Key U.N. body overturns accreditation rejection of U.S.-based NGO

By Michelle Nichols UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - A key United Nations body granted accreditation on Monday to civil society organization Freedom Now, overturning an earlier rejection of an application by the U.S.-based group that works to free prisoners of conscience worldwide. Last month the 19-member U.N. Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations rejected Freedom Now's bid for consultative status at the world body. The 54-member Economic and Social Council, which oversees the NGO committee, overturned the decision. The vote to grant Freedom Now's request was 29 in favor, 9 against and 11 abstentions. Those who voted against accrediting the group were Bolivia, China, Russia, Pakistan, Zimbabwe, Sudan, South Africa, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. "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 United Nations, Samantha Power, said in a statement welcoming the accreditation of the group. South African Nobel peace laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, honorary chairman of Freedom Now, had written to the council members last month urging them to give the group accreditation, which gives it access to U.N. premises and conferences. The Russian and Chinese missions to the United Nations were not immediately available to comment on why they opposed accreditation for Freedom Now. Last month the NGO committee voted to accredit the British-based Palestinian Return Centre (PRC). A bid to have that decision overturned by Economic and Social Council failed on Monday 13 votes in favor, 16 against and 18 abstentions. Israel had accused the PRC of having ties to the Palestinian militant group Hamas. The PRC rejected the allegation and threatened legal action against Israel. The states who voted in favor of the failed attempt to overturn the group's accreditation were the United States, Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Britain, Austria, Greece, Albania, Botswana, Croatia, Estonia, and Finland. (Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing Andrew Hay)