CAIRO: Human rights groups are worried that the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC)’s decision to suspend the Arab Commission for Human Rights (ACHR), in response to a complaint issued by the government of Algeria may signal a move towards stifling critical voices.
Suspension of the organization s consultative status now prevents the Arab Commission on Human Rights from speaking to United Nations bodies, including the Human Rights Council.
This case sets an extremely dangerous precedent, says Moataz El-Fegiery, executive director of the Cairo Institute of Human Rights Studies. This allows states to censure, silence and throw out NGOs at the Human Rights Council through accusations that have little or no factual basis.
This will also weaken the effective NGO participation in the Human Rights Council, particularly for NGOs and human rights defenders from countries ruled by repressive governments, El-Fergiery adds.
The decision was made on Monday, after a report was submitted to ECOSOC from the UN Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations.
The 19-member committee is responsible for deciding the consultative status of non-governmental organizations. This status allows organizations to attend conferences held by all branches of the United Nations and aims to promote dialogue and information-sharing between the UN and NGOs.
Many of the current member-states of the UN Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations, which includes Egypt, are known for being notoriously repressive of NGOs working within their borders.
The suspension of the organization is due to an alleged violation of consultative status requirements. In particular, the infringement involved the designated Arab Commission representative to the United Nations.
In June 2008, Rachid Mesli, an Algerian lawyer and human rights activist, spoke to the eighth session of the Human Rights Council on behalf of the Arab Commission for Human Rights. Mesli was not originally on the official list of speakers, and thus, was not technically permitted to speak to the Council. Mesli also promoted another non-governmental organization related to human rights in the Arab world, Al-Karama (Dignity).
In its complaints, Algeria stated that Mesli was associated with a terrorist group operating abroad. It is unacceptable that the consultative status given to the Arab Commission for Human Rights be diverted to allow individuals prosecuted on account of criminal charges to take the floor in a respected arena to attack and prosecute a State, the complaint stated.
According to press releases issued by the Arab Network of Human Rights Information, Mesli has a long history with the government of Algeria. Mesli s charges of encouraging terrorism came as a result of an Algerian court case in 1996, a case viewed by Amnesty International as violating international fair trial standards.
Mesli, a former Amnesty International prisoner of conscience, fled to Sweden in 2000 after being granted asylum.
As a result, human rights groups have condemned the decision to suspend the Arab Commission.
Gamal Eid, chairperson of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, regards the suspension as blackmail. He believes that the Algerian government s accusations of terrorism have coerced other UN representatives into backing the repression of human rights organizations.
In a press release issued Wednesday, ANHRI strongly condemned the suspension of the Arab Commission.
The Arab Commission for Human Rights, founded upon values outlined in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, has been increasingly critical of Israel and Arab governments since its creation in 1998.
The commission s UN representative, Abdel Wahab Hani, was quoted as saying, this was a move taken to silence us. We upset everybody, including the Europeans and Americans by criticizing them too, so there was no one to stand up for us.
Concern regarding the politicization of the UN Committee on NGOs is not limited to human rights groups in the Middle East. Prior to the UN decision to suspend the Arab Commission, a group of 28 non-governmental organizations from across the globe, including Human Rights Watch, criticized the growing restrictions on NGO advocacy at the United Nations.