18 December 2003


NEW YORK, 17 December (UN Headquarters) -- The Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations this afternoon recommended the reclassification from special to general status for the United States-based non-governmental organization (NGO), World Vision International.  It also approved roster consultative status for one NGO and left a decision on another NGO’s application pending.

Continuing its 2003 session in two meetings today, the 19-member Committee makes recommendations on an NGO’s standing or reclassification with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) using a variety of criteria, including applicant mandate, governance and financial regime.  Those with roster status can attend meetings; those with special status can attend meetings and circulate statements; and those with general status can attend meetings, circulate statements and propose items for the Council’s agenda.

Describing World Vision International as an enormous organization and vibrant participant in the delivery of development assistance, the representative of the United States said the NGO was well qualified to become a part of the elite group of NGOs with general status.

The NGO Committee also recommended granting roster status to Australian Association for Yoga in Daily Life, a national organization based in Australia, after that organization had replied satisfactorily to questions asked.

A decision to grant consultative status to China Care and Compassion Society, a national organization based in China, was left pending because the representatives of France and the United States asked for more clarification regarding the organization’s links to government, its publications and its work against “evil cults”.

This morning, the Committee took up consideration of the special reports submitted by Transnational Radical Party (TRP) and Indian Movement “Tupai Amaru”, as well as a new complaint, submitted by Bangladesh, against several NGOs, and an earlier complaint by Libya against the Simon Wiesenthal Centre.

The representative of Bangladesh, as observer, drew the Committee’s attention to the fact that during the fifty-ninth session of the Commission on Human Rights, two United Kingdom-based NGOs -- Liberation and Interfaith International -- had distributed materials on behalf of Bangladesh Hindu Bouddha Christian Unity Council (BHBCUC) and Asian Human Rights Centre (AHRC), and also had distributed unidentified material on Bangladesh.  Another NGO, Asian Human Rights Commission, had also distributed documents that contained politically motivated and unsubstantiated material on Bangladesh at the same session of the Human Rights Commission.  She requested the Committee to take appropriate action.

During the ensuing discussion, representatives expressed concern that behaviour described by Bangladesh during the Commission session seemed to be increasing lately.  It was decided to write a letter to the NGOs concerned, drafted by a working group during the 2003 regular session, reminding them of their rights and responsibilities.

The Committee deferred consideration of the special report filed by the Transnational Radical Party (an international organization holding general consultative status) regarding a complaint from Viet Nam to its next regular session in May 2004.  (See document E/C.2/2003/3/Add.2.)

At its 2003 regular session, the Committee had asked Indian Movement “Tupaj Amaru” to submit a special report, following a complaint by the United States to the fact that, during the fifty-ninth session of the Commission on Human Rights, two representatives had rushed the United States delegation carrying a large cylindrical object, had chanted anti-American slogans, and had unfurled a banner with “PACE” on it.

In its special report, the NGO stated that it had followed proscribed procedures in accrediting Elena Bonavita.  However, the organization’s Executive Board had ordered the de facto exclusion of Ms. Bonavita for having disrupted the work of the Commission and shown a lack of respect for the United States delegation.  The NGO also withdrew Ms. Bonavita’s accreditation.  It had also apologized to the United States delegation and others involved.  In the future, it stated, accreditation would only be granted to individuals who had been members of the organization for at least one year and who had demonstrated their commitment in good faith.

The representative of the United States said the NGO had accredited a person who had disrupted the work of the Commission and had threatened a 57-year-old woman in a politically motivated act.  He asked for the NGO’s suspension for one year.

During the ensuing discussion, Cuba’s representative, stated that in former, comparable cases, the issue was closed after apologies had been received.  He asked for consistency in the work of the Committee and for taking note of the special report.  Some delegates, notably from Chile, China, Russian Federation, Sudan, Iran and Zimbabwe, noted it was the first time the NGO had caused any problem, that apologies and assurances to avoid repetition had been given, and that suspension was too harsh a sanction.

Yet other delegates, among them from France, Germany and Peru, asked for a representative of the NGO to be heard during the Committee’s May 2004 session before any sanction was applied.  Supporting the position of the United States, some delegates, among them from Turkey, India, and Côte d’Ivoire, noted that if no action were taken, it would send the wrong signal to other NGOs, and warned for setting a precedent.

The Committee decided to defer consideration of the item to its May 2004 session and to invite a representative of the NGO to participate in consideration of the case.

This afternoon, the Committee decided to defer the consideration of the quadrennial reports of the Society for Threatened Peoples and Centrist Democrat International, pending further information from those organizations.

In other business, the Committee began its consideration of the review of its working methods, including the process of accreditation of NGO representatives. 

Speaking in his capacity as Chairman of the working group on the Committee’s working methods, Hakan Tekin (Turkey) said the informal working group had only been able to meet once since May.  It had discussed the format of the Committee’s report, including problems in its issuance. At the meeting, the view had emerged that a single consolidated report would be preferable. To facilitate that, the working group had agreed, informally, to formulate guidelines for the preparation of the report.  He hoped that after the session, the working group would have concrete results for the Committee’s May session.  He called on members to bear in mind the format of the report and the other issues on the working group’s agenda.

The representative of Cuba noted that, while the Committee had taken steps to arrive at a more succinct report, further discussion would be needed on how to issue a more consolidated report to the ECOSOC sufficiently before its session.  The working group would also need to continue addressing other important questions, such as helping to prevent problems arising from accreditation of particular organizations before the Human Rights Commission. 

