When Navi Pillay was appointed this summer as the UN’s new high commissioner for human rights, the mayor of Durban, South Africa, her native city, gave Pillay a bouquet of flowers and asked her “to rescue the name of Durban,” a word that has become associated with the discredited UN conference on racism held there in 2001.
Ms. Pillay told the story today to a packed audience of NGO activists attending the current session of the UN Human Rights Council, as she urged NGOs to fully engage with the follow-up Durban conference to be held in Geneva in April 2009, of which she is secretary-general. (Libya is chair, Iran and Cuba among the vice-chairs.) The representatives of Human Rights Watch and certain other groups responded that they intended to actively participate in the process.
Earlier this year, a group of 97 NGOs, including UN Watch, published a joint statement that expressed serious concerns with the hatred and anti-Semitism that tainted the 2001 Durban conference, urging participants at Durban II not to repeat the same sins.
Participating in the NGO session with Pillay, UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer publicly welcomed her to Geneva, and saluted her personal and professional advocacy for equality, noting her heroic struggle against apartheid. UN Watch founder Morris Abram was a pioneer advocate for the cause of civil rights and headed the United Negro College Fund.