UN body accredits 9 rights, minority groups after US push

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — After years of delay, the U.N. body overseeing economic development and social issues voted Wednesday to give nine human rights and minority groups the right to raise concerns and participate in its discussions, overriding objections from Russia, China, India, Arab nations and others.

The Economic and Social Council approved a U.S. draft decision giving a green light for the nine groups to get “special consultative status” with the 54-nation U.N. body by a vote of 24-17 with 12 abstentions.

The United States decided to go to the body's full membership after its 19-member Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations, which handles requests for accreditation, deferred action again on the nine groups.

The vote accredited Arab-European Center of Human Rights and International Law; Bahrain Center for Human Rights; Coptic Solidarity; Gulf Centre for Human Rights; International Dalit Solidarity Network; and the interregional rights group Man and Law.

It also accredited Andrey Rylkov Foundation for Health and Social Justice; Union of Non-Governmental Associations; World Union of Cossack Atamans; and World Without Genocide.

Louis Charbonneau, U.N. director at Human Rights Watch, said: “Accrediting these nine groups sends a strong signal to the world that the U.N.’s doors — remain open to civil society organizations, despite efforts by China, Russia, India and others to keep them out.”

While over 6,000 NGOs are accredited to ECOSOC, Charbonneau told the Associated Press that the vote was only “a small step in the right direction.” He said hundreds of other groups remain in limbo at the NGO committee “dominated by abusive governments.”

“Rights-respecting states should keep forcing these votes because it’s the only way for most human rights groups to get inside the U.N. these days,” Charbonneau said.

Madeleine Sinclair, co-director of the International Service for Human Rights’ New York office, said ECOSOC members “must ensure the NGO committee finally fulfils its mandate and that its members stop arbitrarily denying civil society groups access to the U.N. for political reasons.”

Sinclair said the record for the longest deferment of an application was held by the International Dalit Solidarity Network, which represents people on the lowest run of India's caste system and filed its application for accreditation in May 2007. Over the last 15 years, she said, the group had received more than 100 written questions from the NGO committee, mostly from India, and many which the group said were repeated.

In July, the U.S. also went to all ECOSOC members after the NGO committee failed to take action and succeeded in getting accreditation for six human rights organizations, including the foundation that runs the online encyclopedia Wikipedia.