Posts Tagged ‘NGO Committee’

Intimidation and Reprisals on UN premises – NGOs ask for more action

September 17, 2019

On 23 August 2019, 23 NGOs wrote to the United Nations to raise concerns over the alarming pattern of intimidation and reprisals faced by members of civil society during sessions of the Human Rights Council and Treaty Bodies. The letter calls on the ASG to raise this issue during his speech before the HRC on 19 September 2019, and urges the OHCHR to take measures to ensure that such acts of reprisals are not repeated in the future. See: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/09/05/human-rights-defenders-issues-at-the-42nd-session-of-the-un-human-rights-council/

Below is the original text of the letter, as sent to the UN representatives in question:

To: Mr Andrew Gilmour, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights; H.E. Mr Coly Seck, Permanent Representative of Senegal and President of the Human Rights Council; Mr Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders

Mr Gilmour, 

We, the undersigned organisations, write to raise deep concerns about a consistent pattern of intimidation and reprisals faced by members of civil society from around the world during sessions of the Human Rights Council (HRC) and the Treaty Bodies. We are particularly concerned by acts of intimidation perpetrated by representatives of and individuals affiliated with government parties. 

During the 41st session of the HRC, staff of Permanent Missions and individuals wearing non-diplomatic badges, who were later verified as working with UN Member and Observer States, attended our side-events, and blatantly eavesdropped on our conversations, recorded our comments, took photos and videos of the audience, and made threatening gestures and remarks. 

We are all the more concerned as this is not the first time that human rights defenders and other individuals engaging with the HRC have faced acts of harassment and intimidation. Rather, these tactics are part of a consistent and systematic pattern of behaviour that we have unfortunately come to anticipate and expect at every session of the HRC. 

Furthermore, HRDs engaging with the Treaty Bodies also face intimidation and reprisals perpetrated by representatives of and individuals affiliated with government parties. There have been multiple instances of so-called “GONGOs” – governmental non-governmental organisations – registering for confidential and closed briefings with Treaty Bodies’ members. This allows them to know exactly who among civil society is present during these briefings. There has also been cases of briefings that have been filmed without the permission of NGOs. 

What is more, governments’ support given to GONGOs means that they are often granted consultative status with the UN. On the contrary, independent NGOs continue to be denied the ECOSOC status, demonstrating that reprisals against HRDs also occur within the UN system. In addition, the proliferation of GONGOs both at the HRC and Treaty Bodies, allows them to influence the discourse about human rights in a particular state or region, thus minimising the real issues at stake. 

The aforementioned acts of harassment and intimidation are concerning not only because they create an atmosphere of fear and self-censorship, but also because numerous human rights defenders who have travelled to Geneva to participate in HRC or Treaty Body sessions have faced reprisals upon their return to their countries as a direct result of this. As such, we take these acts of intimidation very seriously and submit that they may result in further acts of retaliation.

We note with appreciation that the current president of the HRC, his Excellency Mr Coly Seck, Permanent Representative of Senegal, addressed some of the issues raised in this letter during the final meeting of the 41st session of the HRC. He expressed his concern that “civil society organisations continue to face intimidation and reprisals” and pointed out that a number of cases had been reported to him, including of verbal harassment and unauthorised photographs taken during side-events. He emphasised that “any acts of intimidation against any individual or group that attempts to cooperate with the Human Rights Council is unacceptable”, and reminded Member and Observer States of their responsibility to ensure that civil society operate in a safe space. 

In addition, in July 2019, Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation, working in conjunction with the University of Oxford, Tibet Justice Centre and the Economic and Social Research Council launched the report “Compromised Space for Unrepresented Peoples at the United Nations”. Based on interviews and testimonies from 77 HRDs working on behalf of minorities, indigenous communities and other unrepresented peoples, it identifies a systematic attack on the UN human rights system by certain governments. This is characterised by “blocking tactics […] including deferring ECOSOC status decisions, and intervening in plenary statements, to more overt instances of harassment, intimidation and outright violence, which constitute state reprisals”. Such challenges are compounded for HRDs from minority, indigenous and marginalised groups.

