UN committee refuses to accredit religious freedom group

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Britain says it will seek to overturn a U.N. committee's decision to deny accreditation to the organization Christian Solidarity Worldwide which promotes religious freedom in over 20 countries across Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America.

Britain's deputy ambassador Peter Wilson said Thursday he was "deeply disappointed" that the 19-member committee that accredits non-governmental organizations voted to reject the U.K.-based group's application.

The organization "does important work in protecting freedom of religion or belief," he said, adding, "The NGO committee should work to enhance, not restrict, the space for civil society participation in the U.N."

Getting U.N. accreditation gives non-governmental organizations consultative status and the right to attend open meetings and conferences at the Human Rights Council in Geneva and other U.N. bodies.

On Feb. 3, the committee voted 4-11 with one abstention to oppose accreditation for Christian Solidarity Worldwide, known by its initials CSW.

The four votes in favor were Greece, Israel, U.S. and Uruguay. The 11 votes against were Burundi, China, Cuba, India, Iran, Nicaragua, Pakistan, South Africa, Sudan, Turkey and Venezuela. Russia abstained and three countries were absent.

CSW has been applying for accreditation since 2009. Its application had been deferred by committee members who asked more than 80 questions about its work over the past seven years.

Greece's U.N. Ambassador Georgios, who called for last week's vote, expressed said his country "attaches major significance to promoting religious tolerance and countering any discrimination based on religion or belief."

He expressed deep disappointment at the result as did CSW's Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas.

"It is deeply disturbing that the U.N. Committee on NGOs, the very entity which is tasked to facilitate NGOs access to the U.N., is instead actively blocking civil society access to the U.N," Thomas said in a statement. "We believe that this decision is effectively an attempt to silence CSW and undermine the promotion of freedom of religion or belief within the U.N. system."

Britain's U.N. Mission said it will appeal the committee's decision to the 54-member U.N. Economic and Social Council, its parent body, which meets in April.

Last July, the United States succeeded in overturning the committee's rejection of accreditation for the Committee to Protect Journalists by going to ECOSOC and seeking a vote by a larger number of U.N. member states.

Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador at the time, said during the four years CPJ was denied accreditation the NGO committee issued 1,600 deferrals, many to the same organizations again and again.