[06 February 2015] - Recent efforts by ISHR to stop a measure that sought to censor reporting of a UN Committee that accredits non-governmental organisations have been successful. Several days after proposing a motion to withhold the names of countries that criticise or ask repetitive questions of NGOs in the coverage of meetings on the UN Committee that accredits NGOs, China announced that it would withdraw its proposal. This welcome result followed public advocacy by ISHR and supportive States, and resulted in wide press coverage of the issue, including a NY Times article.
UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric confirmed that the UN coverage of the Committee on NGOs would continue to report on the stance of countries. 'The UN will continue its standard practice in terms of how press releases are written for committee works, which summarises the position of different countries.'
China backtracked on its motion after ISHR and the United States expressed concerns, including on social media, that de-identifying the names of the States asking questions would obstruct transparency and openness at the UN and impede informed NGO engagement and input to the Committee. ISHR’s open letter to Committee members also highlighted the need for compliance by the Committee with its obligations in relation to the right to freedom of expression and association under ECOSOC resolution E/1996/31.
"ISHR appreciates that China heeded our calls to maintain transparency and accountability in the Committee," said ISHR’s Michelle Evans. "The reporting on the Committee is crucial to help to ensure that States cannot hide behind anonymity in asking irrelevant or repetitive questions which have the purpose or effect of denying or deferring NGO accreditation."
[30 January 2015] - The Committee on Non-Governmental Organisations, which is responsible for assessing NGO applications for accreditation and access to the United Nations, must resist moves by some Member States of the Committee to censor reporting of the Committee's work, the International Service for Human Rights said in an open letter today.
For over twenty years, the UN Department of Public Information has reported publicly on the work of the Committee on NGOs, including by identifying which States asked particular questions or made particular comments about NGO applicants for consultative status. Such reportage is crucial to transparency and acountability in the Committee's work and helps to ensure that States cannot hide behind anonymity in asking irrelevant or repetitive questions which have the purpose or effect of denying or deferring NGO accreditation.
ISHR is deeply concerned, therefore, by moves by some Member States of the Committee to censor UN DPI reporting of the Committee so as not to identify which State asked a particular question, made a particular comment or raised a particular objection.
'Access to accurate and relevant information about the work of the Committee is essential to promote transparency and accountability in the Committee's work and to facilitate informed NGO engagement and input to the Committee,' said Eleanor Openshaw of the International Service for Human Rights.
In a recent report to the UN General Assembly, the Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Association and Assembly, Maina Kiai, called on Member States of the Committee on NGOs to desist from 'blocking accreditation applications with perpetual questioning and unilaterally vetoing applications'.
'Access to information about the work of the Committee, including as to which country asked which question, is a basic principle of good governance. It is also necessary to ensure that the Committee complies with its obligations in relation to the right to freedom of expression and association and under ECOSOC resolution E/1996/31, which calls on the Secretary-General to ensure "wide and timely dissemination of information on meetings" and "distribution of documentation" in order to facilitate the broad-based participation of civil society,' said ISHR's Michelle Evans.