Unprecedented vote to protect civil society space at UN level at UNTOC COP11

Tuesday, 18 October 2022 –

A historic vote yesterday at the 11th Conference of Parties (COP) to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime overturned objections to three non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that had applied to participate as observers in the conference but were initially excluded due to vetos from two States. As the first vote of this kind in UNTOC COP fora, it demonstrates a step-change for civil society participation. The vote of 57 to 7 signaled strong support among States in favor of ensuring a truly inclusive Conference with the full participation of civil society.

This vote can set precedent for other Vienna-based conventions, in particular the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) which has seen a growing number of leading NGO’s being excluded due to politically motivated objections from some Member States.

UNCAC Coalition Managing Director, Mathias Huter, said:

With this important vote, States made clear that politically motivated objections against civil society participation will no longer be accepted. We hope this message will also end the arbitrary exclusion of leading NGOs under the UNCAC and allow all interested organizations to participate and contribute to efforts to tackle transnational organized crime and corruption. The so-called Vienna Spirit of Consensus, which shapes the work of the two conventions, should stand for the inclusion of all relevant actors.”

In an important separate vote, the UNTOC COP also established that decisions on the inclusion of civil society organizations as observers are a matter of procedure rather than of substance, meaning that a simple majority rather than a two-thirds majority is needed for a decision.

A few days before the COP, one state lifted objections it had raised to the participation of three other NGOs. Following the vote, all organizations that had applied to observe the COP will be invited to do so.

Objections against civil society in other UN fora are problematic for many reasons. Being the subject of such objections are not only widely damaging reputationally for the individual organizations, but limits the space for civil society to play an important role in the implementation of anti-corruption at national and international levels and has a chilling effect that is felt beyond UN fora.

The UNTOC COP11, including the vote, was live streamed online. The list of votes below is based on the country names read out during the voting. The vote had been requested by the European Union.

In favor of granting the NGOs observer status (57)

Armenia, Australia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Canada, Switzerland, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Côte d’Ivoire, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, the European Union (on behalf of its 27 Member States: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden), Guatemala, Honduras, Iceland, Jamaica, Japan, Liechtenstein, Montenegro, New Zealand, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Republic of Korea, San Marino, United Kingdom, Uruguay, United States

Against (7)

Azerbaijan, Belarus, Pakistan, Russian Federation, Syria, Türkiye, Venezuela

Abstain (34)

Albania, Algeria, Angola, Argentina, Bangladesh, China, Egypt, Ghana, Holy See, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Malaysia, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Nepal, Oman, Philippines, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, Vietnam, Yemen

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