When the United Nations is being used as a means to limit the work of NGOs

When the United Nations is being used as a means to limit the work of NGOs

Unfortunately, there are many procedural breaches and human rights violations committed by United Nations bodies purportedly concerned with human rights. They also frequently ignore gross violations during times in which peoples need the support and defense of the UN bodies in a world in which criminals live in freely under policies of marginalizing, exclusion, preference and discrimination between peoples and nations. Ideally, the UN is not supposed to operate differentiate between working with big or small countries. It is playing a role contrary to the message on which it was founded.

We, the Arab Commission for Human Rights (ACHR) faced fabricated case against our organization designed to exclude it from the United Nations.  

This case had two goals; to freeze its membership in the Economic and Social Council for one year starting from 27.06.2009 and to defame our former representative in Geneva, attorney Rashid Mesli, on charges of belonging to a terrorist cell (he stopped representing ACHR before this case was brought for reasons that are not related to the matter and he was actually the legal director of Al-Karama Organization for Human Rights).

We have discovered by coincidence, and without notification from the Committee of NGOs of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) regarding our UN membership, that there was a case raised by the Algerian delegation to the United Nations against ACHR with the aim of isolating it because it deals with a “terrorist” who represents it before the United Nations in Geneva. (We don’t know if there was a connection between this disfonctionnement and the completion of the working period of Ms. Hanifa Mezoui, who is of Algerian nationality and served as the Rapporteur of the NGOs Committee in New York and Mr. Rashid Mesli who opposed her in her divorce case as he was her ex-husband’s lawyer?)
The issue was raised on 21.01.2009; almost six months after Mr. Mesli intervened, under the name of Al-Karama Organization for Human Rights and the Arab Commission, in a discussion of the Algeria report.

This occurred during the United Nation’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the Human Rights Council session in Geneva on 10.06.2008, where the representative of Algeria did not request the right to respond or to object against the ACHR representative or object to the content of his intervention.

Mr. Mesli was a lawyer in his country before moving to Switzerland as he was involved in important cases including representation of nine members and leaders of the banned Islamic Salvation Front. This was before he was sentenced to three years imprisonment in 1996 where the ACHR intervened to the Ministry of Interior and discussed his torture in its book on torture and the safety of self and body in the Arab World. 

The book was published in 1998 and it has a testimony he sent from jail to ACHR which considered his arrest and trial, like Amnesty International did, as arbitrary as it took place under unusual circumstances. After his release he went to Switzerland for medical treatment and there he applied for political asylum and secured it in 2000.
The Algerian government had also accused him of committing terrorist acts in June 1999, despite the fact that he was imprisoned during that time. In addition to this, western countries do not provide political asylum to terrorists or those who escape justice.

It is certainly not a coincidence that for the fabricated case of the Algerian lawyer who has criticized from within the United Nations headquarters, human rights violations, especially kidnapping and torture during the discussion of the report of Algeria. It was not also a coincidence for ACHR which he represented, providing that ACHR which spoke of names of detainees who were tortured in Algerian prisons, as well as testimonies and facts about those detainees who were subject to torture including Alalo Hemeda who was arrested, imprisoned and tortured and he was asked in 24.05.2006 for the second time of being in charge and being the main funding source for the purchase of arms.

What seems strange in this case is that the lawyer is the one who is being accused of terrorism, while, according to Soliman Boussoufa, that “Madani Merzaq, former leader of the Army of Islamic Salavation, Abdel Haqq Eleyada, founder of the Armed Islamic Group, which committed most of the massacres against civilians in Algeria, Hassan Hattab, one of the most prominent leaders of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat , all of whom were killed innocent people and admitted their crimes and to misleading the young Algerians who joined them, but they continue to live in villas guarded under the auspices of the Security Services and receive monthly salaries and benefits.

