Statement by Michele J. Sison
Deputy Permanent Representative of the U.S. to the United Nations
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
The United States is pleased to introduce this draft decision, L. 21. This decision was initially cosponsored by a cross-regional group of countries, which included the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Australia, Uruguay, and Switzerland.
I am pleased to announce that since this draft was tabled, Japan and Estonia have joined the list of co-sponsors – and we would welcome the co-sponsorship of other countries as well.
This decision seeks to grant United Nations special consultative status to the non-governmental organization “Freedom Now.”
Freedom Now is a widely-respected NGO that has undertaken important work in defense of prisoners of conscience. It works to free political prisoners who languish behind bars, in many cases, simply for exercising their right to freedom of expression.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, honorary Chairman of Freedom Now, put it well when he said, “Freedom Now not only is entitled to consultative status because it meets the requirements…it deserves such a distinction because it contributes to the mandate of the UN and directly to UN mechanisms as envisioned by Resolution 1996/31.”
Freedom Now’s application was pending for over five years in the UN NGO Committee, where the NGO answered over 60 questions. The United States pushed for action on the application to put an end to the unjust and inexcusable obstruction of Freedom Now’s application. ECOSOC action today is necessary to break this unacceptable cycle.
We hope that members of the Economic and Social Council will support the worthy voices of civil society and ensure that the doors of the United Nations remain open to them by supporting this decision. Our hope is that this decision may be adopted by consensus – however, if a country does call for a vote on it, then we would ask the members of ECOSOC to support Freedom Now’s accreditation by voting “yes” on this resolution.
Statement by Ambassador Sylvie Lucas
Permanent Representative of Luxembourg to the United Nations
I have the honour to intervene on behalf of the European Union.
The Candidate Countries, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia * , Montenegro* and Albania*, the country of the Stabilisation and Association Process and potential candidate Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the EFTA country Liechtenstein, member of the European Economic Area, as well as Ukraine, the Republic of Moldova and Armenia align themselves with this statement.
The Council is about to consider the report of the resumed session of the NGO Committee of this year. At this time, I take the floor on behalf of the European Union for a general statement in order to voice our concerns regarding the functioning of the Committee.
The EU considers the involvement of civil society and non-governmental organizations as an essential part of the work of the United Nations in general, including the Economic and Social Council. We attach great importance to their contribution towards open, strong and democratic societies. We all stand to gain from a variety of views being expressed, and being expressed openly. These views have continued to contribute to more informed decisions being made by us as UN Member States on a broad variety of issues. These considerations were explicitly affirmed by this Council in its resolution 1996/31.
The EU remains committed to the overall aspiration of ECOSOC resolution 1996/31, which is to provide consultative status to organizations whose activities fall within the realm of ECOSOC and its subsidiary bodies, whose aims and purposes are in conformity with the spirit, purposes and principles of the UN and who support the work of the UN and promote knowledge of its principles and activities.
Over the past years, we have seen increasing deviations from the guiding principles laid down in the ECOSOC resolution 1996/31. Let me highlight our main concerns in this regard.
First, the EU regrets that some Members of the Committee continue to use delaying tactics to defer applications, such as asking repetitive questions, including those that go beyond the information the NGOs are required to submit under the 1996/31 ECOSOC resolution. In 2014, the Committee recommended granting consultative status to 383 NGOs, while deferring 345 applications. In 2015, it recommended consultative status to only 284 NGOs and deferred 376 applications – 176 applications at its regular and 200 at its resumed session. This practice can leave NGOs in a state of limbo for several years at a time.
With regard to many NGOs, the Committee has simply balked at taking a decision during several consecutive sessions, leaving those organizations in the void of some sort of permanent deferral. On any given application, the Committee should live up to its responsibility to take a decision within a reasonable time.
Opposition to granting consultative status for organizations is often based solely on the fact that they are critical of some members’ human rights records or simply because of the views expressed by these organizations are different to those of Governments, or their views on human rights issues, such as the human rights of women and girls. As States, we will never agree with all the views expressed by all organisations. However, that does not mean that we should exclude them from the opportunity of expressing their views at the UN in accordance with the criteria of resolution 1996/31.
In this regard, we would like to draw attention to the organisation, Freedom Now, whose application has by now been pending for over five years with almost 60 questions posed and responded to by the organisation. Its application was reviewed again in 2015, with the Committee members given ample opportunity to pose further questions. We strongly believe that organisations which have an established record of work in pursuing the goals of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in conformity with the UN Charter and meet the criteria of resolution 1996/31, should not be subject to procedural measures that subject them to permanent deferral.