While we acknowledge that HRC presidents, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ (OHCHR) reprisals team, the Treaty Bodies’ focal points for reprisals and yourself have all previously raised awareness on this issue, we strongly believe that there is a need to draw further attention to such acts of intimidation and harassment. We further note that to date, the OHCHR has not developed a systematic and practical response to the practices outlined in this letter. 

It is our contention that failure to sanction reprisals on UN premises will only embolden such acts elsewhere. Therefore, we call on you to raise this grave pattern during the presentation of the UNSG annual report on reprisals during the 42nd session of the HRC. We also call on you to urge the OHCHR to take measures to ensure that such acts of intimidation do not happen in the future. 

Yours sincerely, 

  1. Access Now 
  2. ALQST 
  3. Association for Victims of Torture in the UAE 
  4. Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain 
  5. Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy
  6. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
  7. CCPR Centre 
  8. Committee for Justice 
  9. European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights 
  10. Global Campaign for Equal Nationality Rights
  11. MENA Rights Group 
  12. The Omani Centre for Human Rights
  13. OMCT
  14. Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion 
  15. International Campaign for Freedom in the UAE 
  16. International Centre for Justice and Human Rights 
  17. International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism 
  18. Right Livelihood Foundation 
  19. Rights Realization Centre 
  20. Salam for Democracy and Human Rights
  21. Statelessness Network Asia Pacific 
  22. Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization
  23. World Uyghur Congress 

https://unpo.org/article/21663

 

Human rights defenders of minorities having a hard time in the UN finds UNPO

July 19, 2019

On 17 July 2019 the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) is launched a report, Compromised Space: Bullying and Blocking at the UN Human Rights Mechanisms, with its partners at the University of Oxford and Tibet Justice Centre which details how China, Russia, Iran and other repressive regimes are manipulating the United Nations Human Rights System to block and attack those seeking to hold them accountable for gross human rights violations perpetrated against minorities, indigenous communities and other unrepresented peoples…

The report is based on three years of study conducted by the UNPO and its partners at the University of Oxford and the Tibet Justice Center, supported by the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council. It is based largely on interviews and testimonies from 77 human rights defenders working on behalf of minorities, indigenous communities and other people living in nation states whose political systems do not create governance structures representative of all. It identifies a systemic attack on the United Nations human rights system by these governments, led largely by China, Russia and Iran, designed to shield them from accountability for human rights violations and crimes against humanity. This includes efforts to deny civil society groups participatory status at the UN (so called “ECOSOC status”), to bully and block them when they are able to access the UN, to crowd out the UN space with “GONGOs” – government-sponsored organisations posing as NGOs – and to harass, intimidate and take reprisals against activists and their families, whether at home or abroad.

Among the indicative findings of the report are the facts that:

China has regularly detained or imprisoned activists from its Southern Mongolian, Uyghur and Tibetan communities who have sought to travel to the UN, with such success that, for example, no Tibetan from Tibet who is acting independently of the Chinese government has ever managed to leave Chinese- occupied Tibet to testify at the UN in Geneva or New York, and then return safely;

Russia, in order to shield itself from accountability for its crimes in Russian-occupied Crimea, has asked for rules of participation in forums, such as the UN Minority Forum, to be changed to restrict NGO participation to groups acceptable to Russia, and its Crimea occupation authorities have attacked Crimean Tatar activists and destroyed or confiscated their passports in order to prevent their travel;

Iran regularly engages in practices designed to intimidate activists from their minority communities, even while they are operating within the United Nations buildings, and have taken out reprisals against the family members of these activists still living within the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The story of Dolkun Isa, President of the World Uyghur Congress and Vice President of the UNPO, is indicative of all of these actions. Mr. Isa and his organization have regularly been denied ECOSOC status at the United Nations, his access to the UN buildings and events have been restricted due to Chinese demands, he and his supporters have been followed and harassed in the UN building, his mother was held in China’s anti-Muslim concentration camps as a result of his work and for many years his ability to travel freely around the world was frustrated by Chinese efforts to involve European and other states in his persecution by falsely labelling him a “terrorist”.

