Press Releases

    5 October 2004

    Time Is Right to Take United Nations-Civil Society Partnership One Step further, Deputy Secretary-General Tells General Assembly

    NEW YORK, 4 October (UN Headquarters) -- Following are the remarks delivered today by Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette to the General Assembly on implementation of the report of the Panel of Eminent Persons on United Nations-Civil Society Relations:

    Thank you for this opportunity to speak to you about the relationship between the United Nations and civil society.  Two documents are now before you:  the report of the panel of eminent persons headed by former President Cardoso, and the Secretary-General’s own response to that report. 

    As you know, the relationship between the United Nations and civil society is as old as the Charter itself. But in the past decade, there has been an enormous transformation in the nature and importance of the role played by civil society on the global scene. Where once global conferences were largely the realm of governments, today it would be unthinkable to stage such events without the unique advocacy and mobilization of non-governmental actors. And if NGOs have always been key partners of the United Nations at the country level, in both development work and the delivery of humanitarian assistance, today they are making increasingly important contributions to global policy debates and intergovernmental deliberations, in areas ranging from the environment to gender mainstreaming.

    Such exponential growth in both numbers and influence has created a range of new challenges for the United Nations. The Secretary-General established the Cardoso panel to assess and draw lessons from the UN’s interaction with civil society, and recommend ways to improve it.

    The panel consulted widely with Member States and with a range of networks, constituencies and groups. I think you will agree that its report is an impressive document. It contains well-considered and innovative recommendations that offer a solid basis for discussion and debate. The Secretary-General hopes his response will assist you in taking those proposals forward.

    The starting point for all these recommendations is that the UN is and will remain an intergovernmental organization where decisions are taken by its Member States, and nothing in either of the reports calls this fundamental principle into question. But the Panel does make two important appeals to Member States.

    First, the United Nations must become an even more outward-looking organization, or in the words of the Cardoso report, a “networking” organization. That means using its unique convening power to reach out to non-governmental actors, especially where such actors command great expertise or resources relevant to a particular issue. In so doing, the Organization will expand its global reach and influence.

    Second, the United Nations needs to do more to “connect the global with the local”. By this the panel means preventing any disconnect between statements and policy discussions in intergovernmental forums, and life as it is lived by people in slums, conflict areas and other zones of need throughout the world. The articulation of the Millennium Development Goals has helped to close this gap, since those goals can guide national strategies which, in turn, can be implemented by local authorities and community-based organizations. But much more needs to be done so that people can feel that their agenda is the UN’s agenda. The Secretary-General welcomes this appeal, too. 

    In responding to these appeals, and in adapting our Organization, we are not starting from scratch. Member States have been very creative in developing new forms of interaction with civil society. Round-table and panel discussions, open debates of the Security Council and other such steps are now regular features of the UN calendar.

    The Panel’s report and the Secretary-General’s response seek to embed, expand and deepen participation of different constituencies in the work of the intergovernmental bodies. The Secretary-General suggests action in six main areas:

    -- First, the contribution of NGOs in intergovernmental bodies should be built into the regular business of this Assembly. The Secretary-General suggests, for instance, that Member States could hold “interactive” hearings with NGO representatives before each session of the General Assembly, and before major events such as next year’s high-level meeting on HIV/AIDS;

    -- Second, the Secretary-General will establish a single trust fund in order to facilitate the participation of representatives of NGOs from developing countries;

    -- Third, the accreditation process should be improved and simplified by establishing a single system of accrediting and streamlining certain aspects of the process;

    -- Fourth, the Secretariat’s own dialogue with NGOs at Headquarters should be improved, including by giving them easier access to information and documentation;

    -- Fifth, engagement with NGOs at the country level should likewise be intensified, including through better and more regular interaction with the Resident Coordinator, and through steps to strengthen the capacity of local NGOs;

    -- Sixth, the new Partnerships Office should be tasked with ensuring greater coherence among the disparate units within the Secretariat that currently interact with different constituencies.

    Taken together, the proposals of the Panel and the Secretary-General aim to strengthen the United Nations, enrich intergovernmental debate, and most importantly, improve the services we provide to the world’s people. They are the results of very broad consultations among the full range of stakeholders -- governmental and non-governmental. It goes without saying that the implementation of your decisions can move forward only with the cooperation of all concerned. The Secretary-General hopes that you will give positive consideration to the recommendations he has placed before you, and that you will be able to reach agreement by the end of the fall session.

    The contribution of civil society groups to the UN has been invaluable. The time is right to take this partnership one step further for the benefit of this Organization and the people it was created to serve.

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