17 May 2006

Committee on NGOs Recommends Five Organizations for Consultative Status with Economic and Social Council, Rejects One Application

NEW YORK, 16 May (UN Headquarters) -- The Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations dedicated its morning meeting to strengthening the NGO Section of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs and the working methods of the Committee.  During the afternoon, the Committee recommended five non-governmental organizations (NGOs) for consultative status with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and rejected the application of the Lesbian and Gay Federation in Germany.

A standing committee of the Council, the 19-member body 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.

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".

Hanifa Mezoui, Chief, Non-Governmental Section of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, announced that during her sabbatical at the end of 2005, she had conducted a study, entitled "Development of new educational and teaching programmes, based on the realization of the objectives of the Millennium Development Goals in partnership with civil society, the International Association of Economic and Social Councils and Similar Institutions (AICESIS), as well as academic institutions".  Three surveys had been conducted, followed by four round tables in Paris, Algiers, Brasilia and Beijing, respectively.  The surveys had indicated that:  institutions had not sufficiently absorbed information on the Millennium Development Goals; the economic and social councils had not systematically integrated the Goals into their programmes; and that universities and training institutions had not adopted the Millennium Goals as a subject.

Recommendations of the round table included, among other things:  supporting the role of ECOSOC by maintaining the AICESIS as a privileged, neutral forum in order to act as the contact for, and interface between, the economic and social councils, civil society organizations, Governments, local authorities, the private and public sectors and educational sectors; making the ethics conveyed by the Millennium Development Goals a fundamental component in the educational and training model; and creating a Centre of Excellence to train and empower civil society in order to achieve the Goals by 2015, working in partnership with the NGO Section of the United Nations, UN-NGO-IRENE and the network of educational institutions and training centres.

She said the four round tables had initiated a true partnership between Governments, academia, civil society, NGOs and the private sector around one issue of concern -- the duty to implement the Millennium Development Goals within the time set.  One of the lessons learned was that cultural and linguistic diversity, while stimulating respect for cultural identity, traditions and religions, was essential to the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals.  Regional and international cooperation was another important factor for sustainable development.

Natacha Kolesar, President, Institute for the Development of Arts and Leisures (IDEAL), speaking on behalf of UN-NGO-IRENE (Informal Regional Network), said that as an educational organization, IDEAL had participated in a number of initiatives concerning some of the Millennium Development Goals.  It had contacted 13 Canadian Universities to find out about the status of the teaching of the Goals and had prepared a report on:  how students were informed about the Millennium Development Goals; how involved they were concerning the Goals; how efficient they would be at the grass-roots level; and how to make them participate in furthering the Goals.

She said IDEAL had elaborated pedagogical and educational software to be used in academia which promoted the achievements of the Millennium Goals.  The IDEAL was also introducing a curriculum based on the "5 Es":  environment, ethics, education, exchange (economy), and aesthetics.  That programme would lead IDEAL to work with the experts, to find the partners in the field, and to create centres of excellence helping to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

In the ensuing debate, Committee members expressed appreciation for the project conducted by Ms. Mezoui, as well as for her and her Section's work for the Committee.  They welcomed the partnership established between Governments, NGOs, the private sector and academia as an important one for implementation of the Millennium Goals and expressed support for the creation of a Centre of Excellence.  The important role of NGOs in the implementation of the Goals was underlined, but it was stressed that NGOs, especially from the South, needed support as they did not have the resources to participate effectively.  The role of education in achieving the Goals was also underscored.

The representative of the Russian Federation expressed the hope that Ms. Mezoui's detailed work would also encourage NGOs in the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States to become more active in the United Nations.  The main task of the NGO Section however, was to establish, support and strengthen consultative relations with NGOs.  The agenda item strengthening the NGO Section should be combined with the item on the working methods of the Committee.  In that regard, he expressed concern that the time allotted to the Committee had been cut more and more, which was a "dangerous trend".  Also, a more rigorous approach should be followed regarding NGOs that did not fulfil their reporting requirements.  The Section should find out if they still existed.

The representative of the United States said the core responsibility of the NGO Section was servicing the Committee.  It should facilitate the Committee's work through the proper and expedient facilitation of applications and reporting requirements.  In that regard, he asked for detailed information on the Section's staff and their assignments.  Additional programmes the Section was involved with should not diminish the capacity of the Secretariat to maintain its main focus of work.  It should be determined what was necessary and what was possibly infringing on the primary work of the Committee.  He noted that there had been several shortcomings in communications with NGOs.  That was a matter that needed to be addressed.  He also asked what the source of resources was for the particular programme that had been presented.

Cuba's representative, however, said the NGO Section did very complicated and arduous work with very few staff members.  It probably did more work than other Sections in the Secretariat.  The Section had allowed the Committee to make greater progress in the last few years.  Expressing satisfaction with the work done by the NGO Section, he urged Ms. Mezoui to inform the Committee of any difficulties it encountered and of its needs regarding staffing and resources.

Other speakers in the debate also expressed concern about the shorter time allotted to the Committee.  They noted the problems with communications, especially with NGOs in developing countries, which often did not have access to computers.  In that regard, it was suggested that the missions of Member States might be of assistance in communicating between the Section and NGOs.  Some speakers stressed the need for continuity in the Committee and asked what was being done for new members to bring them up to date fast.  Cooperation with the regional groups was also recommended.

