UN Rapporteur Kiai Blasts Multilateral Organizations

30 October 2014

United Nations human rights Special Rapporteur Maina Kiai on Oct. 28 issued a report calling on multilateral organizations to be more transparent and inclusive.

“The Special Rapporteur observes with concern how at the multilateral level the space and autonomy given to associations and people to exercise their fundamental rights is in far too many instances determined by world politics and limited and/or suspicious national conceptions of the role of civil movements in global societies,” according to the report by Kiai, the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.

He made a presentation of his report to the UN General Assembly.

“Decisions of multilateral institutions -which represent Governments- have a profound impact on the lives of ordinary people across the globe,” he said. “But are these people consulted and given a chance to contribute to issues affecting them? Often, the answer is no.”

He said that global governance is increasingly becoming fragmented and diffused among a broad range of multilateral bodies. His report includes a call for more transparency by international sports regulators.

Concerning the inter-governmental Financial Action Task Force, created to fight money laundering, terrorist financing and other related threats to the international financial system, Kiai said:

The demands of the Financial Action Task Force to regulate NGOs to prevent abuse of such organizations for the financing of terrorism have been followed by a wave of new restrictions worldwide on funding for civil society, many of which do nothing to legitimately advance the fight against money laundering and terrorism.

He “expressed alarm at the extremely high number of reported violations to the right of peacefully assembly during summits of multilateral institutions, as happens regularly with NATO and the G20,” according to a summary of his remarks. He also addressed reprisals against activists working in multilateral arenas and state obstruction of their participation. The quality of consultations is criticized.

The UN NGO Committee, which recommends NGOs to the UN Economic and Social Council for consultative status, “has on several occasions acted in a manner contrary to its purpose by arbitrarily deferring applications for dozens of NGOs, several for many years,” he said, according to a press release is available in English and Chinese via OHCHR.

The report’s document number is A/69/365). It is available in all six UN languages at the links below:

English • Français • Español • ??????? • ?????????? ?????

A full transcript of his remarks is available here. Video of the session is available via the United Nations – Maina Kiai’s statement only (10m 14s) and the entire session from Oct. 28 (3h 05m).

See also here for media statements released before and after the General Assembly session. A factsheet summarizing the report is available here.

Strong Language on Access to Information

The report addresses access to information in a variety of ways.

The flow of information is crucial, and if civil society has limited access to information, they are at a disadvantage,” according to paragraph 27. It continues:

The World Bank and other global financial institutions tend to have reasonably comprehensive access to information policies, although they are not perfect. The United Nations has not yet adopted a general comprehensive policy on public access to information. Only in 2004 and after fierce campaigns of civil society did it begin providing online access to its documents to the global public.

Kiai also concluded:

Liberal access to information policies should be encouraged. These policies help keep multilateral institutions accountable and provide a model which citizens can cite in pressing their own Governments to become more transparent. The Global Transparency Initiative has released a Transparency Charter for International Financial Institutions, which the Special Rapporteur recommends as guidance for the access-to-information policies of all multilateral institutions.

Multilateral institutions are urged to “improve their outreach and communications efforts,” he found.

The report continues:

They often work on dense, technical subjects that can contain excessive jargon. This can make their materials difficult for laypeople to understand, particularly if the text is not in their native language. The problem extends to the accessibility of information online, for example where websites are difficult to navigate and are not user-friendly. The Special Rapporteur thus urges multilateral institutions to be conscious of a wider public looking into their work, to step out from the shadows of technical language and make greater efforts to make their work more accessible to lay audiences, both online and offline.

Sports Groups, Too

“Private multilateral bodies, such as the International Olympic Committee and the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) — which both wield enormous economic power to pressure countries hosting their lucrative events — are not exempt from the responsibility to respect, if not promote, universally recognized human rights,” according to the report.

He criticized several major sports groups, injecting to the International Olympic Committee banning demonstrations at their events. He quoted unfavorably comments by FIFA’s secretary-general that “less democracy” or even oppressive military Governments is “better for organizing a World Cup.”

“The Special Rapporteur is of the opinion that the requirements for transparency and accountability of multilateral institutions, whether private or public, expand as power and influence increase. In addition, he considers that the failure to encourage and facilitate peaceful assembly represents a lost opportunity for engagement,” the report states.

Text of conclusions and recommendations

  1. The Special Rapporteur reiterates that the ability to peacefully assemble and freely associate is a key aspect of a vibrant democracy and critical for development. In today’s globalized world, the meaning and democracy stretches beyond national boundaries. Multilateral entities thus have positive responsibilities to actively protect peaceful assemblies and to establish and maintain an enabling environment for civil society. This is all the more valid when multilateral institutions claim to represent States, which are the primary actors accountable for the respect and promotion of civil liberties. In addition, the Special Rapporteur underlines the obligation of States to protect and facilitate the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association of those engaging with multilateral institutions.
  2. The Special Rapporteur calls, therefore, upon multilateral institutions to:

(a) Implement thorough and consistent policies that emphasize the importance of substantive engagement with civil society organizations and recognize that participation at the multilateral level is an inherent component of the right to freedom of association. Such a policy should grant civil society:

(i) Full and effective participation in all activities (including planning, agenda setting, decision-making and policymaking);

