By Rodney Reynolds
UNITED NATIONS (IDN) – The New York-based Committee to Project Journalists (CPJ), an independent non-governmental organization (NGO) campaigning for press freedom worldwide, has been recognized as an UN-accredited civil society organization by the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).
The July 25 decision by the 54-member ECOSOC, the primary UN body which coordinates the social and economic agenda of the United Nations, overrides a decision by one of its own committees, the UN Committee on NGOs, to reject the CPJ application on May 26.
CPJ's application for NGO status was rejected by the committee with only 6 votes in favour of NGO status (Greece, Guinea, Israel, Mauritania, Uruguay and the United States) and 10 against (Azerbaijan, Burundi, China, Cuba, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Russia, South Africa, Sudan and Venezuela), with three abstentions (India, Iran and Turkey).
The new consultative status with ECOSOC will allow the CPJ to access UN bodies, such as the Human Rights Council in Geneva, and provide a platform to advocate press freedom and the protection of journalists in the UN’s 193 member states.
"The council's vote today recognizes the important role that CPJ has played and continues to play at the UN by providing expert knowledge and analysis on press freedom related issues," said Joel Simon, executive director of CPJ, in a statement released after the ECOSOC vote.
"While we are grateful that the vote finally grants CPJ accreditation, we remain disheartened at the politicized process for gaining accreditation and hope that the fact that our application took so long and was so contentious is a wakeup call for the bodies that ensure NGOs are able to access the United Nations."
The decision to grant CPJ consultative status culminates a four-year process that included seven deferrals by the 19-member UN Committee on NGOs.
The primary function of the NGO Committee is to consider applications for consultative status and requests for reclassification submitted by NGOs.
At the ECOSOC vote, 40 members voted in favor of CPJ's application, five voted against, six members abstained, and three were not present. The overwhelming vote in favour of CPJ overrides the decision of the NGO Committee, which is a creation of ECOSOC.
In a statement released July 22, CPJ said in the four years that CPJ's application has been pending, 304 journalists have been killed in direct relation to their work.
UN agencies regularly consult with CPJ as they take greater efforts to recognize the risks to journalists around the world. For this reason, CPJ strongly believes it has earned the right to be a formally accredited NGO to the United Nations
The NGO Committee vets applications submitted by NGOs, recommending general, special or roster status on the basis of such criteria as the applicant’s mandate, governance and financial regime.
Organizations enjoying general and special status can attend meetings of the Council and issue statements, while those with general status can also speak during meetings and propose agenda items. Organizations with roster status can only attend meetings.
Speaking before the vote, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power, told delegates the Committee to Protect Journalists – as its name implies – defends the basic right of journalists around the world to report the news without fear of reprisals, both helping individual journalists targeted for their work, and monitoring the broader treatment of the media by governments.
"CPJ is an independent, impartial organization, with a long track record of reliable reporting – and I say that speaking for a government that has itself been criticized by the group".
A wide range of governments regularly cite the organization’s research in this Council and beyond; so do UN officials and bodies, including the Secretary-General and multiple special rapporteurs.
Yet the group has been denied accreditation by the NGO Committee for four years. During those four years, according to CPJ, at least 863 journalists have been imprisoned, 19 journalists have gone missing, and 304 journalists have been killed, she noted.
In a pointed criticism of the Committee on NGOs, Power said it is absolutely essential that the NGO Committee conduct a thorough review of organizations that apply for consultative status at the UN. And of course, there may be legitimate reasons to delay or deny status to certain organizations.
"Yet in recent years, as others have noted, we have seen the Committee systematically abuse its authority to delay the applications of qualified organizations."
In 2013, when CPJ first applied, the applications of 399 NGOs were deferred; in 2014, there were 345 deferrals; in 2015, 376; and in 2016, 480. That is 1,600 deferrals of NGOs – many of them the same organizations, over and over again – just in the last four years.
And as in the case of CPJ, oftentimes these organizations seem to be delayed simply because their work is critical of governments.
But here are just a few examples of other organizations whose applications before the NGO Committee are currently being deferred: Action Against Hunger, Peace Brigades International, Stitchting War Child, Women with Disabilities Australia, the Syrian American Medical Society, and the Youth Coalition for Sexual Health and Reproductive Rights.
"The Committee designed to support NGO participation at the UN has become a tool for keeping respected NGOs out of the UN. The NGO Committee looks more and more like an anti-NGO Committee," she added.
CPJ was denied accreditation by the NGO Committee by a vote of 10 Member States against to six in favor, with three countries abstaining. It is no wonder – 11 of the 19 countries on the NGO Committee are classified by Freedom House as “not free” for the press.
CPJ is an organization we happen to know about – one with the capacity to make its unjust treatment known. Imagine how many more groups there are like them among the 480 NGOs whose applications were deferred by the NGO committee in 2016 alone.
And imagine how many NGOs out there have given up and withdrawn their applications after year after year of being denied accreditation for no good reason. Honestly, this is outrageous. And it is a huge loss for the UN, which is deprived of the groups’ contributions, she declared.
The NGO Committee’s actions also undermine the UN’s credibility when we call on governments to respect the rights of civil society within their own countries.
Since 2012, Power said, more than 120 laws constraining freedoms of association or assembly have been proposed or enacted in 60 countries – part of a growing global crackdown on civil society. And it is no coincidence that many of the countries passing these laws are the same ones using the NGO Committee to block qualified organizations.
"It is past time that we – and by we, I mean the members of this Council – find a way to get the NGO Committee to stop obstructing the organizations that it is supposed to empower." [IDN-InDepthNews – 25 July 2016]
IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.