- The Washington Times - Friday, May 18, 2001

State Department officials plan a private briefing today on Capitol Hill to discuss the problems private U.S.-based human rights groups have encountered in obtaining accreditation to participate in official U.N. discussions.

The Washington Times reported yesterday that several nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have complained that their efforts to obtain official recognition have been questioned or stalled by U.N. members whose human rights records they have criticized.

Among those targeted have been Freedom House, the Simon Weisenthal Center and the Family Research Council. The accreditation process is controlled by a 19-nation subcommittee of the U.N. Economic and Social Council (Ecosoc), whose membership ranges from democracies such as the United States and Germany to regimes such as China, Cuba and Sudan.

NGOs have played an increasingly influential role in shaping U.N. debates in recent years on such issues as human rights, health and social policy. They have focused attention on Russia´s military operation in Chechnya, China´s policy toward Tibet, and Cuba´s suppression of political dissent.

Longtime U.N. observers say the current membership of the Ecosoc subcommittee has made it increasingly difficult for bona fide human rights advocates to get and keep their accreditation. The accreditation, which must be renewed every four years, permits the private groups to participate in official U.N. discussions and conferences.

A spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who is traveling abroad, declined to comment on the situation yesterday.

Although no formal action is currently being planned in Congress, the NGOs´ plight has already attracted the attention of key committees on Capitol Hill.

"We have been working with these groups for a number of years," Senate Foreign Relations Committee spokesman Garrett Grigsby said. "In the past, if we really made a push we were able to get these groups accredited. Lately, the process has clearly been getting much harder."

"We recognize there has to be a process for accreditation, but it unfortunately appears to have become much more politicized," Mr. Grigsby said.

The Senate panel does not plan to take up an $8.2 billion State Department reauthorization bill until after the Memorial Day recess. The House version of the bill, which passed Wednesday evening, would withhold $242 million in promised dues payments to the world body if the United States is not restored to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights.

A secret vote earlier this month ousted the United States from the human rights panel for the first time since its founding in 1947. President Bush denounced the U.N. act as "outrageous," and U.S. officials said the move was in part a payback for American criticisms of the human rights records of fellow U.N. members.

While the Senate still must take up the reauthorization bill, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms said earlier this week that the House action on U.N. dues was "the minimum" Congress should do to protest the human rights vote.

Several human rights groups said yesterday they have not yet appealed for action on Capitol Hill because their accreditation bids are either pending or are not currently up for renewal. Until there is formal action by the Ecosoc committee members, several applicants said, they prefer for now to let the process unfold.

"We know the U.S. government is watching, and we know there are members of Congress who understand our concerns," said Heather E. Cirmo, a spokeswoman for the Family Research Council, a D.C.-based "pro-faith, pro-family" organization that is applying for accreditation to the United Nations for the first time.

The council´s application has been deferred for a third time by the Ecosoc subcommittee, reportedly for "procedural" reasons.

Human rights activists said the accreditation situation began to worsen when Sudan successfully lobbied two years ago to strip the official rights of Christian Solidarity, a group that buys and then liberates Sudanese slaves. U.S. officials have tried to aid the human rights groups but face a large bloc of authoritarian regimes that also serve on the subcommittee.

Among the thousands of NGOs that enjoy accreditation before Ecosoc are groups that range from the National Rifle Association to the International Committee of the Red Cross. Most applications are handled without incident.

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