Boussoufa adds “When the Indian authorities arrested the Abassi Madani’s son (the first man in the dissolved front) Mr. Osama (also known as Salim) Madani in one of its airports in compliance with the arrest warrant issued against him by the Algerian authorities via Interpol, he was released in record time as the Algerian authorities claimed that the arrest warrant was old, that circumstances have changed and the country has entered into a phase of reconciliation. 
The regime also claimed that containing terrorists is a part of this reconciliation, which requires painful concessions from all those affected by the crisis. “

The question is: are those who work on exposing human rights violations more dangerous and pose a greater threat to the regimes than those involved in real violence? It seems so.

In the report on torture in Algerian prisons the case of the officer Anwar Malek and the torture he was subject to in prison by the Minister Abu Jarra Sultani was mentioned. The story continues as the Algerian authorities were not satisfied by only suspending the membership of the ACHR, but it also works on dealing with it through many other ways.

We read in the Algerian daily dialogue on 28/10/2009 that “Quds Press Agency quoted the leader of the Islamic Party, whom they referred to as a “political Algerian source” that the uproar against the presidential coalition, is only a part of a new series of such lawsuits filed by some Algerians who call themselves opposition and live abroad. Furthermore, those who tried to accuse Algeria of taking part in the assassination attempt of Mesli through ACHR at the Human Rights Council is just the same as trying to the involve Abu Jar and is a reminder that these entities had failed previously when Algeria secured a resolution to freeze the membership of the Arab Commission for Human Rights in the Human Rights Council for one year ..”

We note that when Anwar Malek took the opportunity of Abu Jarra Soltani’s  visit to Switzerland months after the end of his term as a minister to file a case against him and sue him for his participation in torturing him in prison, ACHR did not know about that and had only heard of it. 

That happened after the uproar following the departure or the smuggling of the leader of the Peace Movement from Switzerland and the lawsuit filed on behalf of the Malek’s lawyer François Membrez, lawyer for the Swiss Association TRIAL (track impunity always).

It should be noted that following the publication of the mentioned report of the Committee in 10.12.2007 (which recommends calling for forming an international commission of judicial and human rights organizations to visit the prisoners mentioned and to listen to their testimonies, and also called for guarantees that the Algerian authorities to protect those prisoners and not to subject them to torture due to their statements about crimes committed against them, visiting Algerian prisons, including the secret ones which hide prisoners for years without anyone’s knowledge, and punish anyone found guilty of such acts or anyone who made it easy for such acts to be committed, regardless of their position in the ruling system). 

The Algerian press on18.12.2007 published news of the death of the head of Harrach in which most of the above mentioned prisoners were imprisoned.

Following the developments and the news circulated by the Algerian media, the Arab Commission for Human Rights issued a statement on 04.01.2008 entitled “The Implications of Publishing a Report on Torture in Algerian Prisons,” which described abuses by the administration of the prison, the death of the Head of Harrach prison, which is “mysterious and strange” as ACHR called Algerian authorities to investigate the causes of death and trial of the killer due to the rumors spread in the media about the pressures suffered by the  prison warden by Security Services and the Ministry of Justice, following a week-long protest by more than 200 prisoners. 

The statement stated: “Despite the ending of the protest due to the death as well as ending the harassment of prisoners by the prison administration, the prisoners we mentioned in our report received punitive actions as they were believed to have involved in the leak of information.”

The Ministry of Justice referred 35 prisoners, mostly from El Harrach prison, to different places and isolated them in solitary confinements and kept them hundreds of kilometers away from their families. “The prisoner Alalo Hemeda was placed in solitary confinement and was beaten by the intelligence agents who wanted to know how the information leaked to the ACHR.

The statement stresses that the implications of the report of torture in Algeria affected the prisons and their families deeply, even though they had nothing to do with providing the information the report contained. Therefore, ACHR renewed its demands to the political authorities to stop torturing prisoners and to bring them to a fair trial.
Of course none of the official bodies responded to the information contained in the report, which was based on direct testimonies of prisoners. 

Only a press statement made by Farouk Qustantini, head of the so-called the Official Commission for the Promotion of Human Rights was circulated in media. In his statement, without direct reference to ACHR, he referred to the reports of torture in prisons that it had been published by those whom he called “the Algerian opposition abroad”. These reports, according to Qustantini, intend only to destroy the institutions of the state.

