PRESS RELEASE – 19 July 2010
Economic and Social Council
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York
Economic and Social Council
2010 Substantive Session
39th & 40th Meetings (AM & PM)
By another draft decision and adopted by a vote of 23 in favour to 13 against with 13 abstentions, the Council granted consultative status to the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (“IGLHRC”), a group on which the Committee had decided not to take action or make a recommendation during its 2010 sessions.
During an extended debate, before and after action, on the merits of the IGLHRC and whether the Council could indeed take action on an issue deferred by one of its subsidiary bodies, speakers underscored the importance of adhering to Council resolution 1996/31, which outlined the criteria for and principles to be applied in the establishment of consultative relations with non-governmental organizations. Some speakers took issue with the precedent that today’s action would set for other subsidiary bodies, saying that it undermined the Committee’s legitimacy.
Others, however, pointed out that the application for consultative status had been before the NGO Committee for three years and efforts towards system-wide coherence required action. The representative of the United States, which had sponsored the text, recalled that the Committee had refused for more than a decade to grant consultative status to any lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender civil society group, although the Council had acted to grant consultative status to seven such organizations whose applications had been rejected.
Those seven Council decisions had firmly established the principle that a non-governmental organization’s support for gay and lesbian rights should not be a disqualifying factor in the NGO Committee’s decisions to grant consultative status. Unfortunately, she said, the Committee continued to act in complete disregard of the repeated guidance it had received from its parent body on the matter, and in denial of the standards set in 1996/31.
General Discussion on Non-governmental Organizations
The Council then held a brief discussion on non-governmental organizations.
JAN GRAULS (Belgium), speaking on behalf of the European Union, said his delegation considered the involvement of civil society and non-governmental organizations an essential part of the work of the United Nations in general and the Economic and Social Council in particular. The European Union was committed to the overall aspiration of Council resolution 1996/31, which aimed to provide consultative status to organizations whose activities fell within the realm of the Council and its subsidiary bodies.
However, with the role of civil society groups from all regions expanding, the NGO Committee now faced a considerable backlog of work, due to the increase of both new and deferred applications. He said the demand for consultative status would thus continue to grow, and the Committee must keep pace with that trend. Additionally, some Member States had increasingly opposed consultative status for organizations which criticized their respective human rights records, or whose views those States did not agree with.
He further said that the Committee had “conspicuously” failed to reach recommendation decisions regarding certain groups during several sessions. To that end, the European Union wished to express concern over the denial of consultative status to organizations which promoted and defended the rights of persons based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. Such applications had been systematically delayed in the Committee through questionable procedural manoeuvres, including several rounds of repetitive, inappropriate and unproductive questioning.
For example, he said that questions must not be used to merely request details such as names and addresses of members of such organizations, or to prolong deliberations indefinitely. By taking a “no-action” motion on such an organization this past June, the Committee had failed in its mandate. The treatment of such cases reflected a negative trend, and the European Union urged States on the Committee on Non-governmental Organizations to defend and uphold the guiding principles agreed upon in Council resolution 1996/31.
ANDREW GOLEDZINEWSKI (Australia), speaking also on behalf of Canada and New Zealand, said that the NGO Committee’s decisions should be taken according to the criteria clearly set out in Council resolution 1996/31, and that political and ideological consideration must not be allowed to override those criteria. Non-governmental organizations should all be treated in a fair, equal, and transparent manner.
He went on to say that due process should be followed, and decisions should be taken as expeditiously as possible. Delay tactics and procedural hurdles imposed on certain civil society groups, many delaying applications for several years, were unacceptable. Additional questions or information demanded of such groups should clearly relate to the criteria set out in resolution 1996/31.
ROSEMARY DICARLO ( United States) said that when the Council had adopted resolution 1996/31, its intent was to promote the engagement of non-governmental organizations with a diverse range of views. The preambular section took into account the full diversity on national, regional and international levels, and acknowledged the breadth of their expertise. The Committee, therefore, needed to support the aims of the resolution.
