Can the UN be true to its democratic principles without reforming the NGO Committee?

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Broad participation and representation, including vibrant civil society participation, are essential prerequisites for democratic development. However, as the United Nations (UN) marks the International Day of Democracy today, it is clear that the UN system faces severe internal challenges on this front.

Importance of ECOSOC NGO Committee

The access a number of NGOs have to the UN has been continuously blocked by the The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Committee on NGOs through arbitrary deferrals and denial of ECOSOC consultative status.

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In the Lead up to the G20 Summit, Questions Must be Asked About the Direction China is Taking.

When leaders of the G20 nations arrive in Zhejiang Province, China, next week for the G20 summit, they will be greeted by a different skyline than they might have seen five years ago.

The sky scrapers and shopping malls that have become the hallmark of China’s phenomenal economic growth will still be there, but the bright red Christian crosses which were once just as much a feature of Zhejiang have been taken down.

Removal of crosses in Zhejiang Province

Hundreds of crosses have been removed by the authorities since early 2014, as part of a campaign allegedly introduced to rid the province of structures which violate building regulations. Under draft regulations, crosses now have to be flat against outer walls, and their size and colour are restricted. The authorities have sometimes employed violent tactics in the face of protests by church members. Christian leaders who have opposed the cross removals through letters or peaceful gatherings have been arrested and accused of economic crimes.

It may be no coincidence that the site of the cross removal campaign is the same province selected to host the G20.

Continue reading “In the Lead up to the G20 Summit, Questions Must be Asked About the Direction China is Taking.”

Suffocating Democracy: The Suppression of NGOs in Egypt

The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki Moon, once said, “Civil society is the oxygen of democracy”. If this is the case, then Egypt’s democracy is slowly suffocating.

The human rights community in Egypt currently faces an unprecedented risk from what a number of rights activists feel is the worst assault in their history. In addition to the imposition of multiple travel bans, asset freezes and arrests of human rights defenders in the country, the Egyptian Government has also re-opened investigations from 2011 into NGOs they believe have committed the offence of receiving foreign funding.

Investigated, Bound and Gagged

The investigations into both local and foreign NGOs began after the former President Hosni Mubarak’s 30 year rule was ended by a popular uprising in 2011. The investigations were justified by officials at the time on the premise that they were going after organisations funded from abroad which they alleged were working to destabilise the country.

In addition to the re-opening of the investigations, human rights defenders working for these NGOs have been increasingly targeted. They have been summoned for questioning, regularly banned from travel and have had their passports confiscated and their personal and family assets frozen.

To make matters worse, the investigating Judge in the re-opened NGO case, Hesham Abdel Meguid, has issued a legal gagging order that prevents every media outlet in Egypt from publishing any material on the case, aside from official statements issuing from the court. This further compounds the problems Egyptian NGOs are suffering – not only are they being harassed, they are being gagged from talking about being harassed.

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Vietnam: Social Media as a Catalyst For Change

“What do you think is religious freedom?”

That’s the question posed in a video by the Association to Protect Freedom of Religion (APFOR), a Vietnamese organisation which aims to help “everyone in Vietnam fulfil their right to freedom of religion”.

By Hội Bảo Vệ Quyền Tự Do Tôn Giáo – What do you think is religious freedom

“A fundamental human right,” says one young interviewee.

“People have the right to express their beliefs and live according to certain religious doctrines,” comments another, this time a mechanic.

“True freedom of religion means different religions can be spread,” adds a construction worker.

The video goes on to include comments from independent researchers, legal professionals and religious followers, ending with an invitation to the viewer to share her or his own thoughts on Facebook.

APFOR have since produced another video, equally well-made and insightful, this time looking at a new draft law on religion and belief which is likely to be passed in Vietnam in 2016.

By Hội Bảo Vệ Quyền Tự Do Tôn Giáo – The right to religion, have to wait for approval?

Vietnam’s controversial draft Law on Belief and Religion

This second video was posted on Facebook in November 2015, just as the draft law was being debated at the National Assembly. It’s already proving to be a controversial issue. In a welcome move towards some degree of engagement, the government solicited feedback on the fourth draft of the law from religious organisations in spring 2015. The Government Religious Committee held several meetings with registered religious groups to discuss the law, and unregistered or independent groups have also publicised their analysis of the draft law, as have Vietnamese lawyers and international civil society organisations.

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