Remarks at the Coordination and Management Meeting of ECOSOC on the adoption of the NGO Committee Report

Ambassador Sarah Mendelson, U.S. Representative for Economic and Social Affairs U.S. Mission to the United Nations New York City April 5, 2016


April 5, 2016

Thank you Mr. President.

The United States is alarmed at the increasing trend of global restrictions on civic space, both within countries and through limiting civil society’s participation in the UN system. President Obama has spoken of this issue numerous times including during high level week. In just the past three years, we have seen more than 50 countries introduce or enact measures to restrict civil society. This is a matter of great, great concern to the United States, and I know it concerns many of you in this room.

In 2016, we recognize development as something that is done in partnership with government and civil society. As governments, we can only achieve our best outcomes with the help, and engagement of our civil society partners. In the United States, civic participation is part of our very fiber; it’s not just a tool but an ethos, a spirit that infuses our daily practice of citizenship. We believe that all civil society representatives should have a voice, regardless of their views.

In the United States, civil society partners are among our best advocates, and yes, on occasion, constructive critics and always push us to strive harder to improve our own domestic situation. We believe in giving civil society voice to participate in the United Nations system, and to this end, strive to accredit as many NGOs as possible through the NGO Committee’s accreditation process.

The United States is deeply concerned by the attempts of members of this committee to restrict civil society participation by blocking or deferring applications of NGOs on the basis of their work to improve their own domestic situations, whether on issues related to freedoms of expression or peaceful assembly and association, or fighting for religious or linguistic freedoms for minority groups that have been marginalized or even oppressed by the very government that is supposed to be protecting them.

We are also concerned that during this last session, the NGO Committee for the first time refused to allow an NGO to speak before the Committee before denying its application. This silencing of civil society should be of grave concern to ECOSOC and all those who seek full implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals for which civil society will be critical to implementation. This recent episode was an unacceptable restriction on free speech at the United Nations.

When joining a body such as the NGO Committee, each Member state makes an implicit commitment to respect the original intent of that body. It disappoints us greatly—and so many of our partners in civil society around the world—to see members of this Committee not only failing to meet their duties but also using this body to subvert the purpose of the NGO Committee by further restricting civic space at the UN and blocking or deferring NGO applications on non-substantive grounds and by attempting to silence NGOs here at the UN. This attempted silencing won’t work.

Thank you.

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