ECOSOC ACCREDITATION OF NGOS ADDRESSING ISSUES OF SEXUAL ORIENTATION & GENDER IDENTITY:
THE IMPORTANCE OF NON-DISCRIMINATORY ACCESS & PARTICIPATION
This session, the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) is due to consider a recommendation by its subsidiary NGO Committee to deny UN consultative status to the Spanish NGO Federación Estatal de Lesbianas, Gays, Transexuales y Bisexuales (FELGTB), an organization working on sexual orientation and gender identity issues.
The NGO: a history of credible work
The applicant is a reliable, credible NGO of long standing, engaged in international work, supported by its government and able to address significant human rights concerns of relevance to the UN in an area that is often overlooked.
No valid reason for rejections
No reasons were provided for denying consultative status to the NGO, other than its work on issues of sexual orientation and gender identity. The NGO is fully supported by its government. It meets all criteria in ECOSOC resolution 1996/31, which explicitly affirms the need to take into account the full diversity of non-governmental organizations. The organisation submitted a detailed application to the NGO Committee, and responded in full to all questions asked.
The NGO Committee discussions
The NGO submitted written replies to all questions asked. A representative of the NGO attended the NGO Committee meeting in person, and gave further oral replies to all questions from Committee members. No justifiable reasons were raised for denying ECOSOC status to the NGO.
Speaking at the NGO Committee, the UK delegation noted that “no credible reason could be presented for refusing [the NGO], except … that of straightforward discrimination.” The representative of Romania similarly noted that “the Committee did not present a balanced record of recommendations regarding organizations that defended and promoted the rights of homosexuals, since out of the past 10 applications of such organizations brought to its consideration, the Committee recommended none.”
The ECOSOC has a responsibility to ensure that Committee decisions are based upon objective non-discriminatory criteria, in accordance with the principles established by the ECOSOC. On these criteria, no reason exists to deny ECOSOC status to the applicant NGO.
Relevance of NGO’s work to the UN:
The work of the NGO under consideration is directly relevant to the UN. Numerous UN Special Procedures and Treaty Bodies have highlighted violations of the human rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people, including arbitrary arrests, deprivation of food and water, beatings, rape and murder.
On December 1, 2006, 54 States joined in a statement to the UN Human Rights Council, expressing concern at human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and calling for future substantive discussion of the issues within the Council. On 31 May, 2008 all 34 members of the Organization of American States adopted by consensus a resolution titled “human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity”.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour has expressed concern in a public statement that “LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] human rights organizations … are denied access to important fora, including at the international level, where they should be able to have their voices heard.” In March 2007, newly-ECOSOC accredited NGOs dealing with sexual orientation and gender identity issues attended the main session of the Human Rights Council and engaged in interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner for Human Rights. In response, the High Commissioner acknowledged the responsibility of all States to ensure that no-one, regardless of sexual orientation, is subject to violence or abuse.
Whatever individual States’ positions on questions of sexual orientation and gender identity may be, it is clear that these issues are regularly being discussed in UN fora and it is important that UN discussions be informed by NGOs representing these constituencies.
Applying international standards – the Yogyakarta Principles:
In March 2007, the Yogyakarta Principles on the application of international human rights in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity were launched. These Principles were adopted by international experts including present and former treaty-body members, Special Procedures, judges, lawyers, and a former High Commissioner for Human Rights. They reflect the existing state of international human rights law in this area, and affirm binding international legal standards.
Principle 19 (dealing with the right to freedom of opinion and expression) and Principle 27 (dealing with the right to promote human rights) affirm the right of NGOs addressing issues of sexual orientation and gender identity to enjoy non-discriminatory access to international fora. The Yogyakarta Principles explicitly call on the “UN Economic and Social Council [to] recognize and accredit NGOs whose aim is to promote and protect the human rights of persons of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities, in accordance with its Resolution 1996/31”.
Maintaining the integrity and credibility of the process:
It is crucial for public confidence in the NGO Committee, the ECOSOC and the UN as a whole that the NGO Committee not be seen as dismissing legitimate NGO applications solely because some States disagree with the content of their work.
States’ positions on issues of sexual orientation and gender identity may vary, but all that the applicant NGO is seeking is the opportunity to participate in the debate. Indeed, the more marginalised the human rights concerns being addressed, the more important it is that relevant NGO voices not be excluded.
In 2006 and 2007, the ECOSOC voted to grant consultative status to NGOs working in this area, notwithstanding contrary recommendations by the NGO Committee. The issues raised by the current application are indistinguishable from those before the ECOSOC in each of the past two years, and the NGO under consideration should similarly be granted status in the interests of maintaining a fair, consistent and credible process.
The applicant NGO plays a vital role in addressing serious human rights violations, relevant to the work of the UN. Regardless of States’ views on the issues it addresses, it is entitled to the same opportunity as all other NGOs to present its views and participate in the work of the UN. We urge the ECOSOC to maintain the credibility of the process by voting against the draft recommendations of the NGO Committee and by granting FELGTB consultative status.