It’s hard out there for an NGO

Is it getting harder for well-meaning NGOs to gain accreditation at the United Nations? The recent rejection of the Washington D.C. based NGO that monitors human rights issues at the United Nations suggests that this may be so.

Gaining NGO accreditation to the United Nations is a long process in which organizations must prove that their work compliments the aims of the United Nations and is in the spirit of the UN Charter. The decision to grant an NGO accreditation is ultimately that of the United Nations Economic and Social Council, ECOSOC, which is composed of 54 member states. ECOSOC in turn, delegates the vetting of NGO applications to the 19 member states that form the NGO Accreditation Committee.

It is in front of the NGOs Committee that well meaning NGOs face their biggest hurdle. “Authoritarian governments on the panel devote energy and mobilize to blocking human rights ngos,” says Dokhi Fassihian, the executive director of the Democracy Coalition Project, a Washington, D.C.-based NGO that saw its application rejected by the NGO committee last week. ” They put pressure on swing states.”

The Democracy Coalition Project, according to its website “conducts research and advocacy relating to the advancement of democracy and human rights internationally, particularly through the UN Human Rights Council and other multilateral organs.” In practice, Fassihian tells me this means mobilizing support for human rights issues when they come to a vote at various UN forums like the Human Rights Council.  This would put them in direct conflict with some member states that tend to vote on the other side of these issues.

And, indeed, the eight governments that voted against the NGOs application were Cuba, China, Sudan, Russia, Qatar, Egypt, Angola, and Burundi. The United Kingdom, Colombia, Peru, the United States, and Israel voted in favor. Pakistan, India, Turkey, Guinea, and Dominica abstained.

The Democracy Coalition Project is not alone in seeing its application rejected by the NGO committee. Over the past year the NGO committee rejected two LGBT rights organizations, with one member state, Egypt, alleging that the organizations condoned pedophilia. Fortunately, these two NGOs had their rejection overturned before the full ECOSOC committee. This is a strategy that Fassihian says her organization will undertake.

Still, the politicization of the accreditation process is fairly disturbing. Ironically, greater pressure from the NGOs community is precisely the sort of thing that can help overcome the objections of states that have a parochial interest in blocking human rights actions at UN forums.