Yet, over past decade, the Committee had too often failed to follow the resolution’s clear guidance. On numerous occasions in recent years, she continued, the Council had been forced to override the NGO Committee’s decisions and grant status to qualifying organizations. The Council had not been forced to act in such a way to correct work of any of its other subsidiary bodies.
She said that the Council had worked hard this year, with many members of the Committee and with that body’s Chairperson, to ensure that those non-governmental organizations which clearly met the criteria received consultative status without having to endure unwanted delays. The United States recognized that some significant gains had been made in improving the work practices of the Committee, and hoped the Committee would be able to build on such progress in the coming year.
However, too often the Committee still fell short in its role as an impartial arbiter. She said that among its failures, it was especially disappointing that it had failed to grant consultative status to the well respected organization International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (“IGLHRC”), which could make valuables contributions on such issues human rights and HIV/AIDS.
Introducing the draft resolution on the Application of the non-governmental organization International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (document E/2010/L.19), Ms. DICARLO (United States), said that organization had a solid reputation for the past two decades, supported issues relating to human rights and sexual orientation, and clearly contributed to the work of the Economic and Social Council.
The Council then turned its attention to the report of the Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations on its 2010 regular session (document E/2010/32 (Part I)*), and start consideration of the draft recommendations contained therein.
The Council next took up the draft resolution on the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.
Speaking prior to action, the representative of the United States said that commission had been a respected human rights organization dedicated to combating discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. By promoting the implementation of human rights treaties, it had already made a significant contribution to supporting the United Nations Charter and the work of the Council. It had been a leader in the battle against HIV/AIDS, and had been praised by both the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
Citing the first three principles of Council resolution 1996/31, she said that qualifying organizations must be concerned with matters falling within the competence of the Economic and Social Council and its subsidiary bodies; its aims and purposes must be within conformity with the spirit, purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter; and it must undertake to support the work of the Organization to promote knowledge of its principles and activities, in accordance with its own aims and purposes and the nature and scope of its competence and activities. She stressed that the IGLHRC “easily met” those standards, and that the advancement of the Charter lay at the core of its mission.
She said that the Committee on Non-governmental Organizations had refused for more than a decade to grant consultative status to any lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender civil society group, although the Council had acted to grant consultative status to seven such organizations whose applications had been rejected. Those seven Council decisions had firmly established the principle that a non-governmental organization’s support for gay and lesbian rights should not be a disqualifying factor in the NGO Committee’s decisions to grant consultative status. Unfortunately, the Committee continued to act in complete disregard of the repeated guidance it had received from its parent body on the matter, and in denial of the standards set in 1996/31.
As a legal matter, the “no action” decision made by the Committee on IGLRHC’s application had been deeply flawed. Working along those lines, the Committee could keep “controversial” applications in an endless state of deferral by refusing to allow votes that could be reviewed by the Council. Such actions thus sharply curtailed the Council’s legitimate and necessary oversight authority over a subsidiary body established for the purpose of promoting — not thwarting — the engagement of civil society with the Organization.
A representative of the Secretariat said adoption of the draft decision would give rise to no programme budget implications.
Also speaking before action, Saudi Arabia’s delegate cited the Council’s Rules of Procedure and called for a vote on the draft decision E/2010/L.19.
Then, speaking in general statement before action, Saudi Arabia’s delegate then said the Committee had passed a no-action vote on the matter at hand, which should have stood. Unfortunately, some Council members had politicized the issue and usurped the NGO Committee’s role, which undermined the Committee and the very collaborative basis employed to take decisions. He strongly objected to undermining Committee’s authority in such a way. For that reason, his delegation must vote “no” on the text.
Also speaking before action, the representative of Saint Lucia said his delegation took very seriously recommendations that emerged from committees. If difficulties emerged, a way for dealing with them must be found, rather than just sidestepping the Committee’s recommendation. Since Saint Lucia was not member of the NGO Committee, it had had difficulty in terms of what had occurred previously on this issue. One of the deferred decisions with the greatest concern for the Council was not one with priority for his country, he said, noting that delegates must examine a total package, in terms of helping the Committee’s work advance. He wondered whether the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission was another human rights body. Would that group now redefine what human rights meant? That required consideration and that posed difficulties for him in how to proceed.
