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At UN, Rights Groups Grilled in NGO Committee by Iran, Morocco, Cuba

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 4 -- Iran trashed, and the US spring to the defense of, the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center in the UN's Committee on NGOs on February 3.

   Ignoring admonishments that it was taking too much time, Iran's representative read into the record a 2006 Boston Globe article that the IHRDC received $1 million of the US's $3.5 million for democratization in Iran. The US representative broke in with a point of order. And then it was over.

  In the abruptly cut off session, Iran didn't mention a 2009 article that the Obama Administration was cutting the funding. As of 2011, the IHRDC is said to receive 40% of its funding from the US and Canada. An Inner City Press correspondent's summary of the Q&A, different from the UN's more diplomatic and air-brushed version, is below.

  Earlier in the week, Morocco opposed a Swiss-based Western Sahara human rights group, using procedural tactics concerning the law of NGOs in Switzerland, and a rule that an applicant must have a certificate more than two years old in order to apply for consultative status with the UN. But in Switzerland, as Cuba pointed out, NGOs do not have to register.

When a group for the disappeared in Algeria appeared to answer questions, Burundi asked why the representative why focus on the disappeared? Because my child was disappeared in 1997, came the answer. There was silence. Then Cuba asked for a delay, noting that the group's submissions were only in French. The Cuban delegate apologized for not knowing this language of diplomacy, while noting that he does speak Hungarian.

A group for the indigenous in Asia mentioned that it was working with refugees from Myanmar -- one wondered if this would block the group. The Association of War Affected Women of Sri Lanka was grilled by Cuba regarding whether its funding is “sustainable.”

The new way of opposing NGOs in the UN is on procedural grounds, by asking more and more questions, challenging certificates. Iran came right out and said that the IHRDC is a US-funded group trying for regime change in Iran. The group, in the 30 seconds given it, denied it, saying "We don't hold seminars to overthrow the Islamic Republic of Iran."

Iran rights per Amnesty Int'l, IHRDC not shown

 Here is an Inner City Press correspondent's summary of the February 3, 2011 Q&A on the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center --

China- thanks for sharing your work and projects, please explain your work and how you will contribute to ECOSOC?

Cuba- I don't know to what point all the questions can be answered, one of them is…we don't see how they are independent because they receive government financing to conduct certain research so there seems to be apparent lack of accord…since it receives government funding…furthermore, we wish to know what the sources of information on which the work of the organization is based, and how they check the veracity of this information

Venezuela- I thank the NGO for being here…we raised a number of questions that I will repeat. We wish to see our questions answered in writing. We asked, because of the fact it says its working on a report on supposed human rights violations after the presidential elections in 2009, could it include more information on this project, what are its motivations and that of the government behind it?

A: I have not seen the questions because of the computer problems…my NGO only concentrates on one country, this fiscal year we will receive most of our funding (40%) from governments mostly US and Canada…although we receive grants from governments they don't review our work or provide input…our evidence is what evidence normally is, witness testimony, and we do a lot of analysis to come to our conclusions. The report the Venezuelan referred to was after the presidential election….we decided to take up the report because we received reports of human rights'll have to ask the government that funded it…Canada what their motivations were…I don't know

India- what were the motives of starting this organization, why Iran, why not somebody else?

Pakistan- I don't know if she was present when we were making specific questions, may or may not have been posted on the website…one of these questions was the motivation and the element that you are starting this investigation only after 27 years of this revolution, what was so important in that particular year…and this may or may not be pertinent…if you wished to reflect on it, it some places it mentions 85% of the funding is coming from the government, leaving aside the percentage, it is a substantial amount, if you did a different topic, do you think you would still receive funding from these two governments?

A: the organization was founded to document human rights abuses in the Islamic republic of Iran, in an effort to preserve the memory and make the evidence available…abuses should be made public so everyone can be made aware of it…I wasn't here yesterday and wasn't able to attend…why we have started the investigation only after 27 years…that was the decision of the founders of the organization. We receive funds from governments on project basis…other organizations receive funding to do other things…

Nicaragua- many of the questions asked here, we would like to see in writing…the purposes of monitoring the human rights situation in Iran, we would like to know your sources and the research activities you conduct…?

