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UN council accredits religious rights group stalled by panel

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By EDITH M. LEDERER
Associated Press

UNITED NATIONS (AP) - One of the U.N.'S main bodies voted Wednesday to grant accreditation to a British-based group that promotes religious freedom, overriding a U.N. committee that had deferred action on the matter for years.

Britain had argued that the Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations, which decides what groups can participate in U.N. activities, is biased against human rights groups.

The 54-member Economic and Social Council voted 28-9 with 12 abstentions to approve consultative status for Christian Solidarity Worldwide, giving the group the right to attend open meetings and conferences at the Geneva-based Human Rights Council and other U.N. bodies.

The organization had applied for U.N. accreditation since 2009, but its application was repeatedly deferred by the 19-member accreditation committee. After the committee voted in February to again defer action, Britain launched a campaign to get the council to overturn the decision and accredit the group.

Britain's U.N. ambassador, Matthew Rycroft, told the council before Wednesday's vote that Christian Solidarity Worldwide had responded "fully and promptly" to more than 80 questions posed by committee members and met all the requirements for accreditation. But, he said, "there has been repeated discrimination against NGOs with a human rights focus in particular" by the committee.

Rycroft pointed to letters of support from U.N. investigators on freedom of religion, freedom of expression and others for Christian Solidarity Worldwide, whose recent work includes supporting the rights of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar and civilians of all faiths caught in the conflict in Central African Republic.

In another slap at the accreditation committee, the council voted 37-0 with 16 abstentions to webcast all public meetings of the panel. The committee had resisted webcasting its public meetings even though that is a widespread practice at the United Nations.

The U.S. mission to the United Nations, which co-sponsored the resolution on webcasting, issued a statement praising the vote.

"This change will bring to light those countries that seek to block United Nations access for organizations that defend press freedom, that provide legal counsel for political prisoners, that document human rights abuses committed by their governments, and that call out discrimination of all kinds," it said.

U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said the vote would "bring increased transparency and accountability to the United Nations" and "greatly assist organizations that stand up to oppressive governments around the world."

Christian Solidarity Worldwide works in more than 20 countries in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America. Many of the nations that voted against granting accreditation, including China, Russia, India, Pakistan, South Africa, Turkey, Venezuela, Vietnam and Burkina Faso, said the lower committee's vote should stand, arguing that the group had not answered all questions from members.

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