A Victory for Civil Society at the UN


On July 20, the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) voted to grant Freedom Now special consultative NGO status. The vote was the culmination of a six year application process unnecessarily prolonged by petty politics. This status is important not merely as acknowledgement of Freedom Now’s important work, but also for the platform it provides our imprisoned clients and their families to address the UN Human Rights Council, ECOSOC, and the General Assembly.

Of the 54 ECOSOC members present, 29 countries voted in favor of a resolution sponsored by Albania, Australia, Estonia, France, Germany, Japan, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Uruguay. “Members of ECOSOC are mandated to ensure that NGOs accredited to the UN are dedicated to the promotion and protection of human rights in accordance with the UN Charter. I applaud the diverse, cross-regional group of ECOSOC member states that stood up for the vital voices of civil society today,” said U.S. Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador Samantha Power in a statement.

We wish to thank the members of ECOSOC – and especially the United States and co-sponsoring states – for granting Freedom Now special consultative status and recognizing the value of our work and contribution to the spirit and mission of the UN. Ambassador Ferit Xoxha, Albania’s Permanent Representative to the UN, read a statement shortly before the vote in which he said, “If what we say in our statements, the resolutions we adopt and other reports regarding respect, protection and promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms have any real meaning, than we should accept without any hesitation that Freedom Now be entitled to UN special consultative status.”

The vote by ECOSOC overturned the recommendation made by the UN Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations to reject Freedom Now’s application. Members of the NGO Committee blocked our application for more than five years by using procedural rules and deferring tactics, such as repetitive questioning. Governments opposing Freedom Now notably included China, Russia, Cuba, Venezuela, Iran, Sudan, Pakistan, and South Africa. After Freedom Now answered more than 60 questions and sought in good faith to engage with the Committee over the course of five years, the United States called for a vote at the most recent session, ending a stalemate.

On behalf of the European Union, Luxembourg’s Permanent Representative Ambassador Sylvie Lucas addressed ECOSOC members about the troubling ways in which the NGO Committee has deviated from its guiding principles. She chastised members that politicized the accreditation process, saying “The arrangements for consultations with NGOs were not designed to forward the interests of States; on the contrary, they were designed to allow civil society actors to support and enrich the work of the UN by providing a perspective which often differs from that of States.”

We intend to use this status to improve attention and global efforts to address human rights violations and arbitrary detention. Following this experience, we would like to bring forth greater discussion about reforming the NGO accreditation process and making the UN a more welcoming place for civil society.

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