Since our inception, Access Now has engaged with the United Nations in support of our mission to extend and defend the digital rights of users at risk.
We’ve submitted briefs to the Human Rights Council, spoken at the U.N. Forum on Business and Human Rights, and endorsed resolutions in the General Assembly — without being an “accredited” NGO under the U.N. system.
But being accredited at the U.N. opens up important opportunities to advance our work, such as appearing in person at public meetings and speaking on the record about pressing digital rights issues. In short, accreditation commands the notice of U.N. bodies and enables organizations to more effectively bring their issues before member states and key stakeholders from around the world.
We first applied for Economic and Social Council accreditation in 2013 and we had our application deferred four times by the Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations, the gatekeeper and official organ that regulates NGO participation. During this period, we twice appeared before the committee in person and answered 18 total questions in writing. Finally, last week, the NGO Committee recommended that we be granted special consultative status. We were excited to officially receive accreditation in July 2016 after years of applying.
But many other groups continue to face challenges receiving accreditation. Before our review in May, we and more than 200 civil society groups — some with accreditation, others without it — joined a letter led by International Service for Human Rights calling out the NGO Committee for stifling or blocking the applications of numerous NGOs on the slightest of pretexts and for lacking transparency around its workings.
Indeed, on the Friday we received approval for accreditation, the committee blocked 35 out of 37 NGOs. Such obstacles have harmed many like-minded and worthy organizations (including our friends at the Committee to Protect Journalists who were egregiously denied consultative status by the committee), some of whom traveled from around the world, at great expense, to New York for their review, only to be told to come back six months later. The good news is that civil society groups and UN missions have since thrown their support behind CPJ, which was able to secure status during a special vote in July 2016. The UN — and journalists around the world — will be better off for CPJ’s participation.
There is a need for urgent improvement at the U.N. NGO Committee, and we as civil society groups can help play a guiding role in identifying pathways forward. But this also requires the leadership of U.N. member states. Officials including U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon have reprimanded the committee and rallied around the hashtag #NGOCommittee.
We intend to continue our support for digital rights — from the outside as well as the inside. We look forward to engaging with the U.N. further to support digital rights for all the world’s peoples and to ensure that NGO voices across the spectrum receive the status they deserve as players in the U.N. system.
This post was updated on July 26, 2016 to reflect Access Now officially receiving status and to recognize the newly granted status of the Committee to Protect Journalists.