– The United Nations has rejected a Christian Ministry’s application for official status because it refused to produce names and addresses of its members in China, citing religious freedom concerns.
A U.N. watchdog said the move set a dangerous precedent, enabling “repressive regimes” to sideline critics.
China led the opposition to the Dynamic Christian World Mission Foundation’s application for “consultative status” enjoyed by some 3,170 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) at the U.N. The status allows NGOs to attend meetings and to submit written or oral statements.
At a meeting in Geneva on Monday, the U.N. Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), a 54-member body that makes decisions on which NGOs get the status, endorsed a decision taken by a subsidiary committee earlier this year turning down the group’s application.
The move, in the final week of ECOSOC’s month-long annual session, came despite an attempt by the United States to rescind the earlier decision.
The foundation, based in Los Angeles and also registered in South Korea, says its aim is to spread the Christian gospel through educational projects.
In his 2007 application to an ECOSOC committee on NGOs, the organization’s president, Kyungsoo Kim, gave numbers of members in the U.S., Russia, South Korea, Japan and Kyrgyzstan, but indicated that at the request of Chinese members, he was not doing so in their case, on the basis that “religious activities are not free in China.”
China objected to the foundation’s application, saying its refusal to answer questions about the names and location of its members in China displayed “disrespect” to the committee. Beijing also said the application did not meet the requirements of a 1996 ECOSOC resolution that governs the accreditation process.
At a meeting in New York of the committee last May, members voted by 12-4 against the Christian organization’s application. The votes in favor of the group came from the U.S., Britain, Israel and Romania, while those voting against included China, Cuba, Egypt, Russia, Sudan and Pakistan.
Before that vote, the U.S. representative said that by taking the decision to shut out the organization, “we are embarrassing ourselves and embarrassing the United Nations.”
The committee decision was taken up by the full ECOSOC in Geneva on Monday, and U.S. delegate John Sammis urged the meeting to overturn the May vote.
He said the U.S. could find no reason in documents covering NGO accreditation why the foundation should be obliged to provide names and addresses of members in a particular country.
(The 1996 resolution cited by China, known as 1996/31, says applications must include a list of members of the NGO’s governing body and their nationalities, but for ordinary members only the number and “geographical distribution” are required.)
Sammis said the U.S. was not asking ECOSOC to grant the foundation consultative status immediately, but to send its application back to the committee to establish whether it fulfilled the requirements of resolution 1996/31.
He said the committee that was supposed to facilitating the involvement of NGOs in the U.N. meetings seemed to be spending more time excluding them; some delegations were evidently trying to use the committee to silence voices with which they did not agree.
China’s delegate, Wang Qun, argued however that a decision made by the committee should not be reopened for discussion, as doing so would damage the committee’s credibility.
He said Dynamic Christian World Mission Foundation had since 2007 been refusing to properly answer questions, lacking both responsibility and respect for the committee. China did not believe it had the ability to contribute to the U.N.’s work
China got backing from a number of other countries, including Cuba, whose representative accused the Christian NGO of using “evasive tactics.”
The matter was then put to a vote, but the U.S. attempt to reverse the committee decision lost by a 24-23 margin.
U.N. Watch, a Geneva-based organization, condemned the decision.
“Today’s vote is a setback for religious freedom, and could set a dangerous precedent at the U.N. for repressive regimes to launch frivolous objections, or demand sensitive information, in order to obstruct the important work of civil society organizations in the areas of religion, education, and human rights,” said the group’s executive director, Hillel Neuer.
Those voting to shut down the Christian NGO’s application included developing countries and members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). Member states opposed to the move were mostly Western nations.
Reached in South Korea on Tuesday, foundation president Kim said through an interpreter that he understood China’s position as a socialist country, but did not feel that the U.N. should simply accede to its demands.
Kim said the foundation did not only want to approach China for religious purposes, but also to “find some ways to help the country develop” and to build relationships that have nothing to do with politics.
He said the organization hoped to apply for consultative status again in the future.
According to the U.S. State Department and religious rights advocacy groups, China’s communist authorities aim to channel Christian observance through two permitted “patriotic” organizations, one Catholic and one Protestant. Millions of believers shun the state bodies, worshiping instead in “underground” Protestant house churches or Catholic congregations loyal to the Vatican.
Beijing is also accused of suppressing groups like the Falun Gong and restricting religious freedom for Buddhists in Tibet and Muslims in Xinjiang.