(New York - 31 May 2013) - The UN Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations, which acts as the gatekeeper to NGO access to the UN, this week opened up the UN to LGBT voices for the first time since 2008.
“The decision this week by the Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations to recommend consultative status to two organisations representing lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people is a triumph in the ongoing struggle to advance human rights and enhance the involvement of those working on sexual orientation and gender identity at the UN,” said Michelle Evans of International Service for Human Rights.
The two national groups recommended for status on May 24 and 28 2013 are Homosexuelle Initiative Wien (Hosi-Wien), an Austrian advocacy group for lesbian and gay people, and Australian Lesbian Medical Association (ALMA), an Australian organisation advancing both lesbian health professionals’ visibility and lesbian health.
Consultative status provides non-governmental organizations (NGOs) the opportunity to participate formally in UN meetings, including speaking on the record publicly at UN meetings, and organizing events on UN grounds.
“With consultative status, these groups can better serve LGBT communities by sharing information and analysis of the abuses and discrimination LGBT people face around the world, and by advocating for their rights in UN spaces,” said Ms Evans.
The positive result for the two groups shows that the Committee finally heard the repeated messages sent by the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC)--the body that oversees the Committee’s work--that it must stop blocking LGBT groups from participating in the UN. In recent years, with one exception in 2008 for an LGBT group from the Netherlands, the ECOSOC has overturned numerous negative recommendations from the Committee on LGBT groups from various regions.
Despite the historic achievement, the applications were not recommended for status with the agreement of all 19 member states on the Committee. Several states, including China, Morocco, Pakistan, Russian Federation, Senegal and Sudan attempted to block both NGOs’ applications. However supporters (Belgium, Bulgaria, India, Israel, Nicaragua, Peru, Turkey, United States (US) and Venezuela) outnumbered the obstructing States in a 9-6 vote. Other Committee members either abstained (Kyrgyzstan and Mozambique) or were absent (Burundi and Cuba).
The US called the decision to approve consultative status for the two organisations, both of which had been deferred since 2007, a “monumental achievement”. Bulgaria agreed that the decision was a “major breakthrough” and showed that the Committee was “moving away from discrimination of the past” to set a new pattern regarding LGBT organisations.
“We expect the ECOSOC to finally grant consultative status to Hosi-Wien and ALMA in its summer session in July,” said Ms Evans. “And we look forward to these deserving organisations soon joining efforts at the UN to defend basic human rights.”
The Committee on NGOs is tasked with considering the applications of NGOs for consultative status with the UN as well as the quadrennial reports submitted by NGOs already in consultative status. Consultative status provides NGOs with access to a range of fora at the UN, including the Human Rights Council, ECOSOC and its subsidiary bodies, UN conferences, and special events organized by the President of the General Assembly.
The Committee has come under criticism in recent years for failing in its core task of giving civil society a voice at the UN and deviating from the guiding principles in ESOCOC resolution 1996/31 in its handling of applications for consultative status and review of quadrennial reports. It is widely accepted that State membership of the Committee lies at the root of these negative trends and the balance of the Committee’s membership tends towards States that do not support a vibrant civil society at the UN. Members of the NGO Committee for the period 2011-2014 are: Belgium, Bulgaria, Burundi, China, Cuba, India, Israel, Kyrgyzstan, Morocco, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Peru, Russian Federation, Senegal, Sudan, Turkey, United States of America, and Venezuela.
Contact: Michelle Evans, New York Advocacy Coordinator, International Service for Human Rights, on firstname.lastname@example.org or + 1 212 490 21 99.
Photo: Jessica Rinaldi, Reuters