Pakistan ganged up with China to shut the door on two African NGOs at the UN Human Rights Council that were helping highlight the human rights situation in Balochistan and other areas of Pakistan. The Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations voted to withdraw the UN accreditation of African Technology Development Link and African Technical Association on Pakistan’s request Tuesday– the same day Pakistani security forces forcibly disappeared brother and uncle of Swiss-based leader of the Baloch Republican Party Azizullah Bugti.
The two African NGOs enjoyed consultative status with the Unido.
Taking the floor prior to the first vote, Pakistani representative alleged that the organizations in question were “maligning the good name of Africa”, as she claimed they had made false statements against other member states. The representative of China backing Pakistan said that the organizations in question had conducted activities that smacked of political intentions and had launched “wanton political attacks” against other member states. The African Technical Association, in collaboration with Baloch leaders Mehran Baluch and Noordin Mengal, had organized a side event at the Palace of Nations on Geneva on March 20, which was addressed among others by Amnesty International’s international outreach director based in Washington DC, T Kumar.
US representative Kelly Razzouk, expressed her concerns at the ouster of the African NGOs. “The loss here is for civil society,” she said in a general statement following the second vote. Stripping an organization of its status was not a decision to be taken lightly. “It will have a chilling effect on civil society as a whole and how they engage with the United Nations,” Razzouk, who is in the team headed by Samantha Power, was cited as saying in a UN Press release.
Razzouk said much was not known about the two organizations in question. Among other steps, updated applications could be requested from them, she said. Withdrawing the status of two organizations from Africa — which was underrepresented — was a “drastic step”, and she wished to see the process undertaken in a more transparent manner. The representatives from India, Greece, Israel and Uruguay backed the US position.
A recorded vote was held on a proposal by Pakistan. Most of the world’s governments with dismal human rights record sided with Pakistan and China move. These countries were Azerbaijan, Cuba, Guinea, Iran, Mauritania, Nicaragua, Russia, South Africa, Sudan, Turkey, and Venezuela.
The move to withdraw the two African NGOs from the UN roster was condemned by the civil society. The International Service for Human Rights said withdrawal of UN consultative status of the two NGOs in retaliation for statements they made at the UN Human Rights Council lacked procedural safeguards and could have a chilling effect on civil society. The two NGOs were only made aware of the request (by Pakistan, a Committee member) to withdraw their status in writing a few days before their case was actually considered in the NGO Committee. As a result, these NGOs lacked enough time and information to prepare and to defend themselves properly, the ISHR added.
“We are deeply disturbed by the draft decisions of the Committee concerning the withdrawal of the status of these two NGOs. The process used was hurried and failed to fully respect the procedural safeguards required by ECOSOC Resolution 1996/31,” said Michelle Evans of the ISHR in New York. “In particular, the process did not allow the NGOs a reasonable opportunity to respond to the allegations against them. The decision to withdraw their status was taken despite requests from some Committee members for more time to reach out to the NGOs and ask for clarifying information,” she deplored.
Munir Mengal, chair of the Baloch Voice Foundation, also deplored the action and said it is high time the NGOs voice be heard in the Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations as presently the states ride rough over the NGOs. Mengal said at the same time it was must for NGOs to invite educated speakers who conform to use of diplomatic language so that the states do not get an opportunity to target them. “At times the UN shows little regard for the NGOs,” he said.
The ISHR is concerned that the procedure to suspend and withdraw status has been misused more and more in recent years to mute unwanted criticism. It is a means by which Member States in the NGO Committee retaliate for the statements and participation of NGOs at the Human Rights Council. Such harsh measures are unwarranted and inconsistent with NGOs’ right to freedom of expression and opinion. “Ironically, these cases were handled by the Committee in complete opposition to the way the application process works,” said Ms Evans.
She was of the view gaining accreditation takes years while cancellation of the accreditation happens rapidly. This contradiction indicates that some Committee members have little interest in protecting and promoting civil society’s right to access and communicate with the UN. In the cases of the two Africa-based NGOs, their roster status — which they had held for decades — was stripped away in a matter of minutes. She said these withdrawals mean that the two NGOs will no longer be able to directly engage at the UN Human Rights Council. With roster consultative status, NGOs have the right to make written and oral statements at the Human Rights Council and organize side events, in their own name.
“ISHR calls on member States that are friends of civil society to speak out about the flawed process leading up to the decisions to recommend withdrawal of the UN accreditation of these two NGOs. The Committee should be urged to take the time necessary to receive and to carefully consider and weigh the evidence presented by all parties regarding the complaint, including the NGO. The objective of reaching a fair, balanced, and proportionate response outweighs the goal of acting expeditiously. The decision to suspend or withdraw the status of an NGO should only be taken as a last resort,” Ms Evans concluded.
The ISHR also brought the matter to the notice of Michael Forst, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights Defenders, and Maina Kiai, UN Special Rapporteur on rights to freedom of peaceful assembly & of association.
Last fall, Baloch leader Hyrbyair Marri and his comrades were thrown out of the Palace of Nations on flimsy grounds for not having proper badges. Other activists, who had proper badges were also forcibly forced out of the building called the Palace of Nations. Baloch Voice Foundation chair Munir Mengal lodged a written complaint with the UN strongly protested the incident and asked them to explain the reasons for the ouster “I have not received any explanation as yet,” Mengal said on phone from Paris.
Six years back, Pakistan got the accreditation of Interfaith International, which is led by American human rights defender Dr Charles Graves, revoked for giving a platform to create awareness about the human rights situation in Balochistan.