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Resources updated Monday, June 12, 2017

June 12, 2017

The Iranian representative at the UN NGO Committee meeting, June 12, 2017

At a meeting of the UN committee charged with allowing NGOs to gain greater access to the UN, but whose members include states infamous for denying freedom of speech and association, Iran tried to censor the speech of the United States delegate regarding an NGO dedicated to monitoring Iranian human rights violations. The censorship attempt occurred on June 12, 2017, during the final meeting of the 2017 session of the Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations held to adopt the 2017 report.

The draft report being considered included a summary of the statements made by Iran and the U.S. during consideration of the application of the U.S. NGO "Iran Human Rights Documentation Center" back on May 30, 2017. May 30th marked the 15th time over a period of 7 years that the NGO's application had been blocked. Iran blocked the NGO's application for UN accreditation at the May 30 meeting by asking what legal documents they intend to translate and distribute in Persian/Farsi and the amount of resources allocated to this activity. During the consideration, the U.S. strongly objected to Iran's question, noted that the NGO had responded to each unnecessary question asked of it, and asked that Iran withdraw its question and that the U.S.'s statement be reflected in the record of the meeting.

According to the summary of the meeting in the report of the 2017 session, the U.S. noted that the NGO had "dutifully" responded to the NGO Committee's requests for information. At the June 12 meeting to adopt the committee report, Iran objected to the word "dutifully" appearing in the report, arguing that the U.S. had not used that word when it issued its statement during the May 30 meeting. The U.S. responded that Iran had no right to edit another member state's statement and that "dutifully" accurately reflected what the U.S. had said.

After Iran again objected that the report should be accurate and not include a word the U.S. had not said in its original statement, the U.S. said that it was stating now, on the record, that the NGO had answered all questions asked of it "dutifully." Iran argued that the U.S. was not entitled to reopen its original statement.

After an hour's debate, the committee adopted without a vote the report as introduced, including the word "dutifully."

But when it was all over, Iran still succeeded in derailing the NGO's application for accreditation.

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UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir in the Saudi capital Riyadh on February 12, 2017

"Last February, U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres traveled to Cairo to outline his vision for peace in the Arab world in a major speech. His advisors privately urged him to signal U.N. concerns about rampant human rights violations by the Egyptian government, and included a brief passage in his speech highlighting the importance of civil liberties.

It never got uttered.

The omission provided early insight into a U.N. leader who has chosen to tread lightly on human rights issues as he seeks to carve out a role for himself as a potential peacemaker around the world. In meetings with influential foreign autocrats, from Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud, Guterres has shown an aversion to delivering stern lectures about crackdowns on journalists and human rights advocates.

'He doesn't talk about these things; he doesn't like bringing them up,' said one European ambassador based at the United Nations...

But the U.N. leader's reticence about trumpeting human rights concerns from the podium has vexed some diplomats and human rights advocates, who argue that it is all the more important for the U.N. chief to confront abuses at a time when the United States under President Donald Trump, as well as some of its European allies, has downgraded the importance of human rights in its own foreign policy...

If the Trump administration's retreat from human rights advocacy seemingly makes Guterres' role all the more important, Washington's animus toward the United Nations - Trump has proposed slashing U.S. funding for the U.N. - also has him watching his steps.

'The wrecking ball in Washington has led him to tread more cautiously than he might have on human rights,' [Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth] Roth said...

In his Cairo speech, Guterres chose to ditch his script, delivering a partly extemporaneous address. 'Did he intentionally leave out the positive words about the importance of civil society? Or did he just ad lib nearly the whole thing, and forget about civil society?,' said one U.N. diplomat. 'I can't answer that.'..."

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