Responding to members' concerns, Ms. Mezoui said that since 1997, the number of NGOs accredited had increased dramatically.  Even if the staff was doubled in size, the Section would have difficulties in serving all NGOs.  Her section worked seven days a week, she said, often until late at night.  She noted that the Committee was the first, and so far only, committee that was "e-ready", thanks to partnership with academia and civil society in India.  The NGO Committee was the only committee that was not duplicated within the United Nations, for instance in regional committees.   The ratio between the amount of work and human resources in the Section was disproportionate.  She would provide detailed staffing information as soon as possible.  As for new members of the Committee, a workshop would be organized.

In other matters, the Committee decided, that, as the term of suspension of A Woman's Voice International would expire, reinstatement of consultative status for that NGO would be announced in a Chairperson's statement that would read as follows:  "The Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations takes note and acknowledges the fact that the one year of suspension of the organization 'A Woman's Voice International' will come to an end on 21 July 2006."

This afternoon, the Committee recommended special consultative status for:

-- Pro-femmes/Twese Hamwe, a national collective of 43 organizations in Rwanda working for the advancement of women, peace and development;

-- International Relations Students' Association of McGill University, a national organization in Canada that offers an apolitical forum for university students to express their interest in international affairs, and in the United Nations and its goals specifically;

-- Association of European Parliamentarians for Africa, an international organization headquartered in the Netherlands working to support parliaments in Africa to function well and to keep Africa on the political agenda in Europe; and

-- Macedonian Center for International Cooperation, a national organization based in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, working for sustainable development, awareness-raising and social humanitarian assistance.  The Observer for Greece clarified yesterday's objection to granting the status, saying the title of the organization not only created confusion as to the country where it was based, but was also contrary to Security Council resolution 1817.

Roster status was recommended for European Garage Equipment Association, an international organization headquartered in Belgium, which wants to carry out studies related to all activities of manufacturing and distributing garage equipment.

The Committee rejected, on a proposal of Iran, the application of Lesbian and Gay Federation in Germany -- a national organization that works towards a society in Germany, in Europe and globally where lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people have equality before the law -- in a recorded vote of 9 in favour (Cameroon, China, Côte d'Ivoire, Iran, Pakistan, Russian Federation, Senegal, Sudan and Zimbabwe), 7 against (Chile, Colombia, France, Germany, Peru, Romania and the United States), and 2 abstentions (India and Turkey).

Before that vote, a motion of no action submitted by Germany was defeated in a vote of 7 in favour (Chile, France, Germany, India, Peru, Romania and United States), 11 against (Cameroon, China, Colombia, Côte d'Ivoire, Cuba, Iran, Pakistan, Russian Federation, Senegal, Sudan and Zimbabwe) with 1 abstention (Turkey).   According to the rules of procedure, the representatives of Germany and Romania spoke in favour of that motion, while the representatives of Senegal and the Sudan spoke against it.

In submitting her proposal, the representative of Iran, supported by the representative of the Sudan, said concerns about paedophilia had in earlier sessions lead to the rejection of the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA) application.  It seemed that now NGOs affiliated with ILGA were applying.  It was not clear whether ILGA and affiliated organizations had taken sufficient measures to prevent or fight paedophilia.  Moreover, she was not satisfied with the answers.

In general statements before the vote and explanations of position, the representatives of Germany, France, Chile, Romania, India and Peru, noting that during the session, applications of three NGOs addressing the same issue had been rejected, expressed concern that there seemed to be a discriminatory trend.  Moreover, due process should be given to all NGOs that applied for status.  The Committee had always permitted NGOs to answer delegates' concerns.  As homosexuality was a delicate issue, a constructive dialogue between the Committee and the NGO would have been welcome.

The representative of Pakistan said the NGO had been given all due process.  Questions had been asked and answered.  A Committee member could not be forced to ask more questions.

The Permanent Observer for the Holy See took issue with the notion that the demands of NGOs such as the current one had anything to do with human rights.  Sexual orientation was not comparable to race or ethnic origin, he said, and homosexuality was not a positive source of human rights.  The NGO was in fact not asking for equal rights, but for special rights.

The Committee postponed a decision on the application of Africa Action, a national organization based in the United States that is committed to supporting efforts to identify and solve African problems, as the representative of the Sudan said that the organization was not registered as an active organization in the Sudan.  Officials of the organizations had never been granted visas to go to Darfur.  The organization was launching a campaign on its website through which it sought to bring pressure on the Sudanese Government by claiming that it was engaged in ethnic cleansing.  That issue was resolved now that there was a peace agreement in Darfur.  He asked what the aims of the political campaign launched were and how the organization had had access to Darfur without the knowledge of the Government of the Sudan.

Decision on the application of Bhagwan Mahaveer Viklang Sahayta Samiti, a national organization from India, helping people with disabilities, was also postponed, as the representative of Pakistan asked if the organization had any relationship with Help Handicap International.

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 Wednesday, 17 May, at 10 a.m. to continue its work.

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