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US Pushes for NGO's Acceptance Despite China Lobbying

FILE - United States Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power addresses members of the U.N. Security Council.
FILE - United States Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power addresses members of the U.N. Security Council.

The United States has launched a campaign to get U.N. accreditation for the non-profit organization Freedom Now, which works to free prisoners of conscience around the world, but the effort is facing opposition, especially from China.

Last month, the U.N. committee that accredits non-governmental organizations, or NGOs, rejected the Washington-based group's application. But the United States has decided to take the issue to the committee's parent body, the 54-member Economic and Social Council known as ECOSOC, which is scheduled to vote on July 20.

A simple majority vote is needed for the group's accreditation for special U.N. consultative status.

Nobel peace laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the honorary chair of Freedom Now, has written to every council member urging a "yes" vote, "not just because they meet the requirements ... but also because the mission and activities of this organization contribute greatly to the spirit and operation of the U.N."

Freedom Now takes on cases of individuals who have not advocated or used violence and have been detained for who they are or what they believe.

One of its campaigns is to free 2010 Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo, who is serving an 11-year prison sentence for "inciting subversion of state power" in China. China's U.N. mission had no comment when asked about its lobbying against accrediting the group.

U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power testified at a congressional hearing last month that the NGO committee which rejected Freedom Now "is stacked with a group of countries who don't themselves tolerate NGOs in their own countries ... but we're not giving up."

Among the countries that voted against Freedom Now in the NGO committee were China, Russia, Cuba, Venezuela, Sudan, Iran, Nicaragua and Azerbaijan. Some are targets of Freedom Now campaigns.

Power stressed in a statement to The Associated Press that the organization's work "fills a vital need internationally, giving political prisoners a fighting chance when the odds against them are stacked as high as the walls that imprison them."

Freedom Now's executive director, Maran Turner, said Wednesday that she was "greatly confounded" by the opposition and said her group operates without political bias.