Friday, August 21, 2009

Watching the Watchdog

By Jessica Brown
in Geneva

During a meeting of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Committee on NGOs* in May 2009, four NGOs were controversially denied consultative status to ECOSOC, including the Arab Commission for Human Rights, the Democracy Coalition Project, the Dynamic Christian World Mission Foundation and ABGLT, a Brazilian organization working for lesbian/ gay/ bi-sexual and trans-gender rights.

On Monday July 27th during ECOSOC’s Substantive Session at the UN in Geneva, ECOSOC members voted to uphold or deny the draft decisions made by the Committee on NGOs.

There were various allegations as to why these four NGOs were denied UN consultative status. Pulling from statements made by various delegations in the opening of the segment, the Arab Commission for Human Rights was allegedly denied admission because of supposed connections to terrorism. Both the Democracy Coalition Project and the Dynamic Christian World Mission Foundation are US-based non-profit organizations with operations in China. Due to failure to concede to requests by the Chinese governments to provide lists of names and addresses of Chinese citizens working for these organizations in China, these two organizations have been denied consultative status. Finally, the Brazillian NGO, Associação Brasileira de Gays, Lésbicas e Transgêneros or AGBLT, was denied consultative status due to their focus on homo-sexual rights which is deemed irrelevant by some delegations.

The implications of this battle are a cause for major concern. The role of Non Governmental Organizations in ECOSOC and beyond is to serve as a watchdog—an independent, outspoken accountability mechanism to ensure that country delegations are conducting their work ethically, effectively, and in accordance with international law. When this role is challenged, when these voices are silenced for political reasons, for differences in ideology or in response to criticism through overt or subversive mechanisms, it seriously impedes the functioning of ECOSOC as a whole. As the delegate from Chile eloquently said: “in order to benefit from the contributions and experience offered by non-governmental organizations (NGOs), their independence and their constructive criticism must be respected.”

Those country delegations who favored the decision of the NGO Committee, cited a desire to not undermine the role of the Committee and of ECOSOC as a whole. In the end, both the Democracy Coalition Project and AGBLT were granted special consultative status at ECOSOC, which limits their ability to set forth agenda items for consideration during ECOSOC’s sessions. The Arab Commission for Human Rights was denied its consultative status for a year, and the application of the Dynamic Christian World Mission Foundation was closed. But the implications surrounding this debate, and the politicization of the granting of consultative status within ECOSOC and the UN, is ominous for the role of NGOs in the future.

* Angola, Burundi, China, Columbia, Cuba, Dominica, Egypt, Guinea, India, Israel, Pakistan, Peru, Qatar, Romania, Russian Federation, Sudan, Turkey, U.K. and USA are members of the Committee of NGOs.

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