International Service for Human Rights rings alarm bell over composition of UN Committee on Civil society

May 1, 2014

Civil society loses as repressive States win election to regulate NGO access to UN” is the headline of a rightly alarming report on 23 April 2014 by the New York desk of the International Service for Human Rights [ISHR]. It calls on States that value and respect a vibrant civil society should do more to support non-governmental organisations to have their voices heard at the United Nations. The call comes after very few such States stood for election to an important UN committee that regulates civil society access to the UN, leaving the field to repressive States whose intolerance for civil society at home looks set to further restrict NGO access to the UN.ISHR-logo-colour-high

The membership of the ‘Committee on NGOs‘, which already is dominated by member States that are not supportive of civil society, is set to get worse in 2015, said Michelle Evans of ISHR. States newly elected to the 19-member Committee on Non-governmental Organizations include the repressive regimes of Iran, Mauritania, and Azerbaijan… The Committee on NGOs makes recommendations about the accreditation of NGOs, which is a requirement for their participation in many UN meetings. This year the majority of candidates for election to the Committee (see below) have very poor track records in respecting non-governmental organisations and human rights defenders. Many of them, including China, Russia and Sudan, have also shown a disturbing pattern of attacks, intimidation and violence against NGOs who seek to coöperate with the UN human rights mechanisms. It is completely incoherent that the same States that seek to fracture this partnership should serve on a Committee that governs civil society participation in the UN.

Disappointingly, only a few supportive member States – including Greece, Israel, South Africa, Uruguay and the US – stood for election or re-election to the Committee on NGOs. …It is deeply troubling that more member States which profess support for civil society were not prepared to translate this rhetoric into action by standing for election, said Ms Evans.The membership composition also means that democratic new members – such as Greece, which is replacing Belgium – will need to be particularly active and vigilante on the Committee. …It is crucial for public confidence in the NGO Committee, the ECOSOC, and the UN itself that the NGO Committee deal with applications for accreditation in a fair, transparent and timely way. It discredits the UN as a whole when the NGO Committee is seen to reject or unduly delay NGO applications for accreditation just because some States oppose their views or disagree with the content of their work, Ms Evans said. Human rights defenders want to and have the right to participate in the policy debates on issues that affect them and the communities they represent. The more their human rights concerns are marginalised or ignored, the more vital it is that those NGO voices are heard.

The States elected to the NGO Committee on 23 April are: Africa: Burundi re-elected, Sudan re-elected, Mauritania replacing Morocco, South Africa replacing Mozambique and Guinea replacing Senegal. Asia: China re-elected, India re-elected, Iran replacing Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan re-elected. Eastern Europe: Russia re-elected, Azerbaijan replacing Bulgaria. Latin America and Caribbean: Cuba re-elected, Nicaragua re-elected, Uruguay replacing Peru, Venezuela re-elected. Western Europe and Others: Greece replacing Belgium, Israel re-elected, Turkey re-elected, United States re-elected.

via Civil society loses as repressive States win election to regulate NGO access to UN | ISHR.

For the disappointing performance of South Africa and India see inter alia:

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