(ii) Access to all meetings, processes and bodies (including through the final stages of decision-making) at all levels;

(iii) Speaking rights in all meetings, as a rule, with the same opportunities as Governments and private sector entities to express views and opinions;

(iv) The right to submit documents equivalent to Member States;

(b) Open up the engagement process with smaller, local civil society organizations including grass-roots groups, spontaneous social movements and civil society organizations which deal with marginalized groups;

(c) Encourage diversity of perspectives and geography among civil society organization representatives;

(d) Introduce an independent grant system — similar to the Lifeline concept — to help facilitate the attendance and participation of smaller, local civil society groups at key consultations, meetings and gatherings;

(e) Increase use of information technology, such as videoconferencing and online tools, to encourage greater and more diverse civil society participation in multilateral processes;

(f) Implement a system to continually test how responsive their actions and policies are to peoples’ needs on the ground, including regular surveys and consultations with local civil society;

(g) Undertake studies on comparative good practices in civil society engagement, with recommendations on critical areas for improvement in accordance with international standards, and establish accountability mechanisms, such as the World Bank’s Inspection Panel. Such a system should also include a means for individuals and organizations to file a complaint if they believe they have been subject to reprisals because of their cooperation with — or action to oppose — the multilateral organization or one of its programmes;

(h) Ensure that heads of multilateral institutions publicly denounce each and every instance of reprisals;

(i) Designate a focal point on reprisals within each multilateral institution;

(j) Make their materials — including websites, reports, press releases, and other written materials — more accessible to non-technical audiences, both online and offline, and in multiple languages;

(k) Ensure that they have comprehensive and fair access to information policies in place, and that these policies include, inter alia, guarantees of timely and easy access to all information and documents, a limited list of specific exemptions, a public interest test, and an independent appeals board. In this regard, the Special Rapporteur recommends The Global Transparency Initiative’s Transparency Charter for International Financial Institutions56 as a model;

(l) Have strict internal guidelines governing the policing of assemblies, rather than simply handing this function over to local authorities. These guidelines should mirror international law and good practices. Moreover, multilateral organizations should not organize major events likely to draw protests in locations where they cannot receive assurances that local authorities have the political will and technical capacity to uphold international standards. The Special Rapporteur also strongly recommends that multilateral institutions require domestic authorities to produce a report detailing how demonstrations, protests and other public gatherings around international events were managed by police, and that such reports be made public.

  1. The Special Rapporteur calls upon the United Nations specifically to:

(a) Reform the Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations to prevent Member States from blocking accreditation applications with perpetual questioning and to unilaterally vetoing applications. The reform process should be guided by the principle that the United Nations functions best when it is accessible to the greatest diversity of voices possible;

(b) Continue to support the Secretary-General’s recently instituted “Rights Up Front” policy.57 The Special Rapporteur welcomes this policy and hopes it has a positive impact on the United Nations promotion of human rights;

(c) Promote human rights in all United Nations work and to understand that all staff and agency actions, policy and work often has a profound impact on the human rights landscape — even if these staff and agencies are not working directly on human rights;

(d) Select OHCHR, as the United Nations agency with preeminent expertise on human rights issues, to take the leading role in the implementation of human rights issues, including where States put resources in “basket funds” at the national level.

  1. The Special Rapporteur also calls upon States to increase funding to the human rights pillar of the United Nations work.
  2. Moreover, the Special Rapporteur calls upon States members of multilateral institutions to:

(a) Based on the provisions of Human Rights Council resolution 24/24 on cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanism in the field of human rights:

(i) Prevent and refrain from all acts of reprisals against those engaging or seeking to engage with multilateral institutions;

(ii) Adopt and implement specific legislation and policies, and issue appropriate guidance to national authorities to effectively protect those engaging or seeking to engage with multilateral institutions;

(iii) Ensure accountability for any acts of reprisal through impartial, prompt and thorough investigations of any acts of reprisal, and access to effective remedies for victims;

(iv) Consider establishing national focal points on reprisals;
(b) Publicly condemn all acts of reprisal by State and non-State actors against those engaging or seeking to engage with multilateral institutions;

(c) Refrain from unduly preventing NGOs from obtaining accreditation with multilateral institutions, arbitrarily withdrawing accreditations, or deferring the examination of periodic reports of accredited organizations;

(d) Refrain from using government-organized NGOs to stifle independent voices in multilateral arenas;

(e) Refrain from throwing away/destroying leaflets and other documents produced by civil society actors and made available in multilateral arenas;

(f) Facilitate the issuance of visas for those seeking to engage with multilateral bodies based on their territory;

(g) Duly inform the population within their territory about forthcoming multilateral events and decisions taken or to be taken in multilateral forums.

  1. Furthermore, the Special Rapporteur calls upon civil society actors to:

(a) Support the participation of fellow actors who are less aware of/proficient in procedures governing the participation within multilateral institutions, in particular local civil society organizations, grass-roots groups, spontaneous social movements and civil society organizations dealing with marginalized groups;

(b) Continue to report on human rights violations and abuses against those engaging or seeking to engage with multilateral institutions.

 

 

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In this column, Washington, D.C.-based journalist Toby J. McIntosh reports on the latest developments in information disclosure in International Financial and Trade Institutions (IFTI).
Contact: freeinfo@gwu.edu or
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