UN Body Grants Formal Recognition to Hamas-Linked Group

By Patrick Goodenough | July 21, 2015 | 4:16 AM EDT

The U.N. Economic and Social Council, ECOSOC, meets in New York. (UN Photo, File)

(CNSNews.com) – A key United Nations body on Monday granted official status to a non-governmental organization with alleged links to Hamas, rejecting a bid by Israel, supported by the U.S. and others, to deny it the recognition it sought.

As a result of Monday’s vote by the U.N. Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the Palestinian Return Centre (PRC) will now be able to participate in sessions of the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, as well as several other U.N. organs.

“Another defeat for Israel,” the PRC tweeted after the vote. “Palestine has won again,” read another of its tweets.

Last month an ECOSOC committee responsible for non-governmental organization accreditation, the 19-member NGO Committee, voted to grant “special consultative status” to the PRC.

Israel led an attempt to prevent the full, 54-nation ECOSOC from endorsing that decision on Monday. A vote on its measure attracted yes 13 votes, but 16 members voted against it and another 18 abstained.

Most of the yes votes came from Western democracies, notably joined by Botswana; the no votes came mostly from Islamic, African and Latin American members, along with Russia and China.

Israel in 2010 declared the PRC illegal, citing ties to Hamas. Then-Defense Minister Ehud Barak accused the U.K.-based NGO of initiating and organizing “radical and violent activity against Israel in Europe.”

The PRC, which describes itself as “an independent consultancy focusing on the historical, political and legal aspects of the Palestinian refugees,” denies charges of links to Hamas or any other Palestinian party.

It said last week it had launched legal action against the Israeli U.N. mission for having “falsely accused the center of having ties with Hamas and supporting terrorism.”

Before Monday’s vote, U.S. deputy representative Michele Sison said the U.S. has “serious concerns about the NGO, its background, and its activities.”

She said some delegations had pushed for a quick recognition of the PRC, before the U.S. and others had received answers to questions they had about the group.

“In particular, we asked questions about the NGO’s work with organizations in Syria and Lebanon that remain unanswered,” Sison said.

“We believe that the NGO must address legitimate questions and that further consultations must take place before the U.N. grants accreditation.”

Chinese-led bid to deny status to prisoners of conscience NGO fails

While the failure of the Israeli-led initiative against the PRC was a defeat for democracies in ECOSOC, the U.S. and others did score a victory at Monday’s meeting, overturning an earlier decision by the NGO Committee not to accredit a U.S.-based group, Freedom Now, whose focus is prisoners of conscience.

The committee’s attempt last month to kill Freedom Now’s six year-long accreditation bid was facilitated by a group of countries with repressive governments, including China, Cuba, Iran, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Russia, Sudan and Venezuela.

Following that committee vote, the U.S., Britain, France, Australia, Germany, Switzerland, Uruguay, Japan and Estonia co-sponsored a resolution overturning it.

The U.S. on Monday urged ECOSOC to adopt it by consensus, but China called for a recorded vote. It was then passed by a 29-9 vote, with 11 abstentions.

The no votes came from China, Russia, Sudan, Pakistan, Zimbabwe, Bolivia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and South Africa. (Ironically, South Africa’s ANC government voted no despite the fact Archbishop Desmond Tutu is Freedom Now’s honorary chairman.)

Welcoming the outcome, Freedom Now executive director Maran Turner said the application process had been “unnecessarily prolonged by politics.”

“We intend to use this status to improve attention and global efforts to address human rights violations and arbitrary detention,” she said. “Following this experience, we would like to bring forth greater discussion about reforming the NGO accreditation process and making the U.N. a more welcoming place for civil society.”

Freedom Now said in a statement that China had reportedly led the effort to deny it U.N. accreditation.

It said Beijing had “publicly called for the vote today because of the organization’s work representing Liu Xiaobo, the imprisoned 2010 Nobel peace prize laureate, and other Chinese dissidents.”

“Freedom Now is anathema to certain member states because its lawyers work to try to free those unjustly imprisoned on the basis of their political, religious or other beliefs,” U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power said in a statement after the vote.

“Freedom Now fills a vital need internationally, giving political prisoners a fighting chance when the odds against them are stacked as high as the walls that imprison them,” she said.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow