June 1, 2015
Contact: Patrick Griffith
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+1 202-423-7925

NEW YORK – On May 29, 2015, the UN Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) officially rejected Freedom Now’s application for NGO consultative status. Of the 19 members, 11 states voted against Freedom Now, including Azerbaijan, Burundi, China, Cuba, Iran, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Russia, South Africa, Sudan, and Venezuela. Four countries voted in favor: Greece, Israel, United States, and Uruguay. India abstained and the following three countries were absent during voting: Guinea, Mauritania, and Turkey.

“The outcome of the vote is extremely disappointing,” said Freedom Now Executive Director Maran Turner. “There are member states on the NGO Committee that seem intent on interfering with the work of NGOs, including both those working within the borders of their states but also internationally, such as Freedom Now. It is a very worrying trend indeed when the United Nations is used as a mechanism by member states to harass civil society and international organizations seeking to address human rights violations.”

NGOs are an essential community on which the UN relies for reliable information about the health and order of member states. NGOs have provided formal consultations to UN bodies since 1946, as set out in Article 71 of the UN Charter. Consultative status enables NGOs to access UN bodies, such as the Human Rights Council. Currently, more than 4,000 NGOs have consultative status.

The Committee on NGOs reviews applications made by NGOs – including domestic and international organizations – for consultative status and issues recommendations to the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). In recent years, the membership of the Committee has included many countries whose human rights records are poor and their authorities’ response to domestic civil society activists especially harsh. To block certain NGOs from obtaining status and going on to consideration by ECOSOC, Committee members are known to use obscure procedural rules and to ask endless and often repetitive questions of some NGOs, all with the ostensible aim of seeking consensus with all member states. Instead, organizations, such as Freedom Now, end up deferred for years. The Committee deferred recommendations on 176 applications at its last session in January 2015. Some applications have been deferred for more than seven years.

Freedom Now is a U.S.-based non-profit, non-governmental, and non-partisan organization that works to free individual prisoners of conscience through focused legal, political, and public relations advocacy efforts. The organization applied for consultative status with the UN in May 2009. It has attended three Committee sessions and answered over 60 questions, both written and orally, from Committee members over a five-year period.

In July, ECOSOC will vote to approve or overturn the Committee’s decision on Freedom Now.