Press Releases

                                                                            25 May 2004

    NGO Committee Hears from Director of Eminent Panel on UN-Civil Society Relations, Recommends Two Organizations for Consultative Status with ECOSOC

    NEW YORK, 25 May (UN Headquarters) -- The General Assembly, rather than the Economic and Social Council, should be the formal entry point between the United Nations and civil society, John Clark, Executive Director of the Panel of Eminent Persons on United Nations-Civil Society Relations, told the Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) today.

    That, he continued, would give civil society organizations more opportunities to make important contributions to the various committees of the Assembly and to its special sessions.  Addressing the Committee on the draft report of the Panel -- established in February 2003 by Secretary-General Kofi Annan to address the participation of civil society in the work of the United Nations, he said civil society actors nowadays had important global networks and the Assembly could cooperate with leaders of those networks to have a modest input of civil society in its work.

    At the moment, he noted, the accreditation process was seen too much as a political discussion.  The proposed reforms were designed to make the process less political and more merit-based.  He suggested that a technical analysis of applications be carried out first by the Secretariat on the merits of an NGO, instead of an intergovernmental discussion.  An Assembly committee should set parameters and criteria, and monitor the Secretariat closely to ensure that it adhered to those criteria.  The Secretariat would submit a list to that committee of all applications with its own advice.

    The committee would then decide whether or not to ratify the recommendations, he said.  Only in the case of disagreement with the Secretariat’s advice would an intergovernmental discussion take place.  In that way, time spent on reviewing applications could be greatly reduced.

    He said the Panel had presented a draft report to the Secretary-General, who might present the finalized version to Member States by the end of June.  After broad consultations, the Panel had focused on four priority areas.  The first issue was the need to link the local to the global.  The United Nations had two roles, namely establishing global policies and running the operative side of the Organization.  The gap between those two roles hampered work on both sides.

    The second priority area was to realize the full power of multi-stakeholder partnerships, he continued.  The rhetoric within the Organization about the importance of that and the reality also showed a significant gap.  There were recommendations to close that gap.  A third issue was that the United Nations showed the characteristics of an introverted organization that put the Organization rather than challenges faced at the centre of its attention.

    A fourth priority was tackling the increasing democracy deficit in global governance, he added.  There was a feeling that decisions were increasingly taken in international forums without democratic influence.  The paradox was that, while the substance of politics had been globalized, the processes of democracies remained grounded at the national or local level.

    During the ensuing discussion, many speakers regretted the fact that the Panel had not consulted with the Committee.  They stressed that the Committee had proven its value over the years and that a transparent process had been established.  Some speakers suggested that that transparency would be lost in the Panel’s proposal.  Other speakers stressed that the Organization was political in nature.  Granting consultative status to NGOs was, therefore, not merely a technical matter.

    Responding to comments and questions, Mr. Clark said the process of consultation had been widespread and had also included governments, some of which were members of the Committee.  Noting that the Panel had been asked for advice, he said it indeed envisaged the winding up of the Committee. Compared to some 150 applications approved yearly on the Committee’s recommendation, only four or five were not approved and about 20 were held over for deliberations.  Any business consultant would say such a body was not needed.

    However, he added, at the end of the road, a decision on accreditation should be an intergovernmental one, not just a technical one.  Thus, it would be a transparent process.  A possible candidate for making those decisions could be the General Committee of the General Assembly.  A single accreditation process would serve all of the intergovernmental processes of the United Nations system.

    He stressed the critical importance for the United Nations to enhance its relationship with civil society and to engage civil society in informing intergovernmental decisions.  There was, however, a distinction between the deliberative stage and the decision-making stage.  Civil society would have a voice, but not a vote.

    The 19-member Committee uses various criteria to recommend general, special or roster status with ECOSOC, including the applicant’s mandate, governance and financial regime.  Organizations that have general and special consultative status can attend meetings of the Council and circulate statements of a certain length.  Those with general status can, in addition, speak at meetings and propose items for the Council’s agenda, while NGOs with roster status can only attend meetings.  Non-governmental organizations with general and special consultative status must submit a report to the ECOSOC every four years.

    When the Committee took up “Strengthening of the NGO Section of the Secretariat”, the Section’s Chief, Hanifa Mezoui, updated the Committee on the Section’s activities in that regard.  Concerning the upcoming high-level segment of ECOSOC’s July session, she announced that, during a meeting on 18 March, 150 NGOs under the coordination of the Conference of NGOs (CONGO) had agreed on a number of recommendations that would be taken into account in the drafting of the segment’s ministerial statement.  She suggested that those NGOs which had participated be commended by the Committee in some way.

