At a United Nations session this week, the delegation of Kyrgyzstan asked a question regarding UN status for the Social Initiatives Support Fund (SISF), an organization founded by Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of Uzbekistan's President Karimov. The Kyrgyz delegate, one of 19 members of a UN states' committee to examine applications for NGO status, asked whether the Uzbek group was "cooperating with Government bodies, and if so, which bodies and what areas."
The question appeared designed to obtain information about the extent to which the foundation was a civic organization, known as a "non-governmental organization" or "NGO," or a government-organized group, known as a "GONGO".
The Kyrgyz delegation also asked questions about funding and activities of NGOs in Moldova, the United Kingdom, and Spain at sessions on February 1 and 2.
The Committee on NGOs is a body notorious among civil society activists for making strenuous demands on them to provide information about their programs and funding sources, a politicized process that sometimes succeeds in killing their applications. In past years, NGO status has been denied or delayed to groups such as Freedom House or Doctors without Borders for their critical reports.
The 19 members of the Committee are Belgium, Bulgaria, Burundi, China, Cuba, India, Israel, Kyrgyzstan, Morocco, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Peru, Russian Federation, Senegal, Sudan, Turkey, United States and Venezuela.
When a group is challenged, its application is postponed to the next session's agenda while the organizers dig up information to satisfy states' concerns.
Last year, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) was finally granted status after a three-year delay in the NGO Committee at the behest of Egypt and with the support of Russia, China and others until the U.S. intervened and called for a vote at a higher level at ECOSOC.
This week, the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, a group documenting the human rights violations of the Iranian government, was drilled about its work by Cuba, Venezuela, Russia, Pakistan and China -- all countries known for their hostility to independent civic groups. Diplomats asked questions about election monitoring, and the Documentation Center was tasked to explain how they could be considered independent if 85 percent of its funding was said to come from the U.S. government (a question none of these countries thought to ask about Karimova's organization -- and a typical example of their hypocrisy).
NGO consultative status at the UN, as distinct from the more widely-issued roster status, gives an organization more access to various bodies and the right to present reports and speak at meetings.
A reporter from the independent online Uzbek website uznews.net contacted the SISF office in Tashkent, but a representative who declined to give his name said that he had no further information about the Kyrgyz delegation's concerns or how his organization would respond to them.
SISF was founded in October 2006 by Gulnara Karimova to raise money for projects in the area of health, education and environment. Various other state-sponsored organizations working on issues from environment to women joined as founders.The fund immediately received a large grant in 2007 to assist in a multi-million dollar state social development project.
Last year, SISF received 3.41 billion soums (about $206,000) plus $5.34 million to help implement the "Year of the Harmoniously Developed Generation," a government youth program. Annual reports published on the organization's website don't distinguish government and private sources of funding. HIV/AIDS groups in Europe confronted Karimova last year at a Cannes film festival fund-raiser where she appeared as a donor, protesting the imprisonment of psychologist Maxim Popov, jailed in Uzbekistan on charges of "corrupting youth" for his HIV/AIDS educational work among vulnerable populations. Karimova promised to inquire about his case but nothing further was heard.
Relations between Bishkek and Tashkent have been formally cooperative since attacks on the Uzbek ethnic community in southern Kyrgyzstan last June, but disputes repeatedly occur regarding energy, water and response to militants in the border regions.
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