25 July 2016, New York – Statement on behalf of the European Union and its Member States delivered by H.E. Mr. Martin Shearman, Ambassador and Head of Development and Human Rights, United Kingdom Mission to the United Nations, at the ECOSOC Coordination and Management Meeting on Item 17: Non-governmental organisations
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I have the honour to intervene on behalf of the European Union and its Member States. The Candidate Countries the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia*, Montenegro*, Serbia* and Albania*, the country of the Stabilisation and Association Process and potential candidate Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the EFTA countries Liechtenstein and Norway, members of the European Economic Area, as well as Armenia, and Georgia, align themselves with this statement.
The Council is about to consider the report of the resumed session of the NGO Committee. I take the floor to make a general statement in order to voice our concerns regarding some recent developments in the work of the NGO Committee.
It is important, at the outset, to highlight the importance of the NGO Committee as the only specialised body of the UN tasked with enabling the participation of civil society in the work of the UN as mandated by Article 71 of the UN Charter, and to acknowledge the demanding nature of NGO Committee membership and the increasing workload that is placed on members of the Committee. In discharging its duties, the NGO Committee is, however, aided by the clear criteria set down in ECOSOC resolution 1996/31 – the need to determine whether the organisation’s work falls 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.
The NGO Committee has a pivotal role to play in ensuring that the United Nations benefits to the maximum extent from the expert opinions and advice of civil society foreseen by resolution 1996/31. To do so it is vital that the NGO Committee completes its deliberations in a fair and transparent manner, in line with the letter and spirit of the 1996 resolution. NGOs should not be perceived as a threat to the proper functioning of the United Nations or as a vehicle for subverting the will of UN member states, but rather as an essential element of support to the effective and healthy functioning of the UN system. That role dates back to 1946 and is enshrined in Article 71 of the UN Charter.
Unfortunately, the outcome of the last session of the NGO Committee is not commensurate with the provisions governing NGO consultative status or wider considerations about ensuring that the voice of civil society is heard on all issues of concern to the international community -including those that pertain directly to the promotion and protection of human rights. The statistics from the last session indicate that applications from NGOs engaged on human rights are significantly more likely to be deferred than other applications. Moreover, 60% of new applications from NGOs working on women’s human rights and over 40% of applicants concerned with the human rights of persons with disabilities were deferred. The case of Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights (YCSSR), whose repeat application was rejected alongside 6 other NGOs dealing with similar issues, now falls to ECOSOC for consideration. This is a dismal state of affairs which is rightly met with some incredulity in the wider world.
In addition to YCSSR, there is a further particular decision on application for consultative status that has attracted widespread concern and comment. The voted decision by the Committee to reject a recommendation for consultative status for the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) drew strong criticism, with the UN Secretary General expressing his “deep disappointment”. This at a time when journalists are facing unprecedented levels of violence and threats – the fact that 73 journalists were killed in 2015 should alone serve to concentrate minds on the desirability of letting the CPJ’s voice be heard in the UN context.
Since the NGO Committee was not able to deliver in full on its responsibilities during its last session, it falls now to ECOSOC to send a clear message that these two particular NGOs should indeed be given a voice at the UN through the attribution of consultative status.
More generally, repeated deferrals of respected NGOs by the Committee raises particular concerns. It can be perfectly proper for a member or members of the Committee to determine that further information is required from an applicant before a recommendation on consultative status can be made. Where that NGO proceeds to answer such questions with diligence – and is then simply faced with a further volley of sometimes repetitive questions – it can only be presumed that untoward considerations are in play.
At a time when civil society space faces mounting – and deeply worrying – constraints, the international community looks to the UN to take a lead in defending NGOs and the many roles that such organisations discharge, including provision of essential services and the holding of governments and international and regional organisations to account. The NGO Committee and its individual members must fulfil their responsibilities in this regard. Greater transparency – including webcasting of proceedings – would be one important step towards ensuring greater credibility for the NGO Committee’s deliberations.
The EU and its Member States stand ready to support all efforts to ensure that the NGO Committee’s decisions are viewed with confidence and respect and that the voice of civil society on all issues of relevance to the UN’s work can properly be heard.
* The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Albania continue to be part of the Stabilisation and Association Process.
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