This draft decision seeks to grant special consultative status to the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, a leading NGO in the field of North Korea human rights research and advocacy and a source of information and analysis for UN offices and agencies. The Government of the United States fully supports granting consultative status to this NGO, which clearly meets the eligibility criteria in ECOSOC resolution 1996/31.
At its best, the UN Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations – or NGO Committee – gives civil society a voice in the United Nations. When the NGO Committee fulfills its role, the UN and its member states all benefit, as this opens up space in the UN for engagement with the eyes and ears on the ground and invaluable reporting. Civil society engagement provides a helpful context when member states engage in intergovernmental negotiations and discussions. It also enables NGOs to better understand how the UN operates and how these organizations can better engage with the UN both in headquarters and in the field.
Unfortunately, there have been far too many instances when the Committee has fallen short of its best and has hindered the participation of organizations with well-established international credibility. We should all be concerned when this happens. Since 2001, the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea – or HRNK – has dedicated itself to telling the story of human rights in North Korea through in-depth research and publications. The organization’s documented studies have established its reputation and leading role in the international network of organizations committed to promoting human rights in North Korea and to designing solutions for improving the situation there.
HRNK has published more than thirty major reports documenting the status of North Korean compliance with its international human rights obligations, including those reflected in UN treaties and other instruments. Human rights, humanitarian assistance and policy organizations focused on North Korea have cited the objectivity, impartiality, and quality of HRNK’s reports as establishing its reputation and leading role in the field. The UN, governments, civil society, and the media regularly cite HRNK’s research.
Since May 2016, the NGO Committee has blocked action on HRNK’s application by asking repetitive questions and requesting unreasonably detailed information about the organization’s funding and work. While a review of applications is fair and the Committee’s responsibility, some Committee members are abusing the due diligence process, going beyond reasonable inquiry in order to delay indefinitely action on the applications of qualified NGOs.
HRNK is a reputable NGO that clearly meets the criteria for ECOSOC consultative status as set out in resolution 1996/31. We must therefore wonder whether the NGO Committee’s decisions to defer HRNK’s application were made for reasons other than the merits of the application. This perspective is shared by numerous civil society activists who themselves have publicly stated their concerns with the process by which the NGO Committee defers applications. While some NGOs may work on issues on which some member states disagree, this should not be a reason to silence their voices. This goes against the principles on which the United Nations was founded.
In light of the significant contribution the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea is making to the work of the United Nations and that it would continue to make – particularly with ECOSOC consultative status – my delegation and the resolution’s co-sponsors have put forward a draft resolution to grant HRNK consultative status. The UN should embrace the important contributions of a vibrant civil society free from unnecessary constraints. Adoption of this resolution would clearly illustrate the importance that ECOSOC members place on creating an environment that supports civil society participation at the UN. By working to ensure genuine civil society organizations are accredited, not only do we show the value we have for the UN, but member States also demonstrate the value their own countries place on civil society.