We would also point out an additional strong concern: that the withdrawal of consultative status may be used as a form of reprisal for the activities of NGOs. We underline that ECOSOC has set down clear criteria in resolution 1996/31, particularly in its paragraphs 56 and 57, for any decisions on withdrawal of status that the Committee needs to follow. Paragraph 57 of the ECOSOC resolution clearly delineates the cases where the status may be suspended or withdrawn – it is intended to allow this in case the organisations in questions are engaged in a pattern of acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the Charter. If these provisions, set by the parent body of the NGO Committee, are not followed, the decisions of the Committee become arbitrary and unfounded on the criteria set out by this Council. Furthermore, these cases should be subject to a free, fair and transparent discussion that allows for a full assessment of any case by all Committee members. The withdrawal of consultative status is the most serious course of action foreseen in 1996/31 and it can by no means be thoroughly assessed within the limited time of a single session of the Committee. We disagree on principle with attempts to use the Committee procedures to undermine its very purpose.
In view of the above, the EU would like to recall that the core mandate of the committee is to determine whether an organization’s activities fall within the competence of ECOSOC and whether the aims and purposes of the organization are in conformity with the spirit, purposes and principles of the U.N. Charter; nothing more, nothing less.
In the view of the European Union, these and other cases reflect a negative trend in the functioning of the NGO Committee, giving again cause for concern that the guiding principles for granting ECOSOC consultative status are gradually being undermined. 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. The EU values this, at times challenging, contribution and would therefore respectfully urge States on the NGO Committee to work together to defend and uphold the guiding principles agreed by us, the Member States, in resolution 1996/31.
Statement by Ambassador Ferit Hoxha
Permanent Representative of Luxembourg to the United Nations
We align with the statement made by the European Union, so let me just add a few remarks in my national capacity.
The Constitution of Albania during the communist regime – the regime that was put to an end 25 years ago – stated very clearly that citizens enjoyed freedom of speech and press. However, it also provided that these rights could not be exercised in opposition to the Communist system. In practice, the Government imposed draconian restrictions of the kind that make the very use of the word freedom totally out of context.
Propaganda against the State was among the 34 crime figures listed in the Criminal Code for which the death sentence could be pronounced. And to make sure no one was left behind, the Criminal Code also provided for administratively imposed internment, without trial, for up to 5 years on persons whom the authorities considered a threat to the social system and on the families of those leaving the country.
The sad result of all this was the tens of thousands of lives destroyed, thousands of political opponents imprisoned, executed and many other tens of thousands of families interned in labor camps within the country.
I needed to recall these past dark times of my country to make sure we all understand what is at stake today here.
We regret to have to discuss here the accreditation of Freedom Now, an organization that clearly meets the criteria for consultative status as outlined in ECOSOC resolution 1996/31 and the UN Charter. The organization patiently waited more than five years and during that time actively sought the engagement of members of the NGO Committee.
We believe the decision we are about to take today lies at the heart of the UN’s human rights functions: namely the obligation of the UN system and Member States to support those who contribute to its work, often – as it is the case with Freedom Now – at great personal risk.
As a country that has paid a very high price to freedom, we stand fully in support of this organization and its efforts to improve respect for human rights and in the service of political prisoners.
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. It is our duty to make sure that NGOs with an established record are entitled the right to express their views at the UN in accordance with established rules. We consider it a concrete contribution to the fulfillment of the goals and purposes of the organization, to the protection and promotion of human rights.
We firmly believe that by voting in favor of the resolution before us we will contribute to the fulfillment of the purposes of the organization, to the protection and promotion of human rights.
This delegation will therefore vote in Favor of the draft resolution to overturn the recommendation of the NGO Committee and we invite all Member States to do so.
I thank you Mr. President.
Statement by Ambassador Samantha Power
Permanent Representative of the U.S. to the United Nations
I applaud today’s decision by the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) to grant consultative status to Freedom Now, providing Freedom Now its rightful position as an accredited United Nations non-governmental organization (NGO).
For dozens of prisoners of conscience around the world, Freedom Now’s dedicated lawyers provide a glimmer of hope when the regimes that imprison their clients try to strip that hope away. Freedom Now fills a vital need internationally, giving political prisoners a fighting chance when the odds against them are stacked as high as the walls that imprison them.
Freedom Now is anathema to certain member states because its lawyers work to try to free those unjustly imprisoned on the basis of their political, religious or other beliefs. The organization had been waiting more than five years to secure accreditation from the NGO Committee, which is why the United States finally pushed for a vote to put an end to the inexcusable attempt to deny Freedom Now’s official NGO status.
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.
Freedom Now’s work in providing legal assistance to prisoners of conscience around the world not only meets the UN standards for accreditation, but its work exemplifies those standards. We hope and expect that Freedom Now’s long overdue accreditation to the United Nations will increase its ability to free those unjustly detained or imprisoned around the world.