    Ms. Mezoui said the Section had conducted a survey among NGOs with roster status, in order for the Committee to be better aware of their activities, as those organizations were not obligated to submit quadrennial reports.  In response to the 477 questionnaires sent, 172 replies had been received.  A questionnaire had also been sent to NGOs in general and special consultative status on their submission of quadrennial reports.

    Another survey had been conducted regarding the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in order to update the Section’s database, she said.  As announced earlier, the “paperless committee”, a working method based on the use of information technology rather than on hard copy reports, was now fully functional.  She also emphasized the increased cooperation between the Committee and the Commission on Human Rights based in Geneva.

    Turning to the agenda item, “General Voluntary Trust Fund in Support of the United Nations NGO Informal Regional Network (IRENE)”, Ms. Mezoui announced that Turkey had made a contribution of $10,000 to the Fund.  [The Trust Fund had been established in 2002 to help IRENE to support networking and exchange of information and experiences among NGOs, based on a technology-based system designed to promote interactive exchange among NGOs and between NGOs and the United Nations.]  She went on to highlight the progress IRENE had made in outreach to civil society, noting that outreach to organizations in Latin America needed to be improved.

    Delegates thanked Ms. Mezoui for the invaluable work her Section did and expressed support for its activities.  Many approved of the idea to commend in some way those NGOs who had participated in several forums.  However, some speakers noted that such a step would lead to creation of different “classes” of NGOs:  those from developed countries with many resources, and those from developing countries who, because of a lack of means, could often not participate in such activities.

    They also highlighted the “paperless committee” as an example for the rest of the United Nations system in terms of increasing efficiency and protecting the environment.  Several speakers noted the need for measures to deal with NGOs that did not comply with the requirement to submit quadrennial reports.

    The Committee recommended special consultative status for Bischoefliches Hilfswerk Misereor, a national organization based in Germany, which, in its capacity as the overseas development agency of the Catholic Church in Germany, aims to promote development, fight poverty and liberate people from injustice.  However, the representative of the Sudan raised concerns about requests for status from NGOs that were part of an umbrella group already in consultative status.  Special consultative status was also recommended for Foundation Inc. World Youth Alliance, an international organization in the United States promoting solidarity between developed and developing countries.

    The Committee decided not to recommend consultative status for African Conscience, an international organization based in Cameroon aiming to promote human rights, peace and free elections in Africa, after Cameroon’s representative announced that a Government investigation had revealed that the NGO did not have a certified constitutional charter and that projects it had described in its application did not exist.

    Action on the application of Alliance for Marriage, a United States-based national organization that promotes the strengthening of the institution of  marriage, was deferred pending a reply to a question raised by France’s representative regarding discrimination between married and non-married people in the workplace.

    The Committee also considered the application of World Assembly of Muslim Youth International, Inc. (WAMY), an international organization aiming to promote economic and social development, combining normative, analytical and operational activities.  The representative of the United States noted that the application had been submitted by an organization with the same name as an organization based in his country.  However, the organization, whose application was before the Committee, was based in Saudi Arabia.  He was only prepared to consider consultative status if the Saudi organization submitted a new application.  The NGO’s representative, however, said the American contact had been used solely for the purpose of communication.  Due to time constraints, the Committee could not take any action.

    In previous meetings, the Committee had recommended consultative status ad referendum for a number of organizations pending issuance of relevant documents. As the documents E/C.2/2004/R.2/Add.6, 10 and 11 had been published, the Committee decided to remove the “ad referendum” clause from its recommendations for:  FIA Foundation for the Automobile and society; International Electric research Exchange; International Network of Street Papers; Interreligious and International Federation for World Peace; Wong-Buddhism Women’s Association; Institute for Interreligious Dialogue; International Children’s Dream Foundation; Turtle Island Restoration Network; Volontari nel Mondo; War Veterans Committee; Help Handicapped International; Reach the Children; and India Vision Foundation.

    As it reviewed its working methods, the Committee heard a proposal submitted by Ms. Mezoui, by which the 2004 resumed session would take place from 7 to 10 September.  The 2005 session would be held during two weeks before the end of March 2005 and during the last two weeks of April 2005.

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

    The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 26 May.

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