Press Releases

                                                                                                                     22 June 2004

    United Nations Urged to Pay More Heed to Role of ‘Non-State Actors’ in Approach to Global Problems

    Report of ‘Eminent Persons’ Stresses Importance of ‘Civil Society Dialogues’, Promoted by New Under-Secretary-General

    NEW YORK, 21 June (UN Headquarters) -- Non-State actors are prime movers in today’s world, and the United Nations needs to be more pro-active in “bringing together all constituencies relevant to global issues, and galvanizing appropriate networks for effective results”, says the report of an independent panel chaired by former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, released today.

    The 13-member Panel of Eminent Persons on UN-Civil Society Relations was appointed last year by Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Among its specific recommendations are that the General Assembly should include civil society organizations more regularly in its affairs, that civil society dialogues with the Security Council should be extended and deepened, and that a new Under-Secretary-General should be named to promote engagement with civil society.

    But the major thrust of the report, entitled “We the Peoples: Civil Society, the United Nations and Global Governance”, is to argue for a paradigm shift in how the United Nations sees itself.

    Rather than an exclusively inter-governmental body that occasionally accepts input from outside the ranks of State actors, the Organization should foster multi-constituency processes that incorporate the viewpoints and capabilities of citizen groups, policy advocates, businesses, local governments and parliamentarians.

    According to the report, “Few of today’s most pressing battles can be resolved by central governments alone -– whether hunger, poverty, illiteracy, global pandemics, terrorism, narcotics, climate change, natural disasters, environmental threats, abuse of women and children, sectarian and ethnic divides, unemployment, economic crises or inequities of wealth, power and information. Others are needed in these battles”.

    After presenting his report in person to the Secretary-General, President Cardoso briefed national delegations at the United Nations in New York this morning, and in Geneva via videoconference.

    In a letter transmitting the Panel’s study to the General Assembly, the Secretary-General asked Member States to give it careful consideration, and said that he would meet with the General Assembly in a few weeks on follow-up. The Panel’s recommendations are categorized according to those within the area of the Secretary-General’s competence, and those requiring action by Member States.

    The sometimes-fraught relation between civil society groups, such as non-governmental organizations, and governments at the United Nations is referred to by the Panel members.

    “Over the years, the UN’s relationship with civil society has strengthened greatly and multiplied”, they say. But “difficulties and tensions have arisen, particularly in the deliberative process. Governments do not always welcome sharing what has traditionally been their preserve... At the same time, many in civil society are becoming frustrated; they can speak in the UN but question whether anyone is listening, or whether their participation has any impact on outcomes.”

    The Panel on civil society relations was appointed in February 2002 as part of Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s comprehensive reform of the United Nations Organization. Along with President Cardoso, it includes 12 additional members affiliated with governments, non-governmental organizations, academia and/or the private sector. They are Bagher Asadi (Iran), Manuel Castells (Spain), Birgitta Dahl (Sweden), Peggy Dulany (United States), André Erdös (Hungary), Asma Khader (Jordan), Juan Mayr (Colombia), Malini Mehra (India), Kumi Naidoo (South Africa), Mary Racelis (Philippines), Prakash Ratilal (Mozambique) and Aminata Traoré (Mali).

    The Panel chairman presents their recommendations on civil society as substantive but not revolutionary.

    Noting that in the mandate to the Panel, the Secretary-General encouraged it to be “bold and pragmatic”, President Cardoso said “Being bold meant developing proposals that are far-reaching, innovative and perhaps at the margins of possibility”. “Being pragmatic meant that those ideas are sufficiently realistic to fall inside the margins of possibility.”

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