Posted by: Castan Centre | May 10, 2016

Third Month at CCR

By Sarah Sacher

One of the most interesting experiences I had at CCR was my visit to the UN NGO committee. Since 2013 CCR has attempted to gain consultative status with the Economic and Social Council. This would allow CCR to have greater participation with ECOSOC and have a platform with the UN to express their views, provide expert reports, and updates to the UN. Attending the NGO committee sessions appears to have become something of a rite of passage for interns, with the previous Castan Intern Katherine Brown attending in 2015, and perhaps the 2017 intern attending next year. This is because every time CCR has applied for consultative status, the application has been deferred.

The process of applying for consultative status requires the NGO committee to ‘recommend’ the application to ECOSOC. When the committee is in session (for a period of two weeks twice a year) it considers new applications for a one hour period each day. Organisations are informed on the day if there application is being looked at on that particular day. A representative of the NGO is required to be there to answer questions by member states before the committee. If no questions are posed about the organisation during that session, the application will be approved by the committee. If questions are posed and answered adequately during the short time frame, the application will be approved by the committee.  However, if there are multiple questions asked, and the questions are not all answered by the end of time period, the application will be deferred. On the times that CCR has been given the opportunity to come before the committee, the latter scenario has occurred.

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Now CCR is an NGO that is 50 years old with a stalwart reputation in the United States, so what is the reason for its continued inability to gain observer status on the committee? The answer, unfortunately, is due to the politics at play within the committee, combined with clumsy procedure. When I sat in on the session I was taken aback by the nature of the questions asked of the organisations. Member States continuously asked questions with thinly veiled political undercurrents – when a particular State has an issue with the work of an organisation, it is able to derail that organisation’s application virtually single-handedly, by asking multiple, often irrelevant questions until the time limit is up and the application invariably deferred. The question and answer sessions also often devolve into debate between member-states over the nature of the questions themselves. At the session I attended, I watched my supervisor answer increasingly inane questions on behalf of CCR, until the time on the clock ran out and the application was yet again rolled over.  Unfortunately, the experience of CCR is not unique, and the NGO committee has been criticised on multiple occasions for its politicised approach to NGO gate-keeping.

While the particular experience I had at the NGO session was tainted by the frustrating application process, my overall impression while visiting the UN was one of awe.  I was given a UN pass which made me feel pretty legit and is probably my favourite souvenir from my time in New York (despite the terrible photo of me on the front).  I was able to wonder around the halls, take a look at the General Assembly and the various exhibitions in the building. I sat alongside the diplomats chilling in the cafes, speaking every language imaginable and soaked up the atmosphere. The grandeur of the building itself imbues everything with a sense of gravitas and inspiration. The experience overall was an absolute highlight of the internship.

Before I wrap up, I want to say a few things about the day-to-day environment at CCR. My home throughout the three months was the Ella Baker room, a spacious area filled with computers that housed the interns. My first couple weeks at the organisation coincided with college winter break, after which I was joined by other interns from various parts of the country. The interns and I spent many a day psychoanalysing Donald Trump, breaking down Seinfeld episodes and sharing in the interesting aspects of each other’s work. Beyond the office we spent weekends visiting museums and brunching together in Manhattan. Some of my best memories of my time at CCR involve laughing with the other interns in the Ella Baker room, and I am grateful for the friends I was able to make in addition to all the wonderful work I was a part of.

* These are my own views and not the views of the Center for Constitutional Rights


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