Three of our Patrons were involved – HRH Prince Hassan, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Sir Sigmund Sternberg. Other distinguished participants included Chief Rabbi Dr Jonathan Sacks (now Sir Jonathan Sacks), Rabbi David Rosen from Israel, Imam Dr. Abduljalil Sajid, the Late Sheikh Dr Zaki Badawi, the Honorable Dr. Cyril Ndebele, Dr. Tewolde Berhan Gebre Egziabher, HRH Princess Badiya El Hassan and Mr Robert Husbands (representing the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights).
Contributing to Preparatory Committee Meeting
The High Commissioner invited Rights and Humanity to take part in the fourth Preparatory Committee in Geneva, in early August 2001. Our President and two of the participants, Iman Sajid and a representative of the Chief Rabbi, Mr Jeremy Newmark, informally provided the delegates with the text we had drafted, and we made some headway in gaining consensus. Unfortunately, it did not prove possible for Rights and Humanity to participate in the Durban Conference itself.
Despite continuing controversies at the Durban conference, which caused the Israeli delegations to walk out, language similar to our draft was ultimately adopted.
The USA delegation also walked out of the Conference, leaving Europe to negotiate with African States over the issue of slavery and reparations. Towards the end of the Conference, consensus was reached on a statement that recognised slavery as a "crime against humanity". The Conference also adopted the following paragraph:
In her thank you letter, the High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed her “sincere appreciation for [our] important contribution to the Conference.”