18 May 2005

NGO Committee Suspends Consultative Status of One Organization, Recommends Consultative Status for Two, Defers One Application

Hears, for First Time, from Chief of DPI/NGO Section Regarding Partnership with NGO Section of Department of Economic and Social Affairs

NEW YORK, 17 May (UN Headquarters) -- The Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations today suspended the consultative status with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of “A Woman’s Voice International” for the duration of one year. It recommended consultative status for two non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and deferred consideration of one application and one quadrennial report.  It further closed the file on one complaint by a Member State. It also heard, for the first time, from the Chief of the Department of Public Information (DPI)/NGO Section, Paul Hoeffel.

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 Council every four years. “Taking note” of a quadrennial report implies that the Committee finds the report adequate for fulfilment of that obligation. In exceptional circumstances, for instance, when there has been a complaint, the Committee can request a “special report”.

In a roll-call vote of 15 Committee members in favour, 1 against (United States), 1 abstention (Chile) and 2 absent (Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire), the Committee suspended for one year the consultative status of “A Woman’s Voice International”, an international organization based in the United States.  It did so after a motion of non-action submitted by the United States was rejected in a roll-call vote of 2 in favour (Chile, United States), 10 against and 5 abstentions (France, Germany, India, Romania, Turkey), with 2 members absent (Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire).  (The representatives of Chile and the United States spoke in favour of that motion, and the representatives of Cuba and China spoke against, this according to the rules of procedure of ECOSOC.)

According to a complaint filed by China on 9 May, a representative of that NGO had, on 5 April at the sixty-first session of the Commission on Human Rights held in Geneva, produced and activated a tasar gun while delivering a speech.  China’s representative today said that the NGO’s reply to the complaint left open many questions.  Among other things, the NGO claimed it had gotten permission from UN security guards to bring the device into the plenary, but a letter submitted by the United Nations Security and Safety Section had made no mention of that.  Also, the device was forbidden under the law of Switzerland, the host country.  The reply had also been inconsistent in describing what object it had brought into the meeting, describing it as a pocket light, a flashlight and a device for women’s self-defence.

The representative of the United States agreed that there were many questions and that more time was necessary to get all the answers. Although the security of the United Nations should never be in question, he asked that action on China’s suspension proposal be deferred to the next session so that the NGO in question and other organizations could provide answers and all facts would be clear.

Before action on China’s proposal was taken, the representative of the United States made a general statement before the vote, expressing regret that the motion for deferral to give the NGO a chance to give more complete answers had been rejected. Had those answers been given, he said, the outcome could have been different. He strongly supported the excellent work the NGO was doing.

The representatives of Peru, Germany, India, Pakistan, Iran and France spoke in explanation of their vote.  They stressed that the suspension was no reflection on the work of the NGO, but rather on that NGO’s violation of rules.  Germany’s representative stressed that NGOs bore full responsible for actions performed by persons they had accredited.

The Committee closed the file on a complaint filed by Iran on 9 May concerning a written statement of the Transnational Radical Party (document E/CN.4/2005/NGO/260) on the indigenous Ahwazi Arab tribes in Iran.  As the NGO had written that it had withdrawn its statement, the representative of Iran informed the Committee that it would not pursue further action.

The Committee recommended special consultative status for:

-- Fazaldad Human Rights Institute, a Pakistani organization that aims to eliminate human rights abuse; and

-- Swiss Peace Foundation, an international organization dedicated to analysis of conflicts and the consolidation of peace.

It deferred the application from Cultural Survival, an international organizational based in the United States that seeks to promote the rights of indigenous peoples, after a representative of the organization could not clear up questions concerning an affiliated “Office of Tibet”, posed by China’s representative. She said that her organization had thousands of members all over the world that merely subscribed to its publications and provided small amounts of funding. She could, however, look them up to find out basic information. China’s representative replied that she would like to have, in addition, a description of the relationship between the organization and the “Office of Tibet”.

The Committee also deferred consideration of the quadrennial report of the Transnational Radical Party, because Cuba’s representative asked for more time to analyse its responses.

Under the agenda item “Strengthening of the NGO Section of the Secretariat”, Paul Hoeffel, Chief, NGO Section, Department of Public Information (DPI), addressing the Committee for the first time, highlighted the partnership between the DPI/NGO Section and the NGO Section of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, a partnership, he said, based on a commitment to serve the community of more than 3,000 NGOs working with the United Nations. Today, NGOs had become active participants in the DPI’s outreach to the public and a valuable source of information for the Organization.

