(Update: Adds comment from Committee for Human Rights in North Korea executive director Greg Scarlatoiu)
(CNSNews.com) – An influential committee responsible for accrediting non-governmental organizations at the United Nations is drawing criticism for shooting down applications from U.S.-based groups dealing with human rights in Iran and North Korea.
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley called the decision “shameful.”
Haley said the two NGOs – the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (IHRDC) and the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK) – “have a long track record of success and have amply demonstrated that they would add value to the U.N. system.”
IHRDC and HRNK were established in 2004 and 2001 respectively, to monitor and report on abuses and promote human rights in Iran and North Korea.
At a session in New York, the 19-member NGO Committee, which falls under the U.N. Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), voted against their applications, first made years ago, for “consultative status” at the world body.
The committee voted down HRNK’s application 9-5 on Friday, after North Korea’s representative said it was an entity controlled by the U.S. government.
On Monday, the committee voted not to approve IHRDC’s application 9-4, after Iran’s delegate charged that the group was financed by the U.S. government to undermine Iran’s sovereignty.
The nine “no” votes came from Burundi, China, Cuba, Iran, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Russia, South Africa and Venezuela.
“It’s a shameful day at the U.N. when Iranian and North Korean human rights violations are protected,” Haley said afterwards.
“A U.N. committee that is supposed to give a voice to those who most need it is instead being steamrolled by countries with terrible human rights records themselves.”
American taxpayers account for 22 percent of the regular budget of the U.N., which includes its major organs like ECOSOC.
Being granted “consultative status” brings significant benefits for an NGO, including the right to take part in sessions of several U.N. organs, such as the Human Rights Council (HRC).
At the HRC, delegates from countries with poor rights records are at times angered when more outspoken NGO representatives call them out on those records.
So giving countries who violate rights the power to decide which NGOs should have those privileges has set the stage for numerous controversies.
Applicant NGOs are asked questions session after session, and many decisions are deferred or delayed, sometimes for years.
Addressing the committee on behalf of more than 40 democracies on Monday, U.S. delegate Mordica Simpson raised concerns about an “onerous” application process, seemingly indefinite delays, and “the use of excessive and repetitive questions” by some member-states.
While delays and deferrals can appear arbitrary, critics link many of the more controversial decisions to the nature of some of the governments seated on the committee.
Of the 19 current members, all serving a four-year term that began in 2015, nine are designated “not free” in Freedom House’s annual rankings, based on political rights and civil liberties.
They are Azerbaijan, Burundi, China, Cuba, Iran, Mauritania, Russia, Sudan and Venezuela.
Only six of the 19 members (Greece, India, Israel, South Africa, the U.S. and Uruguay) are “free,” and one of them, South Africa, voted against accreditation for the two NGOs.
The remaining four (Guinea, Nicaragua, Pakistan and Turkey) are “partly free,” and two of them, Nicaragua and Pakistan, also voted against accreditation.
Overturning committee decisions
Haley said this week the U.S. will continue to fight for qualified NGOs to receive U.N. accreditation.
In past years the U.S. and allies have at times garnered sufficient support to get the 54-member ECOSOC to overturn decisions made by its NGO Committee.
HRNK executive director Greg Scarlatoiu said Thursday the organization was disappointed by the vote count but was hopeful that the decision may be reversed when ECOSOC meets in early April.
“Our organization is one of the world’s most trusted sources of information and analysis on human rights in the DPRK,” he said.
Scarlatoiu pointed out that HRNK had been quoted 19 times in a landmark 2014 U.N. commission on inquiry report. That 400-page document submitted to the Human Rights Council detailed “systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations” in North Korea.
Moreover, HRNK has been quoted in numerous other U.N. reports, including a report last August by U.N. secretary-general Antonio Guterres.
“We do hope that more ECOSOC members will realize the value our work can bring to the U.N., should we be granted consultative status,” Scarlatoiu said. “With all due respect to the NGO Committee, we do hope the decision will be overturned in the April meeting.”
Previous successes in getting ECOSOC to overrule the committee’s decisions included accreditation last year for Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), whose application had been stymied for more than a dozen years.
Earlier, U.S. lobbying helped to get ECOSOC to overturn a decision denying accreditation to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Freedom Now, a U.S.-based group focused on prisoners of conscience, tried for six years to get accreditation, but was blocked by the same group of repressive governments. It finally got the nod in 2015, when ECOSOC overturned a decision by the committee.
‘I hear no objection. It is so decided.’
As with other U.N. bodies, the committee’s membership is based on representation from the five regional groups recognized by the world body.
Some countries, including Russia, China, Cuba, Sudan, India and Pakistan, have been on the committee for many years.
In April, ECOSOC will elect members of the NGO Committee for the next four years.
The last time it did so, however, the “election” was a contest-free process that lasted just moments.
As CNSNews.com reported at the time, 19 nominees were put forward by their regional groups, and the chairman proposed that the meeting “elect the proposed candidates by acclamation.”
When no ECOSOC member – including the U.S. and other democracies – voiced dissent, the chairman declared, “I hear no objection. It is so decided.”