On the backdrop of these facts conspiracy theory remains the currency used by politicians; they regard themselves as infallible for every sin and above all accountable so they do everything without fear or shame and direct their arrows in all directions in the hope that it would get someone and they get acquitted.

That was the spirit when the representative of Algeria at the United Nations in Geneva, Mr. Idris al-Jazairy spoke with when I tried on one occasion to talk to him in order to find out the reasons for this campaign and explain to him our point of view in ACHR. He refused my request to have a meeting or to even carry of speaking claiming that our commission promotes the goals of the Western countries to get Algeria and its reputation.

Of course I was told that no one but President Bouteflika can intervene and change this resolution.  
ACHR was asked to make an apology because one of the European Parliaments who intervened for ACHR! But since when is cooperation with a human rights activist who opposes the government considered a crime for which forgiveness should be sought?  

We, like other Arab migrants living abroad, are used to seeing officials in the governments of our countries accusing the opposition outside as long as no one asks them to provide evidence of their claims or complaints raised against them. 
If this is how these governments and their representative’s act then how could it be expected from UN bodies to learn from its repeated mistakes to at least save its face and stop wasting the rights of individuals and peoples under different names of diplomacy?

It is very sad how the Social and Economic and Social Committee adopted a resolution without getting back to the competent Committee of NGOs without holding discussions or examining the information provided by the Algerian government regarding ACHR as well as not requesting to hear from ACHR, the victim in this case, or even to take into consideration its defense it made about itself through two letters (one sent on 28 January to the Committee of NGOs in the ECOSOC, which was going to hold a meeting hours later to defend itself as we responded to the accusations after reading the subject of the discussion on the website of the ECOSOC. Later on 01.02.09 we sent the second letter to the members of the ECOSOC, members of the Committee of NGOs, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, President and Secretariat of the Human Rights Council to refute some of the points in the resolution of freeze. (The two letters can be found in French on our website). 

Hence, the ECOSOC has added another breach by not asking the Algerian government, which had submitted the complaint through its representatives in New York, to provide evidence to support its complaint.

As expressed by our representative in Geneva, Mr. Abdel Wahab Hani, following the vote “Algeria’s blind desire to take revenge as well as the hypocrisy of Arab and Islamic support and the cowardice of the Western countries will deprive the United Nations for one year from taking advantage of consultative status of the Arab Commission for Human Rights”.
And we emphasize that if the matter had only stopped at this point, we wouldn’t have regretted losing representatives for a year as most of ACHR’s work is outside the framework of the United Nations. In addition to this other human rights organizations and members of the ECOSOC will not hesitate to give us a seat whenever need as it had expressed this in their correspondences and solidarity letters.

In our opinion, the most dangerous thing is not taking into account the impact of such decision on the credibility of the ECOSOC which had granted the consultative status to more than one hundred NGOs as well as its Committee of NGOs.
What happened, in every sense of the expression, is a dangerous precedent affecting NGOs and human rights defenders as it will make it possible for repressive governments to limit its work through the UN. We weren’t the first ones who had a resolution of this nature and unfortunately we won’t be the last if the situation remains like this in UN institutions (during the past years there was a vote on the freeze of “Amnesty International” for a year, three times for the “OMCT”’s freeze for a year and once for ” Reporters Without Borders “for one year).

This precisely raised fears of some representatives within the European representatives in the ECOSOC as they stressed before the meeting that they will not let such a resolution be adopted because it will be a threat to the work of NGOs. However, the resolution was adopted in Geneva by consensus and with no debate after winning 18 votes out of 19 NGOs Committee in New year to freeze the membership of ACHR for one year in the.

