More than 230 NGOs have called on members of the UN’s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) to reform the practice of the Committee on NGOs that prevents certain human rights organisations – including IDSN – from associating freely with the UN.
In an unprecedented move, NGOs from around the world have joined forces to defend freedom of association at the United Nations. In a letter to ECOSOC member states, they have expressed concern about the long-term practice of some States to block UN accreditation for NGOs.
This practice has turned the ECOSOC Committee on NGOs from a largely administrative body into a stumbling block for NGO access to the UN. One of the most extreme examples of obstruction is IDSN’s application for consultative status with ECOSOC. It has been effectively blocked for the past eight years by India, which has asked more than 70 questions in order to delay the process.
In a press statement by the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), the Executive Director of IDSN, Rikke Nöhrlind, spoke of the experience and noted the huge importance to NGOs of being granted access to participate in UN discussions.
“For eight years, we have been barred from freely associating with the UN. With ECOSOC status, we can present statements, get accreditation for our group, for example to the Human Rights Council, and organise side-events at UN fora. Without it, opportunities to discuss the impact of and solutions to the horrific human rights and development challenges brought about by caste discrimination will be lost,” she said.
The joint letter was timed to coincide with the second 2016 session of the ECOSOC Committee on NGOs in New York, which will run until 2 June. Eleanor Openshaw of ISHR called the letter “a powerful statement of concern by NGOs from around the world about restrictions to their participation in the UN and in solidarity with those whose participation is being restricted.”
On 24 May, Eleanor Openshaw was allowed to deliver a statement about the joint NGO letter, highlighting widespread NGO concerns regarding the practices of the Committee on NGOs. The meeting room was filled with NGO representatives keen to demonstrate their concerns, and Observer States were also in greater attendance than is usually the case.
Concluding her statement, Eleanor Openshaw noted that “unfortunately, in too many instances the Committee is reflective of the growing restrictions on civil society at the very time restrictions at the national level make access to the UN all the more crucial.”
“We request that the Committee redouble its efforts to promote a safe, transparent and enabling environment for civil society at the UN. By fostering such an environment, the UN can take full advantage of the particular expertise and insights provided by NGOs and enhance the legitimacy and credibility of its own work,” she said.
Open Letter to ECOSOC regarding the Committee on NGOs
Unprecedented call in defence of freedom of association at the UN (ISHR news release)
ISHR statement to ECOSOC Committee on NGOs – 24 May 2016