27 January 2006

NGO Committee Recommends Two Organizations for Consultative Status with Economic and Social Council

NEW YORK, 26 January (UN Headquarters) -- The United Nations Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations today decided to recommend two non-governmental organizations (NGOs) for consultative status with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), as it continued its 2006 regular session. 

A standing committee of the Council, the 19-member panel uses various criteria to recommend general, special or roster status with the Economic and Social Council, 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.

With the Committee today focusing squarely on new applications, a submission by the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs -- ultimately granted special consultative status -- sparked a debate that touched on issues at the very heart of the panel's work: transparency in the submission process; membership of active Government employees in NGOs; and the perception that applications submitted by civic groups from the South were treated differently from those of the North.

The representative of Germany was the first to raise some concerns about the group, which, according to its application, aimed to "enrich and deepen public debate in Egypt about external issues".  While he said that he would not block the submission, he would caution the Committee about current or former Government Cabinet officials having membership in the group, or any NGO. He added that, on many occasions, the wider Committee had registered its concerns about that very issue, and he urged delegations to apply equal standards to all applicants.

Saying that his delegation would not block the Egyptian Council, the representative of the United States said that, during this session, one delegation had requested the denial of an application that had had less clear evidence of participation by active Government employees. He echoed Germany's concerns about the creeping trend of Governments participating in the work of NGOs worldwide, as well as concerns about the general direction in which the Committee was headed, if it did not apply similar standards to all groups. He added that it appeared that Government participation in NGOs from the South was considered acceptable by some, while such participation in Northern groups was considered improper.

On the other side of the coin, the representative of Cuba hailed the organization for its frank answers to questions, as well as its transparency about the make-up of its overall membership. While he stressed that the Committee should certainly be wary of any "strong" links to Governments, it should, nevertheless, closely consider the general thrust of a group's work. He also stressed that the Committee examined applications on a case-by-case basis, regardless of whether NGOs were based in the North or the South.  China's representative agreed, adding that his delegation had closely studied the documents and believed that the Egyptian NGO was actively involved in matters at the heart of ECOSOC's socio-economic development initiatives in developing countries. Senegal was among other members supporting the group.

The Association g.r.a.f.e. Generation recherche action & formation pour l'environnement, a group seeking to improve the daily lives of the most disadvantaged populations in countries of the South, maintain adequate health and prevent rural exodus, was also granted special consultative status.

Another application that generated intense discussion was that of the Venezuelan-based Associacion civil conscorico desaollo y justice, which, according to its mission statement, has for the past 15 years been trying to strengthen democracy and help the country achieve an independent and efficient judicial and social system.

Questioning the very aims and purposes of the group's work, as well as its political affiliations, a Government delegation from Venezuela urged the Committee to deny the application. Cuba's representative asked for clarifications of questions previously posed by the Committee. He also reminded delegations that the Committee's general practices required it to consider the position of a Government when examining the application of a national civic organization. 

The representative of the United States, however, cautioned against rejecting an application because an NGO supported a point of view that differed from those of a current national Government. Nevertheless, like Cuba, before taking an ultimate decision, his delegation would await the responses to the questions that had been posed by the Committee.

The Committee postponed action on that application.

Also today, the Committee took note of the quadrennial reports of the following NGOs in consultative status with the Council deferred from previous sessions: the Islamic Relief, the Sociologists for Women in Society, the International Muslim Women's Union and the Association of United Families International.

Before the Committee took note of the report of the International Press Institute, the representative of Cuba said his delegation still had some concerns about the group.

He said it appeared that the Institute, a global network of editors, journalists and media executives dedicated to protecting and furthering press freedoms, had tried to reply objectively to written responses, but Cuba had nevertheless come away from the organization's previous interactions with the Committee with a "bad impression", particularly its "insolent" responses to the Committee's queries. He said that the Institute seemed to have politically motivated aims, and dissociated his delegation from the Committee's decision.

The Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations will meet again tomorrow at 10 a.m., to conclude this phase of its work for 2006.

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