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The Candidate Countries the Republic of North Macedonia*, Montenegro* and Albania*, the country of the Stabilisation and Association Process and potential candidate Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the EFTA country Liechtenstein member of the European Economic Area, as well as Ukraine and Georgia, align themselves with this statement.
The European Union welcomes that the NGO Committee meets again after a long interruption, and that webcasting continues to be ensured, allowing some transparency at a time where most NGOs are prevented from attending the session in-person.
The Covid-19 pandemic has long-lasting, devastating effects on economies and societies all over the world. This makes even more important for the United Nations to listen to the voices of citizens, often expressed through the work of civil society organisations. The NGO Committee has an important role in that regard as recommendations of this Committee directly influence the participation of NGOs in the UN System and, in turn, shape the relations between the UN and civil society. Hence, the NGO Committee bears a high responsibility for the credibility of the UN.
In his 2020 Call to Action for Human Rights, the Secretary-General has underlined that the UN “simply could not do its work without the active engagement of civil society”, and has announced that the UN was “ramping up [its] efforts for more systematic inclusion of civil society voices in United Nations bodies and agencies, with special attention to women’s rights organizations and young people.” It is now time for the UN to address more systematically the issues of threats and reprisals against human rights defenders and victims of human rights violations and abuses who engage with the System – 709 documented cases between 2010 and 2020 – including setting up a mechanism to ensure their protection and safety, in line with the mandate on reprisals entrusted by the Secretary-General to the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights.
The European Union firmly believes that the NGO Committee must be guided by the sole consideration of the general interest when reviewing applications. Resolution 1996/31 must stop being used for the pursuit of national or politicized objectives, as it is frequently the case now. In particular, we remain concerned about repetitive and meaningless questioning leading to unjustified delays to applications, disproportionately affecting NGOs working on specific issues, including human rights, which, in some cases, amount to de facto rejections. All allegations against NGOs made in this Committee should be supported by evidence and shared with the concerned organizations in sufficient time to allow them a reasonable opportunity to respond. For instance, questioning an NGO on its work plan for the coming years with the only objective to delay the application does not do credit to this Committee. We ask members of the Committee to end any of such dilatory practices.
As we witness a sad record of more than 340 applications which are going to be reconsidered this year, the European Union sees no justification to delay further a number of applications that have been pending for a very long time, including the Denmark-based International Dalit Solidarity Network (deferred for now over 14 years), the Italy-based NGO “Non C'è Pace Senza Giustizia – No Peace without Justice” that is active in the protection and promotion of human rights, democracy, the rule of law and international justice, international criminal justice (with particular reference to the ban on Female Genital Mutilation), and the environment, the Netherlands-based Dr. Denis Mukwege Foundation, the leading Irish NGO Trócaire, which provides life-saving emergency response and long-term development aid delivered through hundreds of projects in 18 countries across Africa, Latin America, Asia and the Middle East, and the Estonia-based Inimõiguste Instituut, Estonia’s first and oldest independent organization devoted to protection of human rights.
The EU also reminds the role of ECOSOC to review and if necessary reverse erroneous decisions taken by the NGO Committee.
We regret that in the current circumstances, the daily Q&A session with applicants, which had been organised in the recent years, will not allow many NGOs to be present and answer questions, amplifying the challenges that many organisations have had in ensuring their presence in New York. We underline the importance of addressing the challenges that impair the Committee’s dialogue with the NGOs through using tools that the UN has available.
The EU also underlines the importance, in addition to webcast services, of the daily and detailed meeting coverage of the sessions of the Committee, in line with Resolution 1996/31 and the ECOSOC Rules of Procedure. The coverage is particularly important for NGOs that are not based in New York and for NGOs, which do not have the resources to attend the meetings.
The EU supports the call to Member States of the General Assembly made by many NGOs on March 30, asking members of the NGO Committee to “be committed to fulfilling the Committee’s mandate in a fair, transparent, non-discriminatory, expeditious and apolitical manner”, and calling upon ECOSOC members to “introduce term limits for membership of the Committee on NGOs, among other reforms encouraging openness and accountability”.
The EU fully agrees that term limits for the membership of this Committee should be introduced, allowing for greater diversity in membership. In view of the election in April next year for the 2023-2026 term, we call on ECOSOC members to vote only for candidates with positive track records in regard to civil society access and participation at the UN.
The EU also reminds the letter sent in June 2019 by the Chair of the Coordination Committee of the Special Procedures to the distinguished Chair of the NGO Committee, which included a number of valuable recommendations to both ECOSOC and the NGO Committee. If implemented, these improvements in the Committee’s working methods would allow for a more inclusive, effective, fair and transparent functioning of the Committee, including through limits to deferrals and a process to reconsider arbitrary or erroneous deferral or denial decisions.
Finally the EU believes that it is time for the NGO Committee to organise a new round of consultations with NGOs, following the first ever consultations held in June 2018.
I thank you.
* The Republic of North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Albania continue to be part of the Stabilisation and Association Process.