Reacting to the launch of the report, UNPO’s General Secretary, Ralph Bunche, stated that “the report presents the disturbing finding that the United Nations Human Rights system, which is the only outlet for many peoples living under repressive regimes to seek accountability for crimes committed against them, is being systemically undermined by perpetrator regimes. Unfortunately, democratic states are not doing nearly enough to push back against this phenomenon and in some instances are even adopting the conduct that we see from the repressive states. The withdrawal of the USA from the UN’s Human Rights Council has certainly not helped matters, but other states are simply not doing enough to counter this problem and protect human rights defenders.

DOWNLOAD THE FULL REPORT HERE

https://unpo.org/article/21583

The saga of the “anti-NGO” committee in the UN continues

February 9, 2018

This blog has several times paid attention to the rather weird situation that the UN “NGO Committee” (at NY level) has a rather negative attitude towards the very NGOs that it is supposed to assist. See e.g.:

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/06/01/ngo-committee-of-the-un-shows-its-bizarre-bias-against-human-rights-ngos/

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/05/04/ishr-starts-campaign-to-monitor-committee-that-throttles-ngo-access-to-the-un/

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/02/08/un-committee-on-ngos-denies-ngo-the-right-to-speak/

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/06/07/uns-ngo-committee-seems-not-very-fond-of-ngos/

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/05/04/jean-daniel-vigny-hopes-to-improve-ngo-participation-at-the-un/

Now, on 29 January 2018, the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) came out with the video above as well as the following statement:

A group of regional and international human rights NGOs was blocked from making a statement at the UN NGO Committee session today.  Despite a precedent set two years ago for the delivery of a general statement, all requests since have been refused.  Read here the NGOs’ call for leadership and reform:

Today a group of NGOs sought to deliver a general statement  urging the Committee to embrace the principles of transparency, accountability and accessibility in its work to ensure its practice is fair, expeditious and apolitical. The ECOSOC NGO Committee reviews applications for accreditation, providing a gateway for NGOs into the UN.  It has been much criticised – by States, UN officials and NGOs – for practices including repeated questioning of applicants and multiple deferrals of applications for no good reason. The NGOs’ attempt to speak was blocked.

ISHR along with Amnesty International, Civicus, Conectas Diretos Humanos, Human Rights Watch, Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights, International Commission of Jurists and Outright Action International came with two key calls for Committee and observer States, related to participation and membership.

1/  The NGO Committee must provide for remote participation by accredited NGOs:

ECOSOC recently requested the NGO Committee to institute regular meetings with accredited NGOs in regard to the ‘evolving relationship’ between NGOs and the UN. Despite the fact that these have been required since 1996, the meeting scheduled to take place in the next months, will be the first. The NGOs urge that provision be made for remote participation by accredited NGOs unable to travel to New York for the meeting. ‘Clearly, access to UN conversations should not be limited to those who have resources to travel to New York or Geneva or other major UN hubs.  A diversity of voices should be heard,’ they note.  ‘We hope that States will ensure that the principle of accessibility to UN processes will be applied when defining working methods for the upcoming meeting.’

2/  States with good records on key freedoms should stand for membership of Committee:

Safeguarding civil society space at the UN is an essential component in the struggle to protect civil society space globally.  With this in mind, the NGOs call on all States with a commitment to defending the work of civil society to put themselves forward as candidates for the elections to the Committee in April. ‘Action to defend civil society space at the UN starts here at this very Committee’, say the NGOs.

Uruguay invokes ‘right to be heard’ as statement is blocked:

In response to China and Russia’s objections to the presentation of the NGO statement, Uruguay spoke forcefully in favour of hearing from civil society.  Opposition to the NGOs’ ‘right to be heard’ went against the principle of transparency in Committee practice, Uruguay said.  It also represented a step back by a Committee whose very mandate speaks to strengthening links between NGOs and the UN system.

Through their statement, civil society could provide insights that contribute to improving the work of the Committee,’  Uruguay noted. Hearing the statement ‘would allow the Committee to understand civil society’s ideas, experiences and expectations.’ The EU, UK and US also made statements of support.  These were not enough to overcome the opposition.

