Towards a fairer selection of NGOs to participate in the UN human rights debate

February 14, 2022
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is international-un-ecosoc-ngos-committee-participation-getty.jpg
A plenary meeting at the 76th Session of the General Assembly, at the UN Headquarters, in New York, USA, 21 January 2022, Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

NGOs that seek to participate fully at the UN – making statements and organising events to highlight injustice and provide recommendations – have to get accredited.  The “Committee on NGOs” manages the process – as  the gateway for NGOs into the United Nations. If you’re a State with a mind to block NGOs, membership of the Committee is perfect. This is where you can sit and control who comes in. By asking questions of NGO applicants, members of the Committee can push their accreditation for many years.  For more on this see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/02/09/the-saga-of-the-anti-ngo-committee-in-the-un-continues/

Currently there are 70 organisations that have faced over four years of deferrals.  Two human rights organisations have been deferred for over ten years.  Some  NGOs  have also been accused by Committee members of having terrorist sympathies: baseless accusations against which the NGOs have been denied appeal.  

In four short months there’s  a chance to change things. Elections to the Committee on NGOs will be held in April 2022. The 54 members of the UN’s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) vote to fill the 19 seats on the Committee across all regional groups. 

A joint letter by a massive number of NGOs of 10 February 2022 makes the point:

To: Member States of the UN General Assembly

Excellencies:

We are five months out from elections to the ECOSOC Committee on Non-Governmental Organisations for the 2023-2026 term. These are key elections for all those who value the expertise of civil society and seek to ensure the UN can benefit from it.

The Secretary General has called civil society the UN’s ‘indispensable partners”. Member States recently committed to boosting partnerships ‘to ensure an effective response to our common challenges’. In recommending approval of the participation of non-governmental organisations in a range of UN bodies and processes, the Committee on NGOs plays a key role in facilitating such partnerships. It is essential that the members of the Committee are committed to fulfilling such a task fairly and judiciously.

With this in mind, we would like to request the following, that:

1/ States with an interest in facilitating and safeguarding civil society access to and participation in UN processes stand for election to the Committee.

2/ Candidates make public the reasons for their candidacy and their commitment to fulfil their responsibilities as members of the Committee, as per ECOSOC Resolution 1996/31.

3/ All regions put up competitive slates, as the Asia-Pacific and GRULAC regions did in the last elections for the Committee in 2018. Competitive elections are important to create buy-in to the process and encourage states to be accountable for their commitments.

4/ All regions make public candidacies at least two months before the elections to allow for proper consideration of candidates.

5/ All ECOSOC members vote (and be encouraged to vote) only for candidates with positive track records in regard to civil society access and participation. Candidates could be assessed in regard to indicators such as support for relevant UN resolutions, such as those on civil society space and human rights defenders; on responses to cases of intimidation and reprisals; and on national level initiatives to safeguard civic space, press freedom – online as offline – and the right to defend human rights.

6/ ECOSOC members should consider introducing term limits for membership of the Committee on NGOs, among other reforms encouraging openness and accountability. As with other UN bodies, states should be required to leave the Committee for a specific interval of time after serving for a maximum agreed period. Term limits would encourage greater diversity in membership over time and encourage states to step up as candidates.

The Committee on NGOs is entrusted with the task of facilitating civil society access so that the expertise and experience of civil society partners can enrich and inform UN debates. It needs members that are committed to fulfilling the Committee’s mandate in a fair, transparent, non-discriminatory, expeditious and apolitical manner. It falls on all member states – as potential candidates and / or electors – to ensure that the Committee membership is fit for purpose.

Please elect to stand up for civil society!

Yours sincerely,

In addition to the letter, individuals can undertake additional steps. You can engage with States on all the campaign objectives!

  • On competitive elections and voting with integrity: See here for a model email for sending to those who get to vote, ECOSOC members.  Check here whether your State is going to vote. 
  • On candidates: Does your state have a positive record on promoting civil society but isn’t running? See here for a model email to encourage them. 

https://ishr.ch/action/campaigns/openthedoor2ngos/

Working Together

https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/02/16/letter-members-uns-general-assembly-regarding-ecosoc-committee-ngos

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