Q – Why did UN Watch complain to the UN? Isn’t is true that the UN merely publishes every NGO written statement as submitted, without any of its own vetting?
Not true — the UN does play a vetting role. Note the UN disclaimer on the front page of the EAFORD statement: “The Secretary-General has received the following written statement which is circulated in accordance with Economic and Social Council resolution 1996/31.”
This resolution contemplates a back-and-forth “appropriate consultation” with the Secretary-General (i.e., the Secretariat, which in the case of the Human Rights Council is the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights), and contemplates the SG providing the NGO with “comments,” before circulation:
[…] Written statements
30. Written statements relevant to the work of the Council may be submitted by organizations in general consultative status and special consultative status on subjects in which these organizations have a special competence. Such statements shall be circulated by the Secretary-General of the United Nations to the members of the Council, except those statements that have become obsolete, for example, those dealing with matters already disposed of and those that had already been circulated in some other form.
31. The following conditions shall be observed regarding the submission and circulation of such statements:
(a) The written statement shall be submitted in one of the official languages;
(b) It shall be submitted in sufficient time for appropriate consultation to take place between the Secretary-General and the organization before circulation;(c) The organization shall give due consideration to any comments that the Secretary-General may make in the course of such consultation before transmitting the statement in final form;
Q – Okay, so legally the UN plays some kind of a vetting role. But how is this applied in practice? Does the UN ever intervene to screen or edit NGO submissions?
Yes, this vetting is applied in practice. In the same March 2010 session, for example, UN Watch was instructed by the UN to change a written statement that we had submittted. It appears the problem was that our submission had used the word “regimes” to refer to the regimes ruling Burma, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Sudan and Zimbabwe. We had it to change it to the less offensive “governments.” We also couldn’t say Burma — only the regime’s (oops, that is, the government‘s) preferred name of Myanmar.
Q – But was that an exceptional example of UN consultation and comments on a NGO written statement?
No, it has happened before to UN Watch, as to other NGOs who dare to say what the UN may consider unacceptable, according to non-transparent and unpublished standards.
In 2005, in response to a UN Watch written submission to the Human Rights Commission’s subcommission, the OHCHR wanted UN Watch to remove langage critical of “certain States” (apparently Cuba, Zimbabwe and Saudi Arabia), of “Heads of States” (Castro and Saddam), and “even” of “certain members of the Sub-Commission.” Our statement was nothing more than a segment taken from of our director’s essay in the New Republic. Hardly shocking stuff.
Yet when the apologist for Saddam’s genocidal gassing of Kurds was being criticized, the UN responded as follows:
Sent: Tuesday, July 12, 2005 5:11 PM
To: Hillel Neuer
Subject: Re: UN Watch SubCom Statement, Item 1 and Item 2
Dear Mr. Neuer,
With reference to the written statement submitted by UN Watch below for the 57th session of the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, the Secretariat has noted that, when referring to certain States, Heads of States, or even certain members of the Sub-Commission, the language used was not entirely in accordance with accepted United Nations standards.
While we do not wish to exercise any form of censorship, we hold the view that all contributions from all participants, be it a Government, a non-governmental organization, or any one else are imbued with the appropriate level of dignity and respect. We hope that the below statement may be reviewed in that regard.
Secretariat of the Sub-Commission
By implication, therefore, it would seem that the same UN vetting process considers EAFORD’s blood libel to be language “entirely in accordance with accepted United Nations standards,” and “imbued with the appropriate level of dignity and respect.”
EAFORD got away with it because the member state in question here was Israel.
Q – The UN published the EAFORD statement under the Human Rights Council’s notorious Agenda Item 7, which targets Israel. How did the session treat other statements made under this Item?
A – Whatever the UN may say about an alleged policy of free speech, the truth is that there is a double standard.
EAFORD submitted their obscene blood libel as a written statement, under Agenda Item 7 (“Human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories”). The statement was approved, stamped with the UN seal, and published.
Yet that same week, UN Watch, delivering an oral statement under the very same agenda item, criticized a UN report on Gaza for adopting the narrative of Hamas. This statement was rejected as “unacceptable” by the UN council president. See it all here.
Q – Has the UN Human Rights Council ever before applied double standards in responding to oral statements?
Yes, it happens far too often. Watch this video from the UNHRC’s inaugural 2006-2007 session to see how the most inflammatory remarks against basic human rights principles were welcomed, while a defense of those principles was condemned. The New York Sun summed it up well in this editorial.