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At UN, Algeria Seeks Ouster of "Terrorist" NGO, Secret Complaint Withheld by UN

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, January 25 -- A secret complaint was lodged at the UN by Algeria on January 19 against the non-governmental organization the Arab Commission for Human Rights.

  While the complaint, set to be ruled on in a closed-down meeting on January 26 has yet to be publicly released, it appears to allege that the group allowed its spot before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on June 11, 2008 to be taken by another NGO, Alkarama, which is critical of Algeria's and others' records with regard to political prisoners, freedom of the press and related issues.

   The complaint gets more explosive with the statement that NGO representative, Mr. Rachid Mesli, has been charged in and by Algeria with terrorism, and is on the UN Security Council's Resolution 1267 terrorism list.

  While invocation of terrorism has become the ultimate trump card in such debates, the UN's Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions has previously had to consider whether "Rachid Mesli is a prisoner of conscience, who was detained solely because of his activities as a human rights advocate." See, U.N. Doc. E/CN.4/2000/4/Add.1 at 82, available here. Amnesty International said that those proceedings against Mesli "clearly violated international standards for fair trial."

   Neither Algeria nor the UN Committee have been willing for the past week to release to the Press any of the documents or evidence that make up the case.

Rachid Mesli, at right with Guantanamo sign, Algeria's complaint not shown

 But Mesli's prepared remarks for June 11, 2008 remain online on Alkarama's web site, here, and state of Algeria that

"nothing should justify maintaining the state of emergency and the exorbitant powers granted to military intelligence services (DRS). This is the situation which resulted from the cancelling of the electoral process of 1992, causing 200,000 deaths and more than 10,000 disappearances. The mechanism of UPR should not be a false door to reality and be consistent with the findings of Treaty monitoring bodies and special procedures. This is not just for the Human Rights Council's credibility but also for the entire system of protection of human rights in the United Nations."

   Algeria's complaint was discussed on January 19 and January 23 in the NGO Committee of the Economic and Social Council, with a decision on whether to suspend or withdraw the group's UN accreditation now scheduled for Monday, January 26, in closed-down "informal" consultations. Inner City Press, which first reported the controversy, then asked the chief of the UN's NGO Section, Hanifa Mezoui, for a copy of the written complaint that Algeria filed.

   Ms. Mezoui answered, "Not yet, because we are not even dealing with the case. You will have all the paper you need on Friday."

   Inner City Press reiterated that it would like to see the complain, if only to prepare to report further on it on Friday.  Again Ms. Mezoui said no, "because today it will be only confusing, scaring people."

   Thanking Ms. Mezoui for her advice on how to report, Inner City Press reminded her that when a country files a letter with the Security Council, for example, it becomes a public document available to the press, whether or not it might be frightening or confusing.

   Ms. Mezoui said, "we're not going to give you the document now, because you heard what happened. It is still under review with no decision. Whatever you write would be...". Her voice trailed off.

  This is why the UN needs a Freedom of Information rule, to require the release of documents.

   Inner City Press asked the Algerian representative for a copy, but none was given. She did, however, provide Inner City Press with an explanation on the night of January 23 during a reception commemorating Sudan taking over the Group of 77 and China. Notably, Sudan also chairs the ECOSOC Committee on NGOs, and its Deputy Permanent Representative pushed Algeria's complaint, Agenda Item 8, forward throughout the week. His boss, the Permanent Representative, on January 23 told Inner City Press with some mirth that the two NGOs will be thrown out.  We'll see.

  Some wonder if the complaint, and some other countries' support for the complaint, doesn't spring from human rights testimony delivered by the groups. Cuba spoke in favor of the complaint, noting that it too has faced NGOs who try only to undermine the nation. [Twice last week the U.S. representative on the Committee refused to provide the Press with a copy of the Complaint, saying both times that he doesn't have "instructions" yet from Washington. The UK representative suggested the Monday proceeding, which will be closed to the Press. It should be noted that both the US and UK governments deploy the terrorism moniker to their advantage.]

   The UN is run and owned by member states, a number of speakers on January 23 argued, and these governments should not be subject in the UN to critiques that are "unsubstantiated." But what if they are substantiated?

  The Algerian representative told Inner City Press that Mr. Mesli has been charged with "providing communications equipment" to a terrorist group, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

   Mesli is identified as a member an organization which seeks the overthrow of Algerian President Bouteflika, Rachad, along with Mourad Dhina, who after "the dissolution of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) [the main Algerian Islamist party] in 1992, fled to Saint Genis Pouilly [in France nearby the Swiss border and who]admits that he has 'almost constant' contacts with Abbas Madani, the historical FIS leader and Madani’s right hand Ali Belhadj. Both were jailed in Algeria for 12 years, both always refused to condemn the terrorist acts of the GSPC (Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat) now called Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb."

   The Algerian representative twice asked Inner City Press if it has an interest in the group, Alkarama. There were no other media organizations seated in the ECOSOC Committee on NGO meetings on January 19 and January 23.

   There is the question of whether or not Mr. Mesli is a terrorist, although Algeria is sure to claim that since their courts say so, it is so. There is the question of whether it is in fact without precedent for accredited NGOs to allow other to speak. But there is also the question of why the UN feels it can without basic documents like this complaint, and then seek to deliberate and rule on it in secret. Watch this site.

Click here for Inner City Press' Jan. 16, 2009 debate about Gaza

Click here for Inner City Press' review-of-2008 UN Top Ten debate

Click here for Inner City Press' December 24 debate on UN budget, Niger

Click here from Inner City Press' December 12 debate on UN double standards

Click here for Inner City Press' November 25 debate on Somalia, politics

Click here for Inner City Press Nov. 7 debate on the war in Congo

Watch this site, and this Oct. 2 debate, on UN, bailout, MDGs

and this October 17 debate, on Security Council and Obama and the UN.

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These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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