As we were not permitted to deliver our statement to the Committee today, we shall now request a written version be circulated to all ECOSOC members,‘ said ISHR’s Eleanor Openshaw, reflecting on the morning’s events. ‘We shall also look into ways to ensuring NGOs can make general statements at the Committee in future.

https://www.ishr.ch/news/ngo-committee-ngos-blocked-delivering-statement

NGO Committee of the UN shows its bizarre bias against (human rights) NGOs

June 1, 2016

I have written several times about the worrying trends in the ‘obscure’ “ECOSOC Committee on NGOs”  (https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/ecosoc/) which is supposed to consider applications by NGOs for ECOSOC accreditation and, as such, is a key gateway for NGOs to gain access to the UN. The International Service of Human Rights (ISHR) recently came out with a statement that the “practice of the Committee is wholly unacceptable and must change” (https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2016/05/04/ishr-starts-campaign-to-monitor-committee-that-throttles-ngo-access-to-the-un/). As if it was necessary to illustrate the bias of this UN NGO Committee against NGOs here are two recent cases decided on 26 May 2016: Read the rest of this entry »

ISHR starts campaign to monitor Committee that throttles NGO access to the UN

May 4, 2016

I have written earlier about the worrying trends in the ‘obscure’ “ECOSOC Committee on NGOs”  (https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/ecosoc/) which is supposed to consider applications by NGOs for ECOSOC accreditation and, as such, is a key gateway for NGOs to gain access to the UN.

The International Service of Human Rights (ISHR) – which issued earlier a guide [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/practical-guide-to-the-un-committee-on-ngos/] -has now come out with a statement that the “practice of the Committee is wholly unacceptable and must change”.

 

It has addressed a letter to ECOSOC – the parent body of the Committee – and copied to all Member States, the UN Secretary General, President of the General Assembly, and the President of the Human Rights Council. The letter expresses concern regarding the practice of the Committee. It intends to signal the level of concern NGOs feel about restrictions on civil society participation at the UN. The ISHR hopes that a large number of others will sign.

 

In addition to the letter, on Tuesday 24 May the ISHR encourages all NGOs to join in the public gallery at the upcoming Committee session in New York. Although the sessions are public, few NGOs attend and the sessions are not webcast. It is important that Committee members are aware the sessions are being monitored and reported on.

If you have any questions, please contact the International Service for Human Rights: information@ishr.chISHR-logo-colour-high

 

UN Committee on NGOs denies NGO the right to speak

February 8, 2016

In a post last year I referred already to the fears that the NGO Committee of the UN was becoming very NGO-unfriendly [ https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/06/07/uns-ngo-committee-seems-not-very-fond-of-ngos/]. Now the ISHR has reported on another case where this UN committee has shown its lack of fair play by refusing let a NGO apply without even wanting to hear the NGO in question. On 1 February 2016 the International Service for Human Rights informed us that the NGO Committee had voted to close the application of the Khmers Kampuchea Krom Foundation (KKF) denying the NGO the opportunity to apply for consultative status.  This came on the back of the Committee’s decision on Thursday to deny the NGO the opportunity to even speak in support of its own application. Only 3 Committee members voted against closure of the application  – Greece, Israel and the US- with Uruguay abstaining. All other Committee members voted in favour.  Vietnam – the State that has consistently objected to the application by the KKF – congratulated the Committee on its decision and its ability – as it described it – to distinguish between ‘genuine’ NGOs and others.

‘The NGO Committee is known for denying NGOs access to the UN through the practice of multiple deferrals of applications.  However, the Committee has hit a new low in denying an NGO the opportunity even to apply for access,’ said ISHR’s Eleanor Openshaw.  ‘Furthermore, it allowed accusations to be made against the NGO during its own session, without allowing the NGO to respond. The NGO Committee has allowed an NGO to be stigmatised and then silenced.  ECOSOC must reverse the decision of its Committee on this case at its next session in April.’

 

The request by Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela to close KKF’s new application was challenged by the US who called the move premature, as the NGO’s application had only been considered once by the Committee. It was agreed the NGO Committee would vote on the application on Friday morning. The members of the Committee then voted on the Chair’s proposal to allow the NGO to speak at the regular Q&A held at the end of each day the NGO Committee sits. Greece, Israel, US and Uruguay voted in favour of allowing the organisation the right to speak. Russia abstained. All other members of the Committee – Azerbaijan, Burundi, China, Cuba, Guinea, India, Iran, Mauritania, Nicaragua, Pakistan, South Africa, Sudan, Turkey, Venezuela – all voted against, except Guinea who was absent.

