protested against what they call the "blatantly intolerant anti-Semitic spirit" plaguing the entire process of the World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, an official confirmed Thursday, September 6.
"We have refused to endorse the final, 72-page NGO Declaration and Programme of Action," said Veronika Leila Szente Goldston, Advocacy Director of the Budapest based European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) in an interview.
"The conference was hijacked by an anti Israel crowd," she added. Szente Goldston said that the official NGO statement linked "Zionism with racism and genocide, which is unreasonable. It brings us back to the seventies when the United Nations adopted a resolution describing Zionism as racism, which was later revoked."
Although the ERRC was pleased that the main declaration spoke about the discrimination of Gypsies, who prefer to be known as Roma, the organization wanted to defend the Jewish people as well.
"Although it is correct that our activities focus on Roma, we are also a human rights organization. As such we can such not stand at the side-line when we see another vulnerable group suffering under what can only be described as discrimination and racism," said Szente Goldston.
In a statement the ERRC and about 70 other NGO’s also expressed concern about certain ideas included in the chapters "Globalization," "Palestine," "Reparations," and a number of paragraphs of the official documents.
"We must emphasize that the language of the chapter "Palestine" as well as the deliberate distortions made to the chapter "Anti-Semitism," is extremely intolerant, disrespectful and contrary to the very spirit of the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance," the statement said.
The NGO’s also expressed concern that "on top of all the troubles of the NGO Forum," they had to listen "for over two hours" to a speech by Cuba’s leader Fidel Castro at the closing ceremony.
"We are offended by the fact that one of the worst dictators in the contemporary world, particularly notorious for gross violations of human rights, was invited to address this world gathering of Non-Governmental Organizations.
"Listening to Fidel speak, we only had to wonder why the organizers had failed to invite Alexander Lukashenko, Turkmenbashi, Saddam Hussein, or the Taliban regime," the NGO-delegates said.
The ERRC said there is also concern that the Government declaration to be adopted later this week may be anti-Semitic, despite a South African initiative to change the text of that statement. United States and Israeli Government delegations already withdrew from the meeting, while the European Union was considering its options.
Despite the controversy South African Bishop Desmond Tutu told reporters he regretted the US decision to leave the meeting, saying that the world could learn much from that country how to overcome slavery and other forms of discrimination.