He said the agenda of the upcoming fifty-eighth Conference, entitled “Our Challenge:  Voices of Peace, Partnerships and Renewal”, would draw on the Secretary-General’s report “In Larger Freedom”. The Conference would reach out to other civil society actors not traditional partners with the United Nations.  The NGO/DPI Executive Committee and the Conference of NGOs (CONGO) had come together to create the Millennium+5 NGO Network to prepare for the September Summit.  The NGO community hoped to have a dialogue with representatives of Member States.  Such consultation with the General Assembly would enhance the great potential for the partnerships envisioned in the 2000 Millennium Declaration.

The NGO Sections of the DPI and the Department of Economic and Social Affairs had pooled their limited resources to support CONGO initiatives to reach out to groups in underrepresented regions, he said.  The DPI had also supported the creation of the Informal NGO Regional Networks (IRENE). Those initiatives had enhanced capacity-building for NGOs in Northern Africa and Eastern Europe.

Joan Kirby, Chair of the fifty-seventh Annual DPI/NGO Conference in 2004 and representative of Temple of Understanding, submitted the report of the Conference for the first time to the Committee. She said the Conference, held at Headquarters from to 10 September 2004, had been characterized by an urgent and active concern that the Millennium Development Goals were not receiving adequate support from Member States and were not well-known or understood outside of the United Nations system. There were 1,800 representatives of 555 NGOs from 66 countries. She reported that eight months after the Conference, the awareness and support of the goals in the civil society community had been greatly enhanced.

Jackie Shapiro, Vice-Chairperson of CONGO, reported on the 10 March forum on achieving the Millennium Development Goals, which had 150 participants. There had been a clear message from high-level officials of the United Nations that partnership with civil society was essential for achieving the Millennium Development Goals, she said. The United Nations system must, therefore, listen and build bridges to the many civil society coalitions, and the forum had been a major step forward in achieving that neutral agenda.

Committee members welcomed the increased cooperation between the two NGO Sections and welcomed the contributions made by NGOs towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals. The results of those efforts were already encouraging. The Committee decided that the report on the fifty-seventh Annual DPI/NGO Conference could be presented to the High-level Segment of the ECOSOC session by Ms. Kirby.

Hanifa Mezoui, updating the Committee on the activities of the NGO Section, said a survey had been sent out to 477 NGOs with roster status to find out about their activities. A total of 177 NGOs from 45 countries had replied. Letters to remind NGOs to reply had been sent out. As it was very important that the Committee knew about roster NGOs, she proposed that, if no replies were received, a letter would be sent, stating that the Committee might come to the conclusion that those NGOs should not be in consultative status or that some other action could be taken.

As for the quadrennial reports, she proposed that the Committee re-examine the existing schedule for their submission to accommodate the Committee’s new meeting schedule.  The Committee might also wish to consider ways of dealing with the backlog in consideration of those reports caused by late submission.  The Committee might want to remind NGOs with two or more consecutive reports outstanding of their obligations.

A survey questionnaire had been sent out to NGOs regarding the Millennium Development Goals, and 300 replies had been received so far.  She said achievement of the Millennium Development Goals required improved relations between the Organization and regional, subregional and national organizations at all levels. At the national level, the achievement of the Millennium Goals had been assigned to the International Association of Social and Economic Councils. During its ninth meeting in Paris coming June, she would present a report.

There were now 2,660 NGOs in consultative status with ECOSOC, she continued, 135 of them with general, 1,544 with special, and 935 with roster status. The United Nations Informal NGO Regional Networks (IRENE) had been making great progress in Africa. The whole continent was now covered by regional coordinators. A voluntary trust fund established in 2002 had received $10,000 from Turkey, money that would be used to establish IRENE in that country to serve the region.

In the ensuing discussion, speakers praised the efforts of the NGO Section and of IRENE, although some complained about the late issuance of documents during the session. The proposal for putting pressure on roster NGOs to answer surveys, however, met with some resistance, as some speakers pointed out that those NGOs were under no obligation to report. Answering a survey was a voluntary exercise. The matter, as well as the issue of quadrennial reports, should be considered in the Committee’s informal working group.  Some action should be taken regarding NGOs that had not submitted three consecutive reports.

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., Wednesday, 18 May, to address various items on its agenda.

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