Ricardo Espinosa, NGO Liaison Officer, Office of the Director-General of the United Nations Office in Geneva, said that in 2002 some 120 meetings had been organized by NGOs at the Palais des Nations.  The Geneva Office acted as the focal point within the United Nations Office at Geneva on relationships between the Organization and NGOs.  It provided information, assisted NGOS on ways to contribute the United Nations work, cooperated with NGO groups to develop mechanisms for more effective cooperation, and assisted diplomatic missions seeking information about NGOs.  It also provided for the accreditation of NGO representatives with consultative status and facilitated their participation in meetings and conferences held in Geneva.

The Geneva Office, he continued, maintained a public database of some 2,500 organizations.  It also published a list of NGOS with consultative status with ECOSOC and cooperated with the Information Service in Geneva, which held meetings for visiting scholars and foundations on the role of NGOs.  The Office also provided assistance and advice to the Director-General on all matters relating to civil society.  Part of the Office’s mandate was to meet with focal points for NGOs within the various United Nations programmes, services and specialized agencies. 

On accreditation practices, he said the Office applied the same standards and rules as the New York Office.  Its database contained some 1,500 NGO representatives with the right to a grounds pass in Geneva.  The Office worked closely with the NGO Section in New York.  At present, NGOS did not have space within the Palais des Nations.  Rooms were made available to them free of charge, however, unless certain technical services were required.  Briefing sessions were also held for new NGOS or for those seeking to change their status.  The Office encouraged NGO networks to achieve more effective working dynamics. 

Responding to questions and comments by the representatives of the United States, Côte d’Ivoire, Colombia, Turkey and Cuba, Mr. Espinosa said it was up to a Member State, in the event of non-compliance, to bring the case before the competent forums.  It was not up to the Office to intervene.  A note was issued annually for NGOS on the appointment of their representatives.  It was the responsibility of the NGO to know whom they were accrediting.  Security rules had become very strict at the Palais and NGOs had to be fully aware of their responsibilities in terms of access to certain persons or public figures.  It did its best to ensure that NGOS participated in an effective and respectful way.

The Committee also began its consideration of the General Voluntary Trust Fund in support of the United Nations Non-Governmental Organizations Informal Regional Network.

The Chief of the Non-Governmental Organizations Section, Hanifa Mezoui, said the accomplishments of the Regional Network included networking and information exchange among NGOS; capacity-building and training; and the promotion of cooperation between civil society, the private sector and the United Nations.  She also provided an overview of the Network’s projects in the various regions.  Efforts had been made to regroup NGOS around the theme of the ECOSOC segment.  The NGO Section was also involved in the Committee on NGOs.

Turkey’s representative said he was happy to hear that the outreach programme was progressing, albeit with a very little budget.  In that connection, Turkey had decided to make a modest contribution to the General Voluntary Trust Fund of some $10,000 to be transferred to the account of the Trust Fund by the end of the month.  Turkey was the first country to contribute to the Fund and he hoped other countries would follow suit.

Others joined in praising the work of the NGO Section.  France’s representative said the way in which the outreach programme was being conducted looked very much like a miracle. It was producing astonishing results with very little resources. He thanked the NGO Section for its work. The representative of the Russian Federation thanked Ms. Mezoui for working with her usual enthusiasm on complicated issues and asked if anything was being planned with NGOS of the Russian Federation.  Replying, Ms. Mezoui said many events were being organized in the Russian Federation.

Azerbaijan’s representative, speaking as an observer, said there was a great interest on the part of NGOs in his country.  Non-governmental organizations were encouraged to establish closer relations with the United Nations system and initiative new projects. He also thanked the representative of Turkey for his country’s contribution.  What was the input of local United Nations offices in enhancing the Network’s work at the local level?  What should be done to encourage the different United Nations agencies to join those initiatives on the ground?

Responding, Ms. Mezoui said meetings with United Nations local representatives were held to encourage them to be more informative with the NGOs at the local level. 

 The Committee also heard a briefing by Aditi Desai of the United Nations Fund for International Partnerships (UNFIP).  The UNFIP, she said, served as the operational arm of the Secretary-General’s reform policy to forge partnerships with civil society.  Established in 1998 in connection with a donation of  $1 billion from Ted Turner in support of United Nations causes, UNFIP was based at United Nations Headquarters and worked under the leadership of the United Nations Deputy Secretary-General.  Proposals were submitted to the UNFIP Advisory Board.  To manage the hundreds of proposals UNFIP received, Mr. Turner and the Secretary-General had identified four priority areas for funding, including programmes for children’s health; the environment; women and population; and peace, security and human rights.

Relevant United Nations entities coordinated project implementation on the ground, she added.  The UNFIP developed high impact projects by collaborating with the United Nations foundation and encouraged greater private sector investment in innovative projects on the ground to implement the Millennium Development Goals.  Project proposals were formulated around the Goals.  Efforts were made to get further funding for high impact projects.  Best practices and lessons learned were shared with partners.

Responding to a question by the representative of Germany on cooperation between UNFIP and NGOs, Ms. Desai said donor countries had expressed interest in how they could fund NGOs through the United Nations system without going the “government route”.

Current members of the NGO Committee are Cameroon, Senegal, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Côte d’Ivoire, China, Pakistan, India, Iran, Chile, Colombia, Peru, Cuba, Russian Federation, Romania, Germany, France, United States and Turkey.

The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. Thursday, 18 December, to continue its work.

* *** *