On 14 September 2022, the UN Secretary-General released his annual report on reprisals and intimidation against individuals and groups seeking to cooperate with the UN on human rights. Once again, the report identifies a high number of threats and attacks aimed at retaliating against defenders and discouraging cooperation with the UN.
Members of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) voted today to elect 19 members for the next 4 year term (2022-2025) of the ECOSOC Committee on NGOs. The 19 members of the Committee, elected from five regional groups, are the gatekeepers for civil society at the UN as they decide which NGOs receive UN accreditation participation rights.
In today’s election, the Eastern European States was the only regional group which presented a competitive slate, as three candidates, Armenia, Georgia and Russia, contested for the two available seats. Armenia, Georgia and Russia received 47, 44 and 15 votes respectively. As a result, Russia, a member of the Committee since its establishment in 1947, has been voted out. This result comes one week after a historic resolution of the UN General Assembly to suspend Russia’s Human Rights Council membership.
As the other regional groups did not put up competitive slates, members were elected without a vote. These additional 17 countries are now members of the NGO Committee:
African States: Algeria, Cameroon, Eritrea, Liberia and Mozambique.
Asia-Pacific States: Bahrain, China, India and Pakistan.
Latin-American and Caribbean States: Chile, Costa Rica, Cuba and Nicaragua
Western European and other States: Israel, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States
Despite Russia’s departure, the incoming NGO Committee still includes members with deeply problematic records on safeguarding human rights and civil society participation. According to the CIVICUS Monitor, 60% of the incoming members are currently characterised as being ‘closed’ or ‘repressed’ civic spaces. This includes all members for the Asia-Pacific region. Civic space is ‘obstructed’ or ‘narrowed’ within the remaining 40%.
“Members of the NGO Committee are the primary decision makers on which NGOs can access UN bodies and processes,” said Maithili Pai, Programme Officer and ISHR focal point for civil society access and participation. “States must fulfil their fundamental mandate under ECOSOC Resolution 1996/31 by acknowledging the breadth of NGO expertise and their capacity to support the work of the UN, and ensuring just, balanced, effective and genuine involvement of NGOs around the world.” she added.
ISHR is aware of 352 currently deferred organisations seeking UN accreditation, at least 40 which have faced over four years of deferrals, and one that has been deferred for 14 years. In response, ISHR sought to campaign for states to engage in competitive and meaningful elections that could produce positive outcomes for civil society. We urge incoming members of the Committee to open the doors of the UN to civil society groups from around the world.
Eleven States vying for seats at the UN Human Rights Council for 2023-2025 joined ISHR and Amnesty International’s annual pledging event, outlining their commitments to advancing the human rights agenda and fielding questions from civil society.
This week ECOSOC members could break years of deadlock for civil society participation at the UN through a vote that would give consultative status to six civil society groups.