Israel’s delegate said that, as a member of the NGO Committee, it recognized its important role in strengthening the relationship between the United Nations and civil society. Council resolution 1996/31 defined that partnership as one that would facilitate the engagement of diverse voices of civil society with the Organization. It stipulated criteria for granting consultative status to non-governmental organizations. It was the Committee’s duty to engage in candid consideration of all applications and grant consultative status to all those complying with resolution 1996/31.
Israel was dismayed with the procedural attempt to further derail substantive discussion over certain non-governmental organizations, he said, notably the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. That organization had been under discussion for over three years and had engaged positively with the Committee. No convincing reason had been offered to explain why the organization had been deferred time and again. Israel thus supported the United States’ proposal to grant consultative status to that organization.
Speaking in explanation of vote before the vote, Egypt’s representative said that in being asked to act on one of the several applications, the Council was in a difficult position. The application had been in the NGO Committee for three sessions, not three years, and attempts to grant it consultative status constituted selectivity. Regardless of the area in which that organization worked, an attempt to take action today would create a precedent which would only upset the delicate balance of the institutional structure between organizations and the United Nations. The matter should not be before the Council; respect should be granted to the efficiency with which the Committee had conducted its work.
Egypt believed in promoting dialogue with civil society, including on respect for religious freedoms and freedom of expression, he said, noting that his country had championed several initiatives to promote respect for those rights. Egypt had previously expressed serious concern with the organization’s continued manoeuvres to evade questions on religious rights and the right to freedom of expression. Believing in the right of all delegations to receive answers, Egypt was attached to respecting the United Nations’ institutional structure, as well as States’ concerns regarding matters under consideration. The manner in which the issue was being addressed was regrettable. For such reasons, Egypt would vote against the decision.
Belgium’s delegate, speaking on behalf of the European Union, supported the application for consultative status for the IGLHRC and firmly believed that each non-governmental organization should be assessed in accordance with Council resolution 1996/31. The principles of non-discrimination and diversity were key in that regard. That text outlined that non-governmental organizations should be granted consultative status if their work was concerned with matters falling in Council’s consideration; in conformity with the United Nations Charter; and undertook to support the United Nations’ work.
In its application, IGLHRC had shown that it had fulfilled such criteria, he said. Over 3,000 non-governmental organizations had been afforded consultative status in line with 1996/31, many of which promoted policies that the Union did not endorse; however, that did not mean they should be excluded. There was no valid reason for excluding IGLHRC consultative status. It was an important constituency that had equal rights in the work of the Organization. As such, the European Union would vote in favour of the draft decision.
Norway’s delegate said the Committee’s mandate was clearly laid out in resolution 1996/31: to make recommendations on granting consultative status to organizations. Non-discrimination was a founding value of the United Nations and Norway was concerned at the trend that applications from certain groups did not receive action in the Committee. Instead, their applications were deferred, which had been the case with the IGLHRC application. That group had consistently answered questions since its application was first considered in 2008. It had shown admirable patience in efforts to receive consultative status. Those determined efforts spoke to its high regard for the Council. On that basis, Norway would vote in favour of the draft decision.
Also speaking in explanation of vote before the vote, the representative of the United Kingdom said his delegation firmly believed that every organization that met the criteria found in resolution 1996/31 deserved to be granted consultative status with the Council, and that that applied, regardless of the nature of that organization. The criteria explicitly confirmed the need to take into account the full diversity of the qualifying non-governmental organizations, and that consultative status should be granted if its work and mandate fell within the first three principles of the resolution. He said the organization being considered today clearly fulfilled these criteria, and that much of its work supported United Nations activities in such fields as health, gender and human rights.
