- The Washington Times - Friday, January 18, 2002

NEW YORK Human rights watchdog Freedom House will defend itself today against charges by members of a U.N. committee that it is a tool of the CIA and hires terrorists.

Freedom House has been trying to renew its U.N. accreditation before the nongovernmental organizations (NGO) credentials committee of the U.N. Economic and Social Council (Ecosoc). But committee members Sudan, China and Cuba governments that have been criticized harshly by the Washington-based organization have challenged the application.

"The complaints are largely political," said Freedom House spokesman Michael Goldfarb. "They run from illegitimate to baseless."

The committee deferred a decision on the organization's initial application in May and asked it to file a special report addressing members' concerns. That report will be discussed today and a vote is expected by tonight.

Among those complaints, Cuba charged that a member of Freedom House's delegation to the 2000 U.N. Commission on Human Rights was a member of a terrorist cell out to assassinate Cuban President Fidel Castro. Havana also said the NGO is working with the Central Intelligence Agency on political objectives.

Sudan accused Freedom House of political interference when the group held an October 2000 press conference to denounce Sudan's human rights record the day before it lost the election for new members for the U.N. Security Council.

China has complained about Freedom House repeatedly, most recently challenging its recognition of Taiwan as a sovereign country in its 2000 ranking of nations' political and civil liberties.

"We do have it listed in the overall listing of independent countries, and as far as we're concerned, it has all the official trappings of statehood," said Mr. Goldfarb, denying that is a political position.

Mr. Goldfarb also rejected CIA or terrorist connections. He said the Sudan press conference was a legitimate airing of human rights concerns, not a violation of the Ecosoc rule that NGOs "shall not engage in politically motivated acts."

The committee is expected to take up the accreditation of several contested groups today. The D.C.-based Family Research Council also is facing resistance in its bid for U.N. accreditation.

Without accreditation, groups have a difficult time participating in U.N. meetings. U.S. envoys have been lobbying in support of the two American groups.

"Freedom House is a historically important NGO and it has wide support at the highest levels of the administration and both sides of the aisle," said Sichan Siv, the U.N. ambassador for Ecosoc issues. "That these groups are having problems shows what a good job they are doing."

News that Freedom House founded a half-century ago by Eleanor Roosevelt and others who wanted to monitor human rights in the postwar years could be denied U.N. status enraged U.S. lawmakers last year.

The debate has come at a time when American patience with the 54-member Ecosoc is growing thin.

Last spring, the main Ecosoc panel passed over the United States in a secret ballot to elect members of the prestigious Human Rights Commission, prompting Congress to make payment of some U.N. money conditional upon its regaining the seat. That was the first time in U.N. history that Washington was not elected to the Geneva-based body.

Private human rights groups have been complaining for years that nations with spotty human rights records have commandeered the credentialing committee, making it more difficult for legitimate groups to win or keep their U.N. accreditations, which are renewed every four years.

Freedom House has taken on governments around the world, angering Moscow by criticizing its military crackdown in Chechnya, and infuriating China by calling for greater religious tolerance and freedom of speech.

Most recently, it issued a detailed account of government repression in the Islamic world.

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