India’s harassment of IDSN is part of global trend of shrinking space for human rights defenders

dalit2Statement by the International Dalit Solidarity Network (IDSN) on the decision of the UN Committee on NGOs’ decision to put off the plea to get UN ECOSOC consultative status:

For the 18th time since 2008, the Committee on NGOs has deferred IDSN’s application – the longest pending one of its kind – for UN ECOSOC consultative status. Two more questions from India have yet again delayed the process.

The UN Committee on NGOs has become infamous as a tool of states that do not respect human rights and civil society. The Committee’s practice of repeatedly deferring NGO applications for consultative status with the UN has reached such an alarming extent that it undermines global human rights, the International Dalit Solidarity Network said today.

At its ongoing session in New York, the Committee on NGOs has yet again effectively blocked a number of NGOs from gaining access to the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Last week, 230 NGOs took the unprecedented step of calling for reforms of the way that the UN deals with NGOs. In a joint letter to ECOSOC member states, they described the practice of the Committee as “reflective of growing restrictions on civil society globally”.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the exercise of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai, joined this criticism by stating that the Committee on NGOs has been “hijacked” by governments that aim to “take away NGOs’ voices on the international stage” by “arbitrarily deferring applications for consultative status.” He urged the Committee to stop “pandering to considerations that undermine the ability of the United Nations to fulfill its mission.”

The most extreme case of obstruction against NGOs is that of the International Dalit Solidarity Network (IDSN), which started its application process nine years ago. Today, the Committee deferred the application for the 18th time, as India presented two more questions to IDSN. Since 2008, India has asked 77 questions, many of them repetitive and previously responded to. Maina Kiai has described these actions as “clearly unacceptable, wrong and unfair.”

The deferral means that IDSN and its members, many of whom are human rights defenders from caste-affected countries, are effectively barred from associating freely with the UN. Without ECOSOC status, NGOs cannot present statements or organise side events at UN fora. This means a loss of opportunities to discuss the horrific human rights violations caused by caste discrimination.

“India’s harassment of IDSN is part of global trend which in India itself has led to an increasingly shrinking space for human rights defenders. Furthermore, India acts against the interests of its 200 million Dalits. By blocking discussions on caste discrimination in international fora, it effectively lets down one sixth of its own population and also harms the aspirations for a better life for tens of millions of people subjected to caste discrimination in other countries,” IDSN’s Executive Director, Rikke Nöhrlind, said.

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