UN Conference of Civil Society in support of Palestinian people to be held 4-5 September

NEW YORK, 2 September (UN Department of Political Affairs) - The Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People will convene the United Nations International Conference of Civil Society in Support of the Palestinian People at United Nations Headquarters in New York on 4 and 5 September. The holding of the Conference is mandated by General Assembly resolutions 57/107 and 57/108 of 3 December 2002.

While the Committee has welcomed the positive steps taken by the parties in implementation of the Middle East “Road Map”, it is deeply concerned about the latest cycle of violence on the ground. The Committee reaffirms its belief that the international community has a moral responsibility towards achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the region. The Committee’s position is that the United Nations should maintain its permanent responsibility towards all the aspects of the question of Palestine, until it is resolved on the basis of Security Council resolutions 242 (1967), 338 (1973) and 1397 (2002), and until the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people are fully realized.

Moreover, the urgent need to address the humanitarian crisis facing the Palestinian people remains a priority. It is the Committee’s view that the role of civil society organizations in educating their respective constituencies about the fundamental issues of the question of Palestine and in mobilizing public support for the Palestinian people remains indispensable for the achievement of these goals.

The Conference will draw on the positive results of the 2002 International Conference of Civil Society and will maintain its theme - “End the Occupation!” The aim of the Conference is to provide civil society organizations from all regions of the world with an opportunity to discuss the situation in the occupied Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem, and coordinate their activities in support of the Palestinian people.

Invited speakers will make presentations on various aspects of the role of civil society on the question of Palestine. During discussion periods in each plenary session, non-governmental organization (NGO) representatives and other participants will have an opportunity to discuss and develop specific action-oriented proposals. It is envisaged that a plan of action will be adopted by participants at the close of the Conference. The working languages of the Conference will be Arabic, English, French and Spanish.

The opening session will take place on Thursday, 4 September 2003, at 10:00 a.m. in Conference Room 4. Kieran Prendergast, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, will read a message by Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Statements will also be made by Papa Louis Fall, Chairman of the Committee; Nasser Al-Kidwa, Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations; Finn Martin Vallersnes, Chairman of the Committee on Middle East Questions of the Inter-Parliamentary Union; and Thomas Neu, Chairperson of the Association of International Development Agencies.

Plenary I will start at 11:00 a.m. in the same conference room and will discuss “The Situation on the ground: obstacles to peace”. Presentations will be made by Jamal Juma, Coordinator of the Palestinian Environment NGO Network in Jerusalem; Naomi Chazan, Former Member of the Knesset; Claudette Habesh, Secretary-General of Caritas Jerusalem; Maha Abu Dayyeh Shamas, Director of the Women’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counselling in Jerusalem; and John Reese, Coordinator of the United States Campaign to Stop the Wall. The session will be followed at 1:00 p.m. by the screening of documentary films on the question of Palestine, also in Conference Room 4.

Plenary II, entitled “Civil society under siege”, will start at 3:00 p.m. Panellists will discuss the work of civil society under occupation. Presentations will be made by Thomas Neu, Chairperson of the Association of International Development Agencies; Cindy Corrie, member of the Peace and Justice Studies Association in Olympia, WA; Allam Jarrar, member of the Steering Committee of the Palestinian NGO Network; Avia Pasternak, representative of Ta’ayush in Tel Aviv; and Ahmed Bouzid, founder of Palestine Media Watch in Philadelphia.

Plenary III will start on Friday morning, 5 September, at 10:00 a.m., in Conference Room 4. Presentations under the theme “The international community, civil society and the political process to end the occupation” will be made by Naim Ashhab, member of the Joint Action Group for Israeli-Palestinian Peace; Lev Grinberg, Professor at Ben-Gurion University in Negev, Israel; Mary Rose Oakar, President of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee in Washington, D.C.; Jeff Halper, Coordinator of the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions in Jerusalem; Naomi Braine, member of Jews against Occupation in Washington, D.C.; Phyllis Bennis, Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C.; and Gabi Baramki, President of the Palestinian Council for Justice and Peace in Ramallah. At lunchtime, documentary films on the question of Palestine will be screened from 1:00 p.m.

Plenary IV, entitled “Civil society initiatives to end the occupation”, will start at 3:00 p.m. Presentations will be made by Pierre Galand, Senator of the Belgian Parliament and Chairman of the European Coordinating Committee for NGOs on the Question of Palestine; Joshua Ruebner, Executive Director of Jews for Peace in Palestine and Israel in Washington, D.C.; Gretta Duisenberg, Chairperson of Stop the Occupation in Amsterdam; Damu Smith, Founder and Co-Chair of Black Voices for Peace in Washington, D.C.; Na’eem Jeenah, Spokesperson for the Palestine Solidarity Committee in Johannesburg; Lourdes Cervantes Vásquez, head of the Political Department of the Organization of Solidarity among the Peoples of Africa, Asia and Latin America in Havana; and Silas Cerqueira, representative of the International Secretariat in Solidarity with the Arab People and their Central Cause, Palestine, in Lisbon. The session will be followed at 5:30 p.m. by the presentation of the final document and the closing remarks by Papa Louis Fall, Chairman of the Committee.

Invitations to participate in the Conference have been sent to civil society organizations on the mailing list of the Division for Palestinian Rights. Governments, intergovernmental organizations and United Nations agencies have been invited to attend as observers. The report of the Conference will be issued as a publication of the Division in due course.