NGO Summit Combats Persecution

By Dena Shayne
On November 17, 2011

On September 21 and 22, the same week that the U.N. General Assembly convened (and Abbas made his legendary bid for Palestinian statehood), another more low-key event took place a few blocks away at Manhattan's W Hotel. "We Have a Dream: Global Summit Against Discrimination and Persecution" convened to discuss the discrimination and racism that is prevalent in the world today. 20 YU student leaders were honored with invitations to this prestigious and important event. 

The dialogue was moderated by none other than, as Hillel Neuer put it, "the powerful, inspiring speaker and committed activist, Dr. Katrina Lantos Sewett, the CEO of the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice." Lantos was Deputy Counselto the SenateJudiciary Committee, and the Democratic representative of New Hampshire Congress in 2002. Lantos opened the day's proceedings with a personal anecdote and then posing a simple question: "What will be the greatest moral challenge that I will meet in my life? Will I meet it in a way that'll make a Creator proud? Well," she continued gesturing over to two of the speakers–" John Dau, Adeeb Yousif, and Luka Biong Deng–"They are able to answer that question in the affirmative." 

John Dau is literally "The Lost Boy of Sudan." Born in war torn Sudan, and one of 27, 000 boys forced from his village when the government attacked ethnic minorities in South Sudan. His village, his family, and his friends were brutally murdered, but Dau was able to transcend his negative feelings from his harsh circumstances and transfer them into human rights activism. While escaping war-torn Sudan, he lead homeless boys across South Sudan through starving and difficult conditions until they reached Ethiopia –safety. In 1992 he was elected to go to school in America, and arrived at Syracuse University in 2001.

Dau is now a human rights activist, and the founder of the JD Foundation for Human Rights, which brings doctors and aid to war to impoverished Sudan. He explained that "I came back and started medical centers because I knew it was my duty to help my people…If you think my story is inhumane – the same treatment is still going on today as we speak!"

A bone-chilling line that Dau stated plainly to the audience really resonated with me: "I ask my Jewish friends: ‘Never Again'- where was never again when we were being murdered?"

Dau concluded with a plea, begging the audience "as brothers and sisters in the fight against injustice; please join with us. The same atrocities that led me to be called a lost boy today are happening in Darfur, South Corofin, and Bruni. My goal is to ensure peace in that area so we can enjoy our lives and live as a family, one family. My goal is to see a Darfur, South Corofin, Bruni where there will no longer be lost boys or lost girls."

Human rights is an issue that has not faded. All these organizations exists to combat inhumanity, yet it is still a prevalent issue.

The pursuit of universal Human Rights was a central reason for creating the construction of the U.N. However, nothing is perfect with the U.N. Human Rights Council, which has been accused of putting its political agenda before human rights responsibilities. Instead of this central international government, separate entities, known as non-governmental organizations (NGOs), work to spread social justice around the globe.

The Durban Review Conference undermined all of these human rights efforts. The conference was held from April 20-24, 2009. The President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took to the podium and accused the West of using the Holocaust, the historical accuracy of which he called "dubious at best" to create a racist, Zionist regime. "And, in fact, in compensation for the dire consequences of racism in Europe, they helped bring to power the most cruel and repressive racist regime in Palestine," he said. All of the European Union delegations left the room.  

If that was not abominable enough, there was Durban III – a follow up conference that was scheduled for September 2011. Controversy reared its head once more.

In direct response to Durban III, the UN Watch, along with 25 other NGOs organized a parallel conference entitled, "We Have a Dream: Global Summit Against Discrimination and Persecution." Representative NGOs from countries including Austria, Bulgaria, France, the United Kingdom, South Sudan, China, Syria, Iran, and Uganda.

The Summit of NGOs was established as a as a direct response to Durban and has been combating racism ever since.

The U.N. Watch, a U.N.-recognized NGO, said, "The 2001 Durban conference and its progeny have become staging grounds for contemporary bigots and bullies –  like the regimes of Sudan and Iran –  to cover up their own racism and repression, and to scapegoat the U.S., the West, and Israel. Based on past experience, we fear that the banner of human rights and anti-racism will be hijacked by Iranian President Ahmadinejad and other dictators to deflect attention from their crimes, and to incite anti-Western and anti-Semitic hatred."  

"Our message was very simple," said Hillel Neuer, Executive Director of U.N. Watch. "Here are the issues that we think are urgent, here is a model Human Rights agenda, here the victims are speaking. We wanted to give the victims a voice, and that is what we did."

The U.N. Watch was banned from Durban III. "We were never informed [that we were not able to attend]," said Neuer. "We discovered this on our own, and that is part of the problem. Back in the summer, we filled out a detailed questionnaire, explaining all the work we have done to combat racism, discrimination and a whole range of issues. We acted in good faith, and you think the UN would have the common courtesy to inform you [that you cannot come], they didn't even send us a letter, we found out by accident."  

In response to this, the U.N. Watch lodged an urgent complaint with the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navanethem "Navi" Pillay, asking her to allow them to attend. Her response was that it was the General Assembly's decision, and all she could do was pass on the complaint. "We thought she should morally speak out, and she did not," Neuer said. "When she wants to, she can hide behind some excuse like 'it's not me,' it is the General Assembly, which legally may be correct, but in practice she has taken on all kinds of roles, condemning countries when they do not participate, and no one gave her the job to do that. So why didn't she condemn the process when it did something terrible like excluding an NGO? We're a watchdog, we should be at that meeting!  It is terrible that the General Assembly never informed us, that the U.N. never gave a reason, never gave notice, never gave grounds to contest. Navi Pillay is the person who should have spoken out and we regret that."

John Dau's last imparting message, however, spoke of hope. "The people's will and the individual's rights are not curtailed. My dream is for peace in that area, that we can live as one family."

Times are changing. The Internet is now able to show us live audio and visual feeds of revolutions around the world. It is also able to inform us of the atrocities around the globe. We have the power to stand up and do something about them. The words never again should no longer be a mantra, they should become a revolution. Never again will we turn a blind eye to genocide.

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