In this regard it should be noted that the Algerian delegation in New York had demanded the withdrawal of ACHR’s membership and not only its freeze, then backed down after long discussions to demand its freeze for three years and finally it was agreed five consecutive sessions (between 23, 26 and 28 January and 2 February 2009) on the recommendation meeting of the ECOSOC to be held in July 2009 to freeze the membership of ACHR for one year. 
The Algerian delegation was not satisfied yet, but it also tried to make the recommendation in effect for one year immediately instead of waiting for the ECOSOC’s meeting in July to decide on the matter.

Earlier we have clarified that “some delegations, particularly the Western ones, had found that the resolution cannot be pass by imposing pressures, and that it would set a precedent against the human rights organization, especially since there is no threat in the charge! In addition, the information provided by the Algerian delegation against ACHR, according to some other delegations, were unclear, lacked information as the Secretariat of the Committee did send a request to inquire information from the ACHR as usually happens and ACHR did not know about this complaint until January 2009 as the Algerian delegation wanted to surprise us in order to prevent us from preparing a response to these accusations”
The Canadian representative had also objected to the procedure after the session of July in Geneva and doubted its transparency while the Swedish representative, who spoke on behalf of the European Union, explicitly about “The strong opposition from some countries about on granting the consultative status to organizations which criticizes the human rights record of those countries or those that did not agree on some countries views.” In the same context, the representative of the US had said: “Unfortunately, the US has reached to a conclusion that some delegations in this Committee of NGOs are trying to use it in order to mute the voices of the NGOs which are incompatible with the trends of it and also which work within the framework of the UN”.

The U.S. representative at the UN in New York, who abstained from voting, has declared earlier during the discussion sessions of the Committee of NGOs that the allegations lacked transparency. He also condemned the way in which the resolution was adopted as members of the committee did not have enough time to examine the validity of allegations about the involvement of Mr. Mesli, who is a political refugee in Switzerland, in terrorist acts in the organization mentioned and also for not confirming that the organization is available in Regulation No. 1267 of the Security Council.

It was proven that the Committee of NGOs works on politicizing its work and is subject to blackmailing and changing its role according to the allegations of the parties known for their human rights serious violations record.
It is also known that Algerian government does not pay attention to the published notes or consider the requests of the UN human rights special procedures such as the frequent requests to visit the country by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Forced disappear and illegal execution without trials.

The support of representatives of other representatives of other Arab countries members in the Committee of NGOs to this resolution, and those are; Egypt, Sudan, Qatar and with the support of Israel, is stressing the question: what is the reason behind this attack campaign against ACHR which is active in all fields of human rights which advances human rights intellectually and practically, including the formation of a coalition for the trial of Israeli war criminals.

It had also submitted along with the International Coalition against War Criminals (ICAWC), which it is one of its founders, submitted to the Prosecutor-General of the International Criminal Court in Hague a file containing legal materials, photographs and documents for the trial of Israeli military and political war criminals in their recent war on Gaza end of 2008 and early 2009.

ACHR is also known for its complete independence in making decisions, as it does not seek funding, that it does not operate for personal interests, and that it supports no parties to avoid hampering or restricting its work.
Its activities operate according to international standards of International Law on Human Rights and the International Humanitarian Law in monitoring, through the volunteers working for it, including all violations of human rights in Arab regimes in particular despite moral and material costs.

This, of course, is threatening these regimes as this was expressed by the representative of the Arab Republic of Egypt during the vote on suspending the consultative status of the ACHR when he said “we have to give a lesson to human rights organizations which are getting wilder against our regimes”.

This becomes clear each time human rights organizations are targeted after denouncing the practices of repressive regimes and after exposing it human rights violations.

If there was any shortage in the work of these organizations then it would be that it hasn’t moved yet to the battle of accountability and trial of those who violate the rights of their citizens due to the authority and immunity they have, which allows them to do everything without being held accountable or tried except in very rare cases between those in authority against each other where they are accused of corruption or committing a crime.

If we remain like this then it is impossible to wish for the change to come, since moving forward requires appropriate environment, a good mentality, a working conscience, adequate conditions and legal terms that are not available yet. 

Source: عندما تصبح الأمم المتحدة مطية الحكومات لتطويق المنظمات

Original article published on Nov. 9, 2009

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