ECOSOC Debates Consultative Status for NGOs

Last week the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) debated a key concern of its subsidiary NGO Committee’s work to review and recommend NGO applications for ECOSOC consultative status. According to the UN Department of Public Information, Cyprus speaking on behalf of the European Union highlighted concerns that:

 over the past few years, the Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations continued to use delaying tactics to defer applications, such as by asking repetitive questions that went beyond the information the organizations were required to submit under the relevant Economic and Social Council guidelines.  In May of this year, the Committee deferred a total of 130 requests for consultative status.  That practice left organizations in a “state of limbo” for years at a time.  On any given application, the Committee should live up to its responsibility to take a decision within a reasonable time.

With regard to groups dealing with human rights, the Committee had simply balked at taking a decision during several consecutive sessions, leaving those organizations “in a void of some sort of permanent deferral”, often only because they were critical of some Committee members’ human rights records or simply held views which were different to those of Governments, she said.  Of particular concern was the resistance of some Member States of the committee to grant status to organizations which promoted and defended the rights of persons based on their sexual orientation.

Another serious concern was the refusal of some Committee members to take note of the quadrennial reports of various human rights organizations which already had status with the Council.  It was clear that the systematic deferral of those activity reports was used as a “form of reprisal” against human rights defenders, she said, emphasizing that the European Union regretted such unfair treatment.

These concerns of states penalizing applications by vocal human rights organizations have persisted for several years but ECOSOC remains unresolved on possible solutions to address the applications left in perpetual limbo.

A further controversy at ECOSOC was the majority decision to reject the NGO Committee’s recommendation for granting consultative status to an organization based in the USA but dealing with issues in Viet Nam

Taking the floor before action, the representative of Viet Nam, the draft’s main sponsor, said the Khmers Kampuchea-Krom Federation promoted the separation of Viet Nam’s territory.  Its aims violated the United Nations Charter, including the principle of territorial integrity, and Council resolution 1996/31 (1996).  The foreign-based group did not represent the ethnic Khmer people in Viet Nam.  Rather, it used the Khmer people to further its illegitimate political agenda.  It had slandered Viet Nam’s policies and the political, economic, social and cultural life of ethnic people in the country.

This position was supported by Cuba, Indonesia, the Phillipines, Loas, Nicaragua, Russia, and Venezuela, among others. Opposition to the decision was lead by the United States and Ireland speaking on behalf of the European Union.

Speaking in explanation of position before action, the United States’ representative said her delegation was deeply dismayed that a draft decision had been tabled to overturn a consensus decision made by the NGO Committee. The United States had called for a recorded vote and would vote “no” on the text, as civil society actors should have the right to freedom of expression and to share their views.  She urged the Council to uphold the Committee’s decision to grant consultative status to the Khmers Kampuchea-Krom Federation, a peaceful advocacy organization based in the United States.  It did nothing other than help marginalized Khmers people in Viet Nam and raise awareness of their situation.

She said the organization had participated in United Nations bodies for more than a decade and its principles were in line with the Charter.  All concerned States had had access to the Committee, and Committee members had had ample time to review the application.  All countries, including non-members, had been given a full opportunity to raise their concerns — and none had.  The Committee had decided that group had met the criteria of Council resolution 1996/31 (1996).  If those concerned had focused on assessing the merits of allegations raised by group, the Council would be discussing a referral back to the Committee, not a reversal of its decision.  The role of civil society was to express independent views.  If the Council opposed accreditation, it risked denying the whole reason the United Nations valued civil society in the first place.  She urged the Council to uphold the Committee’s decision to grant consultative status to the Khmers Kampuchea-Krom Federation.

Ultimately ECOSOC decided against granting consultative status by a split vote with 27 in favor to 14 against, with 10 abstentions. Among the abstentions were Japan and Mexico who stated after the vote their preference that the application should have been referred back to the NGO Committee for further information, consultation and discussion.

ECOSOC proceeded to then endorse the NGO Committee’s recommendations that granted consultative status to a total of 241 new organizations, while closing without prejudice the applications of 45 organizations that had not responded to multiple queries by the NGO Committee.

ECOSOC also took note of 363 quadrennial reports by non-governmental organizations with consultative status; suspended consultative status for 202 organizations with outstanding quadrennial reports; and withdrew the consultative status of 78 organizations.

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