MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
You might think it would be fairly easy for an internationally-recognized press freedom group to have access to the United Nations. But when China and Russia are among the gatekeepers, that mission can get complicated. This past week, those two countries and eight others on a key U.N. panel voted against giving formal accreditation to the Committee to Protect Journalists. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.
MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: The Committee to Protect Journalists describes it as a bureaucratic nightmare straight out of a Kafka novel. The group's advocacy director, Courtney Radsch, says CPJ applied in 2012 for credentials to the U.N. and every six months had to answer the same old questions - mostly about the group's finances, none of which, she says, comes from governments.
COURTNEY RADSCH: No matter how many times we wrote this, put this in our documentation or said this - because our executive director went there to answer questions - they just don't seem to believe it. And they seem to, you know, want to paint us as a U.S. lackey or paint our research as completely false and baseless.
KELEMEN: Radsch says the Committee to Protect Journalists takes a hard look at all countries, including the U.S., and its reports are well researched.
RADSCH: We have documented all these journalists in prison. And then for the countries that are the worst for journalists to just get up there and denigrate our work was - it was disappointing and upsetting.
KELEMEN: China, which she describes as the biggest jailer of journalists in the world, was among the 10 countries voting no, as were Russia, Venezuela, Pakistan, Cuba and Sudan. So too did Azerbaijan, just as Radsch and her colleagues were celebrating the release of a prominent Azeri journalist, Khadija Ismayilova.
RADSCH: I was standing in front of the White House at a rally for Khadija, welcoming her release and celebrating her 40th birthday party. Meanwhile, Azerbaijan is there trying to delegitimize us and voting no against our application.
KELEMEN: The Committee to Protect Journalists can still get invited to meetings at the U.N., but having accreditation is important both symbolically and in practice. Human Rights Watch got its credentials back in 1993, according to that group's deputy U.N. director, Akshaya Kumar.
AKSHAYA KUMAR: It really opens doors, and it makes it much easier for us to interact with the diplomats and the officials and the experts who work at the U.N.
KELEMEN: Kumar says Human Rights Watch still has to report periodically to the NGO committee, which puts her group through what she calls an obstacle course of questions. "Those in the application process now are often stuck in limbo," she says, adding, "the problem is the makeup of the U.N.'s NGO committee."
KUMAR: It's just disproportionately filled with states who don't have a good track record of human rights at home, and, additionally, has made it their mission to make it harder for groups to get access to the U.N. in New York.
KELEMEN: That's not lost on the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power.
(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)
SAMANTHA POWER: It is increasingly clear that the NGO committee acts more and more like anti-NGO committee.
KELEMEN: She plans to go above that committee to ask the U.N. Economic and Social Council to vote this summer to give credentials to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Power is expecting a lively debate on that.
(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)
POWER: The vote is important because countries have to decide which side are they on. Are the on the side of free expression and organizations that try to advance that cause, or are they hostile to Article 19?
KELEMEN: That's the section of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a founding document of the U.N., which calls for the freedom of the press. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.
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