Dispute over Christian group seeking observer status with the UN

By Ecumenical News International
August 2, 2009

A United Nations group that vets non-governmental organizations applying for accreditation to observe the international body, has rejected an international Christian group after it refused to divulge members' names in China, citing fears about religious freedom - writes Peter Kenny.

UN Watch, a Geneva-based advocacy and monitoring group, condemned the UN's decision to reject the Dynamic Christian World Mission Foundation application as an NGO observer due to its refusal to accede to China's demands that it disclose member addresses in the People's Republic.

Russia, Egypt, Cuba, Pakistan, and Sudan had expressed concerns about "the organization's ability to contribute" to the United Nations.

At a meeting in Geneva on 27 July 2009, the 54-member of the U.N. Economic and Social Council, known as ECOSOC that vets which NGOs get observer status, endorsed a decision taken by a subsidiary committee earlier in 2009 to reject the group's application.

It also rejected a US initiative to keep the application open for the Christian foundation, a group registered in South Korea and California and which promotes Christianity through educational projects in Russia, Japan and Kyrgyzstan. The vote was lost by 23 to 22 at ECOSOC.

"Today's vote is a setback for religious freedom, and could set a dangerous precedent at the UN for repressive regimes to launch frivolous objections or demand sensitive information, in order to obstruct the important work of civil society organizations in the areas of religion, education, and human rights," said Hillel Neuer, the executive director of UN Watch.

The advocacy group has frequently accused bodies such as the UN Commission of Human Rights of being controlled by countries like China and Russia, and states such as Libya and Vietnam which have poor rights' records.

Those voting to reject the Christian group included Algeria, Belarus, Bolivia, Kazakhstan, India, Indonesia, China, Ivory Coast, Malawi, Malaysia, Mauritius, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Pakistan, and Venezuela.

Those voting to support its application included the US, Brazil, Greece, Guatemala, Canada, El Salvador, Estonia, France, Germany, Japan, Lichtenstein, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, and Portugal.

"NGOs at the UN are routinely under assault," said Neuer in a statement.

At the same time, Neuer welcomed two other votes initiated by Western nations that saw ECOSOC grant accreditation to two NGOs, overruling earlier decisions by a lower committee.

By a vote of 25 to 12, with 13 abstentions, the UN accredited the Brazilian Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Association. Those voting against included Algeria, Belarus, China, Indonesia, Iraq, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan.

Egypt, an observer state on the 54-member body, suggested that the aim of the NGO and its supporters was to make homosexuality universal, and complained of "double standards" against Muslim charities that were rejected for ties to terrorism. In response, Brazil said the group merely represented a constituency of people.

Similarly, by a vote of 30 to nine, with eight abstentions, the United Nations on 29 July accredited the Democracy Coalition Project, a Washington-based organization founded by George Soros' Open Society Institute. Those voting against it included China, Russia, Sudan, Venezuela, Belarus, Bolivia, Malaysia, and Mozambique. China and Russia said the group "attacked countries specifically" and had "a political agenda".

In another statement on 29 July, UN Watch expressed disappointment at the refusal by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, to answer whether she will receive the Tibetan Buddhist leader, the Dalai Lama, on his visit to Geneva in early August. The response is understood as a negative answer.

Still, UN Watch welcomed her criticism of China's "serious systemic violations of human rights" in Tibet and her call for due process for detainees and access to international observers.

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]

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