U.N. Human Rights Chief Urged to Shun NGO Accused of Links to Gaddafi Regime

By Patrick Goodenough | December 6, 2011 | 5:34 AM EST

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi pays his first visit to the United Nations headquarters in New York on Sept. 22, 2009.

(CNSNews.com) – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is delivering a speech on human rights at the United Nations complex in Geneva on Tuesday -- shortly after another event in the same building is co-hosted by a non-governmental organization associated with Libya’s Gaddafi regime.

The U.N.’s human rights chief, Navi Pillay, is addressing that event, and critics say Clinton should urge Pillay to remove the controversial NGO.

The U.N. marks December 10 as International Human Rights Day, and its Geneva headquarters – home to Pillay’s office and the Human Rights Council – has a busy schedule this week.

According to the State Department, Clinton is due to deliver a “human rights policy speech” there at 6 p.m. local time.

Elsewhere in the building, from 3-6 p.m., the Non-Aligned Movement is co-hosting a panel discussion on “the right to development,” together with Pillay’s office and two NGOs.

One of the NGOs is the Geneva-based Nord-Sud XXI (North-South 21), a group reportedly funded by Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi in the late 1980s to administer a controversial award known as the “Al-Gaddafi International Prize for Human Rights.”

Recipients of the award included Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan in 1996, former Cuban president Fidel Castro in 1998, the “children of Iraq, victims of hegemony and embargo” in 1999, and Venezuela’s U.S.-baiting president, Hugo Chavez, in 2004.

The 2002 awardee was Roger Garaudy, a French communist-turned-Muslim who had been convicted four years earlier on charges of denying the Holocaust.

On Monday U.N. Watch, a Geneva-based NGO that monitors the U.N.’s human rights bodies in the Swiss city, called on Clinton, E.U. foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, and the British and French governments to urge Pillay to remove Nord-Sud XXI from Tuesday’s event.

“We trust that Secretary Clinton will make clear to High Commissioner Pillay that her office should not be making common cause with organizations that openly celebrate Holocaust deniers, war criminals and promoters of anti-American and anti-Western hatred,” said U.N. Watch Executive Director Hillel Neuer.

He said his organization has drawn Pillay’s attention to Nord-Sud XXI’s “true identity” in the past.

Pillay’s office did not respond to queries by press time.

Gaddafi was killed on October 20.  The Web site of the Al-Gaddafi International Prize for Human Rights, which CNSNews.com last accessed in September, is no longer online. An archived version of the site states that the prize consists of five “organs,” including an international people’s committee, an institute for human rights and liberties – and Nord-Sud XXI.

In response to queries, Nord-Sud XXI representative Curtis Doebbler in an email early Tuesday declined to comment on U.N. Watch’s specific allegations, but was critical of one NGO attacking another. (Doebbler’s response appears in full below.)

He confirmed that the organization has “sometimes received money from governments to undertake specific activities, but in recent years it has received almost all of its resources from private foundations and individual donors.”

CNSNews.com further asked Doebbler again specifically whether those governments included the Gaddafi regime. He was also asked, again, specifically, about links to the Gaddafi prize. No response was received.

Despite its controversial associations, Nord-Sud XXI is an NGO in good standing with the U.N., enjoying “special consultative status” with the world body’s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) since 1995, and a close relationship with the U.N.’s human rights apparatus.

As such, the group participated in all three “Durban” racism conferences over the past decade – an NGO Forum on the sidelines of the original, controversy-hit World Conference on Racism in Durban, South Africa in 2001; the 2004 Durban II conference in Geneva, where Nord-Sud XXI hosted a side-meeting to complain about the fact that a final text being considered by participating governments did not refer to Israeli “apartheid;” and last September’s Durban III in New York, where it was one of 88 NGOs approved by member states. (The U.S. and a number of other Western democracies boycotted Durban II and Durban III.)

Nord-Sud XXI representative Doebbler’s full response appears below:

Thank you for your email. We have not seen the statement to which you refer, so we cannot comment on it directly.

As you are undoubtedly aware, Nord-Sud XXI is an independent NGO with its own Board. It currently functions with minimal administrative staff and with the assistance of senior people in the field of human rights and development that undertake their activities on a voluntary basis with limited administrative support. Nord-Sud XXI does sometimes receive money from governments to undertake specific activities, but in recent years it has received almost all of its resources from private foundations and individual donors.

We welcome constructive criticism and do undertake internal evaluations of our work.

Nord-Sud XXI's objectives include striving to foster greater understanding and cooperation towards the end of ensuring respect for the human rights of all everywhere; encouraging a more just and equitable international order; and, ensuring respect for the rule of international law.

Although I have not seen the statement to which you refer, it must be deeply regretted when any NGO that is duly accredited and working with us as accredited partners of the UN to ensure respect for human rights, in this case the right to development, attack another NGO.

We would hope that all NGOs would respect the rules by which they are admitted into consultative status and act with due respect towards their colleagues who are working for the common ends that are established generally in the Charter of the United Nations and more specifically in the numerous treaties to which States have agreed under the auspices of the United Nations.

Finally, as any attack based on unfounded allegations and/or using disparaging language against an ECOSOC accredited NGO should be viewed as an attack against all of civil society and against the very United Nations itself, to which accredited NGOs have both a right and responsibility to contribute, we sincerely hope that the United Nations civil society mechanisms will take appropriate action concerning any NGO that acts without due respect for these principles.

Again, thank you for your communication and we trust you will reflect our position in any report you do on this matter.

Again, thank you for your communication and we trust you will reflect our position in any report you do on this matter.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow

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