Press Releases

    12 September 2005

    Without Vital Role of NGOs, World Could Hardly Respond to Myriad Crises, UN Secretary-General Annan Tells DPI/NGO Conference

    Calls on NGOs to Assess Summit's Outcome Document

    NEW YORK, 9 September (UN Headquarters) -- Following are the remarks by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the closing session of the fifty-eighth Annual DPI/NGO Conference:

    It is a great pleasure to join you today.  The remarkable turnout of NGOs and civil society this year -- the biggest in the history of this Conference -- is yet another proof of your commitment to the UN's global mission.  I would like to thank all of you for coming, especially those who travelled long distances to be here.

    It is nearly nine years now since I took office.  Many things have defined that period for the United Nations -- the situation in Iraq, the adoption of the Millennium Development Goals, the process of UN reform, the establishment of the International Criminal Court, and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, to name just a few.  One of the most notable must surely be the NGO revolution.  It started before my time as Secretary-General, of course.  But in recent years it has only intensified.

    The mass mobilization around the G8 meeting earlier this summer was just the latest example.  Ms. [Shirin] Ebadi, you, too, have shown us the impact that NGOs can have at home and on the global stage.  Your richly earned Nobel Peace Prize continues a welcome trend of recognizing NGOs for their contributions to human rights, peace, disarmament and democracy.

    And I, myself, wherever I go, am never far from NGOs.

    Just two weeks ago in Niger, I saw United Nations agencies, funds and programmes doing what they do best:  helping people in need.  I was pleased to see how well they were working with their NGO partners.  And I was impressed to see how quickly Médecins sans frontières was able to set up a nutrition centre, and treat more than 2,000 children, in a mere three weeks.  I saw other humanitarian groups carrying out similarly valiant efforts.  We have a long way to go in meeting the needs there, and a similar crisis looms in other parts of the Sahel and Africa.  But without NGOs, we could hardly begin to respond to any of these crises.  I thank you for the vital role you are playing.

    We also have much work to do in Sudan.  There, too, NGOs have been our indispensable partners.  When I visited Darfur in May, I was accompanied by Tom Arnold, Ken Bacon and George Rupp -- the heads of Concern, Refugees International and the International Rescue Committee -- who were able to offer invaluable perspectives on the situation.  So let me pay tribute again, not only to the NGOs who have braved a threatening environment to deliver relief, but also to the others -- local and international alike -- who are working for reconciliation and human rights and making other essential contributions to the Sudanese peace process.

    The truth is that NGOs are working with us everywhere:

    • alongside us whenever crisis strikes;
    • right behind us in advocating for women's rights, international criminal justice and action on global warming; and
    • often far out in front of us in identifying new threats and concerns.  This is certainly one of your most important roles.  You can often see what is not yet visible to diplomats, and think what still seems unthinkable to governments and their officials might not yet be able to admit.  What you say may be unpalatable today, but often becomes the conventional wisdom of tomorrow, and, for that, I'm personally very grateful to you.

    We stand together now on the eve of a World Summit which is potentially of tremendous consequence for all people, in all countries.  Let me assure you, you have made a significant impact on the process -- in streets, stadiums and rallies around the world, and here in this Building.  I know you feel sometimes that your voices disappear into thin air.  But last June's hearings marked a new and welcome step in the way the United Nations relates to civil society.  The official outcome document bears the stamp of those discussions, in particular on questions of gender and the environment.

    And here this week, during this Conference, you have returned the favour, so to speak, by giving a platform to an unprecedented number of government representatives and parliamentarians.  You and they may never be fully of one mind, and that's probably as it should be.  But at least you are beginning to hear, understand and appreciate each other better, and that is no small thing.  We must continue this dialogue.  And this annual Conference should remain a venue for candid exchanges between civil society, Member States and the UN Secretariat.

    Ultimately, our struggle is for tangible progress on the things that most concern the world's people.  That means strengthening our efforts to reach the Millennium Development Goals, which are an essential investment in human security.  But, of course, there must be a balanced outcome that meets every country's main concerns, from terrorism and non-proliferation to post-conflict reconstruction, human rights and reform of the UN itself.  Only such an outcome can provide a solid basis for effective collective action.  Throughout the past week, I have urged the Ambassadors who are negotiating the outcome document to remember that in today's interconnected world, the collective interest is often the national interest.  They must negotiate with that spirit in mind.

    Serious discussions are going on.  If Member States are going to get a meaningful outcome, there will need to be more give and take.  But the clock is ticking.  I am very concerned that despite some signs of progress, the work may not finish on time and the deadline will be missed.  Of course, I would be happy to be proved wrong and so would you.  So let's remind those responsible for the outcome document that we are all watching them.

    Whatever is decided and achieved, the United Nations cannot move ahead on its own.  You all have a key role to play and we depend on you.  Just as you have closely watched and influenced the negotiations on the Summit outcome, so must you now closely review what happens next.  The grass roots you represent will expect you to assess the outcome document, and to tell us whether the reforms the leaders adopt go far enough.  And we all need you to monitor developments at the country level, in the streets, in the villages, and to ensure that the leaders of your countries produce real results in the months and years ahead.  You must make yourselves the guardians of the reform of the international system.

    In this sixtieth anniversary year of the United Nations, let us again acknowledge the wisdom of the founders, who, in Article 71, made provision for consultations with NGOs.  Close engagement with civil society was seen then as vital for the Organization's health and for people's well-being.  That is as true today as it was then -- if anything, even more so.

    The relationship between us can never be measured merely by the number of NGOs attending global conferences, or taking part in meetings at UN Headquarters.  What really matters is what happens out there, in the world and on the ground.  Whether your main activity is helping set policy at the global level, or working directly to help people, you give true meaning to the phrase "we the peoples".  I am grateful to every one of you for your engagement, and count on your support in the crucial time ahead.

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