Cuba- work of the organization is peculiar in the context of current geopolitical situation between the funding states and Islamic Republic of Iran…its quite odd the work it does and funding it receives in this context, the representative noted 40% of the funding it receives comes from 2 member states, but in the application form 1 member state is mentioned…could she clarify the discrepancy since the time they gave in the form and the present date. Also, why are the founders of the organization not interested in the human rights of Iran before 1979, there were interventions by foreign powers during that period so why is the focus of interest on 1979 onwards

Venezuela- we have the same concerns, but we want to go back to 2006 to the founding of the organization, it seems there is a lack of compatibility between the application form and what she is saying, so how did it start receiving funding from 2004 onwards if they were founded in 2006. In 2004 it received $1 million dollars…question is, did the government which provided that considerable money find research before it was established?

Pakistan- that answers my question, that if they were to do something in a different area, the same funding would not be available…in certain places they say human rights violations by Iran and in certain areas in Iran…its understandable there are human rights violations in every country, but what do you mean by this?

A: I think in the application it was a shorthand way it was to document the human rights abuses by the government and by forces that it doesn't hold accountable. The registration from 2006 is an IRS registration, the organization did operate before that. The question of why not before 1979, we don't have enough money so we have to limit the scope of our work somehow. We filed this application in 2009, so the 40% I'm mentioning is this year, and it has been dropping over the last couple of years. Our sources generally are witnesses, we interview a variety of witnesses, people of different religions, sexes, minority groups, and that way we can cross-reference and figure out who is telling the truth, human rights work can be very difficult in that we cant interview the people accused of committing the atrocities and our main purpose is preserving the evidence

Iran (observer)- I think it would be only fair for the Iran delegation to be given the opportunity given Iran is the target of this organization and thanks for the organization for trying to promote human rights in Iran. In the presence of the representative I would like to share some thoughts…as my delegation has pointed out, one of the main ambiguities relate to its financial resources, which is governments with certain political attitudes towards Iran. It isn't a matter of simple innocent government financing that could be explained away…one question I heard frequently by some colleagues…why after 26 or 27 years after the revolution. I think I can give a clue. The Iran democracy fund was founded in 2004, in line with the policy of regime change of president bush. I would like to give a very short session on this fund. The founders of the center were very smart to be the very first to benefit from the Iran democracy fund, it received about 1/3 of the 3.5 million the state department gave out…the English version of their website is 2004, but Persian version is 2003…the point is I don't think there is simple mistake…I would receive some excerpts from Boston globe…"

Point of Order(USA)-if this is a general statement, shouldn't this be at the point when the representative is removed from the stage, because observers cant ask questions

Cuba- I cant understand why the US delegate is acting like that, let the delegation of Iran act transparently

Sec- please speed up

Iran- it seems that this NGO is being treated differently from other NGOs, Secretary Rice announced…the initiative could be a boon to Iran Human Rights Documentation center which received a third of the money state department gave towards democracy in Iran…I would like to raise one point, in 2005 there was a seminar in a neighboring Persian gulf country human rights defenders point the documentation centers activities though it was to train Iranian human rights defenders to overthrow the Iranian government

A: we don't hold seminars to overthrow the Islamic Republic of Iran…we document

Peru- the representative of Iran made was a general comment…appropriate procedure should be followed here, would like clarification whether this is within normal practice and resolutions…the interaction is for questions and answers, when it comes to more general issues this comes afterward…the US delegation was correct to some degree

And then it was called to a close.

 Click here for an Inner City Press YouTube channel video, mostly UN Headquarters footage, about civilian deaths in Sri Lanka.

Click here for Inner City Press' March 27 UN debate

Click here for Inner City Press March 12 UN (and AIG bailout) debate

Click here for Inner City Press' Feb 26 UN debate

Click here for Feb. 12 debate on Sri Lanka

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

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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