He went on to say that the IGLHRC was well known not only in the United States, but also internationally, and would add an important voice to the discussion at the United Nations and represented an important constituency with a full and equal right to engage in the work of the Organization. Of the organizations that have been granted consultative status, he said many espoused views or policies that were not shared by all States or Governments, but nevertheless had a right to share those views. Although some might disagree with those organizations, they should not be excluded. United Nations had always supported such organizations regardless of whether all Member States shared all of their specific views.
He stressed that the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission had provided full, frank and satisfactory responses to all question posed by the Committee. Since the first round of questions had begun in May 2008, no credible reason could be presented for refusing them, except for straightforward discrimination. The United Kingdom would, therefore, vote in favour of the draft, and would encourage all members of the Council to do likewise.
Also speaking in explanation of vote before the vote, the representative of Canada, said his delegation recognized the need for diverse voices in discussions of the Organization’s and the Council’s work. The civil society group in question had been active in the area of human rights advocacy and had contributed to combating HIV/AIDS. In light of that, he said that Canada would vote yes on the draft resolution.
Also speaking before the vote, the representative of Australia, echoing the sentiments of others in support of the draft, recalled that the representative of Saint Lucia had asked if the Council was interested in redefining human rights.
Speaking on a point of order, the representative of Egypt interrupted to say that the Council had moved past the stage of “general statements”, and that those speaking in explanation of vote must keep their explanations short and in accordance of the rule of procedure.
Resuming his explanation, Australia’s representative said that his country would be voting in favour of the draft. One of the reasons was because delegations understood that the particular aims of the non-governmental organization and its mandate was to work for the rights of gay and lesbian people, and that they had the same rights as other people. It was on these understandings that the Australian delegation had been proceeding. Respective of the nature of the group itself, Australia was very comfortable with what they were doing.
Another reason his delegation was in favour was that the system established in the Council was that the Committee made recommendations, and that those recommendations had to be confirmed or not by the Council, as was done earlier this morning, and it was what was being done with the current vote. The fact that the Committee had made no recommendation could not continue to frustrate the efforts of the Council. If the Council were bound by the recommendations of the Committee, that would also apply to other subsidiary bodies of the Council. As his delegation did not wish to curtail the authority of the Council, it would, therefore, be voting “yes” for the reasons outlined in his explanation.
Speaking in explanation of vote before the vote, the representative of Argentina said her delegation would vote in favour of the draft, although it would have preferred to receive a recommendation, and trusted that that would continue to be respected procedure. However, in this case, her delegation was convinced that the Council should adopt a decision, considering that the Committee responsible had not been able to formulate a recommendation three years after the application was presented. Her delegating considered that substantive issues such as a non-governmental organization’s application should be debated on it merits and not be postponed on mechanisms of procedure. In this case, the organization complied with the requirements of resolution 1996/31 and worked constructively to further the aims of principles of the United Nations. Her delegation would, therefore, vote in favour on an exceptional basis responding to the current circumstances.
The representative of Saint Lucia said that things were moving so fast in the meeting, that his delegation remained in a state dilemma, as the more he listened to statements and explanations of vote, the issue became even more complicated, because it was necessary to make a serious decision regarding the vote. He said he needed to pose a question, but feared a point of order, and wondered if his colleagues would allow him to pose it rhetorically.
Interrupting that explanation, the Council Vice-President said that questions would not be entertained, and asked that Saint Lucia refrain.
Resuming his explanation, the representative of Saint Lucia said he felt the right of his speech was being curtailed, but that the he would stick to the point of his explanation. Although his dilemma remained, he would attempt to rephrase his point. Thus, he stressed that any organization with consultative status with the Council needed to have a certain level of authority and legitimacy in terms of its work, and in terms of its mandate as well. The difficulty lay in that he did not know the mandate of the IGLHRC. The use of the term “Commission” rather than “Body” or “Association” in the title of the organization gave it a different flavour, and his understanding was that a commission was very different from an association or a body.
Also speaking before action, the representative of the Russian Federation said his delegation opposed discrimination on any grounds, including sexual orientation. The issue before the Council went beyond framework to give consultative status; it involved the procedural functioning of the Council and its subsidiary bodies. His delegation had wondered how the attempt to introduce a report on one organization had been carried out.
