July 27, 2009 / 6:27 PM / 9 years ago

Arab human rights group barred for year by UN

* Arab human rights group barred by UN

* Move said aimed at silencing critical voice

By Robert Evans

GENEVA, July 27 (Reuters) - The United Nations decided on Monday to bar an Arab human rights group for a year after Algeria argued that it brought in a "known terrorist" to speak on its behalf at a meeting in Geneva.

The decision was taken without a vote, despite reservations voiced by Western countries, at the 54-member Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in what an official of the barred grouping said was a move to silence its voice.

The action against the Paris-based Arab Commission for Human Rights — which has been fiercely critical of Israel but also of what it argues is growing oppression in Arab countries — deprives it of the right to speak in U.N. bodies.

"This was a move taken to silence us," the body’s Geneva representative Abdel Wahab Hani told reporters. "We upset everybody, including the Europeans and Americans by criticising them too, so there was no one to stand up for us."

The suspension of recognition — formally known as "consultative status" — was recommended in January by the U.N.’s 19-nation Committee on Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) in New York.

Western countries say the Committee has increasingly acted in recent years to keep out genuine NGOs.

The Arab Commission, founded in 1998 and run by 15 human rights lawyers who mainly live in Arab countries although some are based in Western Europe, will now be barred from the Human Rights Council, its main U.N. focus.

In a complaint to the NGO Committee, Algeria said the group violated rules last year by putting up as a speaker Swiss-based lawyer Rachid Mesli, against whom Algiers has issued an arrest warrant as a member of an "armed terrorist group".

Hani said Mesli was a lawyer who fled Algeria after being prosecuted for defending members of the now defunct Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) which fought the state in the 1990s.

U.S. and European Union delegates said on Monday that states on the Committee, which recommends to ECOSOC which NGOs should be admitted, or expelled, appeared to be acting to keep out NGO’s who criticised them or with whom they disagreed. (Editing by Jonathan Lynn and Myra MacDonald) (robert.j.evans@thomsonreuters.com; tel.: +41 22 733 38 31))

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