Elect to stand up for civil society

To achieve its promise of a peaceful and fair world, the UN needs to bring diverse and expert voices to the table. Yet, all too often human rights organisations are being denied entry to UN debates. In five months time there's the chance to change the gatekeepers. Elections to the UN Committee on NGOs provide that opportunity. Get involved!

Imagine the world where the voices of those with clear demands, expertise and human rights solutions came together to fulfil the promise of the UN Charter. In that world States would welcome the essential contribution of NGOs and respect their rights to participate in UN processes. We are currently far off that dream. The door to civil society is frequently closed. The UN misses out on key civil society expertise but we can change that. Upcoming elections to the Committee on NGOs offer that opportunity! 

NGOs that seek to participate fully at the UN – making statements and organising events to highlight injustice and provide recommendations – have to get accredited.  The Committee on NGOs manages the process – as  the gateway for NGOs into the United Nations. If you’re a State with a mind to block NGOs, membership of the Committee is perfect. This is where you can sit and control who comes in. By asking questions of NGO applicants, members of the Committee can push their accreditation for many years. 

Currently there are 70 organisations that have faced over four years of deferrals.  Two human rights organisations have been deferred for over ten years.  Some  NGOs  have also been accused by Committee members of having terrorist sympathies: baseless accusations against which the NGOs have been denied appeal.  

In five short months there’s  a chance to change things.

Elections to the Committee on NGOs will be held in April 2022. The 54 members of the UN’s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) vote to fill the 19 seats on the Committee across all regional groups. 

The UN is not an island. It is supposed to be representative of 'we the peoples'.
Brett Solomon, Access Now


What do we need? 

We need the UN to open the door to NGOs, to a diversity of alternative, independent and expert voices. We need a Committee on NGOs that actively supports civil society participation at the UN. For that to happen, we call on States to elect to stand up for civil society.

With the elections to the Committee on NGOs just 5 months away, we need:

  • States with a positive record on promoting civil society to stand as candidates.
  • Elections to be competitive! 
  • States to vote with integrity!


How do we achieve this? 

Over the next months, we’ll be working with partners globally to remind States of the indispensable role of civil society. We’ll be profiling cases of NGOs that have faced prolonged deferrals to their applications by the Committee to show the UN what it is missing. We’ll be reaching out to States at national level and internationally to encourage them to get active in ensuring the door to the UN is open to NGOs.


What can you do? 

In these trying times, [civil society] passion, pressure and policy advice are needed more than ever.
Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary General

If you are an NGO representative, sign on to this letter.  We will be collecting signatures until 10th January 2022.  Encourage your colleagues and partners to sign up too! 

Sign the letter

You have time to take an additional step?! You can engage with States on all the campaign objectives!

  • On competitive elections and voting with integrity: See here for a model email for sending to those who get to vote, ECOSOC members.  Check here whether your State is going to vote. 
  • On candidates: Does your state have a positive record on promoting civil society but isn’t running? See here for a model email to encourage them. 

We’re aware that in attempting to engage with UN processes civil society members can face reprisals. If you are concerned about intimidation and reprisals for cooperating with the UN please check our Handbook on Reprisals for human rights defenders. 

Play video Elections to the UN NGOs Committee: why membership matters!

Elections to the UN NGOs Committee: why membership matters!

Check out our video that summarises why the elections of the Committee on NGOs is crucial to open the door to civil society.

  • 19

    seats to fill on the Committee. The 54 members of the UN’s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) will have to elect them.

  • 70

    organisations have faced over four years of deferrals.  Two human rights organisations have been deferred for over ten years.

  • 5

    months for the elections to the Committee on NGOs. This is an opportunity to open the door to NGOs.

All you need to know about the Committee on NGOs

These are the States we understand are running so far:

  • African States: no information available so far.
  • Asia-Pacific States:  6 candidates (UAE, Sri Lanka, India, China, Pakistan, Bahrain)  for 4 seats.
  • Eastern European States: 3 candidates (Georgia, Armenia and Russia) for 2 seats.
  • Latin-American and Caribbean States: 4 candidates (Chile, Costa Rica, Cuba and Nicaragua) for 4 seats:
  • Western European and other States: 4 candidates (US, Turkey, Israel, UK) for 4 seats.

Amongst these candidates are States that that are unqualified to be members of a UN committee handling accreditation for NGOs. See the Civicus Monitor for an evaluation of their records on promoting civic space. 

In addition, several have been members of the Committee for many terms. There is no term-limit. Russia has been a member without a break since the Committee was established in 1947. China, Sudan, India and Cuba, for example, have had a seat on the committee for more than 20 years.

Competition is key to make elections matter but so far only two groups of States – Asia-Pacific and Eastern European States – are running competitive slates.

The Committee on NGOs oversees the implementation of ECOSOC resolution 1996/31, which is the legal framework governing civil society participation in the work of the UN. The Committee is tasked with considering the applications of NGOs for consultative status with the UN, and makes recommendations to the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), which can accept or overturn a decision.

Consultative status provides NGOs with access to a range of fora at the UN, including the Human Rights Council, ECOSOC and its subsidiary bodies, UN conferences, and events organised by the President of the General Assembly.

Here’s a video on how the Committee on NGOs works.

ISHR works to facilitate the accreditation of human rights NGOs, in particular those dealing with sexual orientation and gender identity, women’s rights, reproductive rights, minority issues, and freedom of expression and association.

ISHR runs campaigns advocating for improvement in the functioning and membership of the Committee and for the accountability of its members to the principles of the UN Charter and ECOSOC Resolution 1996/31. We also provide strategic advice and support to NGOs seeking accreditation by the Committee on NGOs, and to NGOs subject to disciplinary sanctions by the Committee.

Additional Resources

Check out our selection of reports and news on the UN Committee for NGOs.

NGO Forum | Implementation of the African Commission’s decision on the rights of the Endorois indigenous people of Kenya

To date, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights’ (the African Commission) recommendations to the Kenyan Government on reparations for the eviction of Endorois indigenous people from their ancestral lands in the 1970s remain largely unimplemented. On 13 April 2021, the NGO Forum met to discuss the status of the implementation of the African Commission’s 2010 decision 276/2003 on the rights of the Endorois people.

NGO Committee | States must facilitate not impede access for NGOs

The ECOSOC Committee on NGOs has just completed its first 2021 session after two postponed sessions due to Covid-19 restrictions. Failing to move with the times, the Committee did not allow for virtual participation of NGOs in Q&As, something States called out and which must be addressed at the next session in August.

Chinese Human Rights Monitor 2021 l May Edition

The International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) publishes yearly Chinese Human Rights Monitors (CHRM), aiming to support Chinese human rights defenders and civil society working on human rights in China in acceding to the UN human rights mechanisms.

Hong Kong | UN committee raises questions about National Security Law, police violence, and free speech

After reviewing reports from the Hong Kong government and wide range of Hong Kong and international civil society groups last month, UN experts tasked with monitoring human rights implementation compiled a list of hard questions. These pinpoint the need for clear answers on how Hong Kong and Beijing will act to protect and respect fundamental freedoms in the territory.

For any media request or any other enquiry, please contact: 

Maithili Pai, [email protected] (+1 617-909-5327), ISHR NY Office 

Eleanor Openshaw, [email protected] (+44 07405185951), London. 


Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown

Stay in the loop

Join our email list to keep updated on what's happening at the UN Committee for NGOs.