In this case, the Committee had not finished consideration of the request for consultative status and had not recommended anything to the Council regarding the non-governmental organization, he said. As the matter was still on the Committee’s agenda, the Russian Federation could not support the United States’ proposal. Before today’s meeting, his Government had asked the Secretariat how many requests were being considered in the Committee and was told there were over 530 such requests. One could imagine what Council meetings could turn into if it had to consider all such requests. The Russian Federation did not believe the current procedure met the goal of improving system-wide coherence and had no option other than to vote against draft decision “L.19”.
Then, by a recorded vote of 23 in favour, 13 against, with 13 abstentions, the Council adopted the draft decision on the “Application of the non-governmental organization International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission for consultative status with the Economic and Social Council” (document E/2010/L.19).
Speaking in explanation of vote after the vote, Venezuela’s delegate said her country’s Constitution forbade discrimination on grounds of economic or social status. Venezuela had voted against the granting of consultative status to the organization for reasons of procedure, not because it had substantive objections to that organization’s work. The examination of applications for consultative status was the responsibility of the Non-Governmental Organization Committee.
She said the Council did not have enough information to make a clear, objective opinion on the issue and it should, thus, respect the Committee’s recommendations. Any decision adopted regarding the consultative status would establish a negative precedent, opening the door for any State to selectively bring the Council’s attention to applications for consultative status based on national interest.
Uruguay’s delegate said he had voted in favour of the draft decision. He did not understand why the Committee had postponed action on the organization, after it had answered questions for three years. The case should be considered on its own merits and not be discriminated against for dealing with sexual orientation. The application did not contradict the 1996 resolution and he regretted that the Committee’s decision had been a no-action vote, meaning that the IGLHRC had not received consultative status.
Saint Lucia’s delegate said he had not been convinced that the IGLHRC had met the criteria for consultative status with the Council. There was clear division of labour within the United Nations system. As it did not have the full scope of information on the non-governmental organization, Saint Lucia did not participate in the process.
China’s delegate said her country was against all discrimination, including on the basis of sexual orientation. Out of respect for procedure, China had voted against the draft decision. In June, the Committee, fulfilling its mandate, had considered the group’s application and after deliberations, decided to postpone consideration. The Committee was an authoritative body and the Council had by-passed it, which established an unfavourable precedent, as it harmed the Committee’s credibility and challenged the relationship between non-governmental organizations and the United Nations. She was greatly concerned by the practice.
Peru’s delegate said his country supported the NGO Committee’s duty to consider the consultative status of non-governmental organizations, and further, supported its work in the case at hand. Peru wished to see all non-governmental organizations comply with requirements outlined under 1996/31, without exception. It was also important to follow established procedure. By not adopting a decision on the groups’ status, the Committee’s efficiency was suffering. Peru supported the draft decision for technical reasons and requirements. The current vote should not establish a precedent for the Committee or any other body of the United Nations. It should be considered a factor that would help the Committee be more efficient.
Japan’s delegate said it was unfortunate that, at its 2010 resumed session, the Committee had taken no action on the status of the group in question. She supported giving consultative status to any organization that conformed to the principles of the United Nations and the Council, outlined in resolution 1996/31. While agreeing that the Committee should have sufficient time to consider its cases, she expressed concern at instances when a decision was repeatedly deferred. For such reasons, Japan had voted in favour of the draft resolution.
Speaking in general statement after action, Cuba’s delegate said it was unacceptable that the technical procedure used today was “disastrous”, which meant that States could not be clear as to how to vote. She reserved the right to “deal with the digital screen issue”.
The United States delegate said the Council had sent a clear message that it would ensure that the diverse voices of civil society were heard at the United Nations. Today, the Council had strengthened resolution 1996/31 and upheld the tenet that organizations would be granted consultative status. She expressed hope that the non-governmental community would follow guidance provided by the Council in their future deliberations.