The US noted that it was essential that the KKF be allowed to speak as this had to date been a one-sided discussion based on Vietnam’s original protest against the NGO. The US noted that ‘a serious allegation of misconduct’ was made against the NGO and the Committee was denying the NGO a chance to respond. They characterised the vote as one between freedom of speech and silencing debate. Committee member Greece rightly noted that one thing is to object to an NGO and another is to silence them’.

Not only has the reputation of the organisation been seriously questioned, but a dangerous precedent set where an UN Committee silences an NGO seeking to engage with the UN. This is plainly incompatible with the rights to freedom of expression and association,’ Ms Openshaw said. ISHR’s view in this regard is strongly supported by the UN’s own expert on freedom of association and assembly, Maina Kiai, who in a report in 2014 said that multilateral institutions have a legal obligation to ensure that people ‘can exercise their rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association in multilateral arena’. In that same report, the Special Rapporteur was particularly critical of the conduct of States on the UN’s Committee on NGOs, resulting in the systematic exclusion of NGOs working on human rights issues. ‘States sitting on the Committee should champion the right to freedom of association and the right to freedom of peaceful assembly,’ said Mr Kiai in his report.ISHR-logo-colour-high

see also: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/05/04/jean-daniel-vigny-hopes-to-improve-ngo-participation-at-the-un/

Source: UN Committee on NGOs: Don’t deny NGO the right to speak | ISHR

UN’s NGO Committee seems not very fond of NGOs

June 7, 2015

I referred in an earlier post to the undervalued importance of the UN’s ‘NGO Committee‘ [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/05/04/jean-daniel-vigny-hopes-to-improve-ngo-participation-at-the-un/]. Now there is a new case that would seem to underscore the danger of letting human rights unfriendly Governments (such as China, Pakistan, Azerbaijan, Cuba, Iran, and Russia) decide the fate of NGO status.

The article cited below, by Ahmar Mustikhan in the Epoch Times of 6 June, centers on the case of two African NGOs. In the absence of any detail regarding their alleged ‘misconduct’, I cannot say anything about the substantive side but there are certainly important procedural misgivings (exceptionally speedy, no proper hearing of the NGOs) and this may have a chilling effect on NGOs and human rights defenders who want to engage with the UN.

Jean-Daniel Vigny hopes to improve NGO participation at the UN

May 4, 2015

Getting ‘consultative status’ with the UN is for many NGOs a nightmare and a subject that does not attract the most attention. Hopefully this opinion piece written by Jean-Daniel Vigny, Swiss human rights expert and member of the Board of the International Service for Human Rights (27 April 2015) will help to change this:

ISHR-logo-colour-high

He makes 5 recommendations in relation to the ECOSOC Committee on NGOs (shortened version):

  1. Ministries of Foreign Affairs positively inclined to civil society and the big international NGOs represented in New York should actively participate in each session of the ECOSOC Committee;
  2. The EU and the rest of WEOG and other friendly States of civil society from the East European Group, GRULAC, the African Group and the Asian Group and national and international NGOs should join the campaign for improved membership and modalities of the NGO Committee;
  3. The status quo of quasi permanent membership to the NGO Committee by some States not favourable to civil society should be broken;
  4. (a rather difficult one) ECOSOC could develop an ‘interpretative guide’ for the Committee on the application of ECOSOC resolution 1996/31 (or get agreement on a paragraph calling for all applications for consultative status to be forwarded to ECOSOC for decision within a 3 years limit, thereby short-circuiting the present practice of repeated deferral of many applications);
  5. Share cases of denial or repeated deferral of consultative status as reprisals with the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Association and Assembly and to pursue implementation of his recommendations to strengthen NGO participation at the UN and in other multilateral fora. We could also encourage the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders to study, report and make recommendations as to the reform of the NGO Committee, including in relation to the misapplication of ECOSOC resolution 1996/31.

The full text of the piece entitled “NGO participation at the UN: A roadmap for reform” follows:

Read the rest of this entry »