18 May 2006

NGO Committee Recommends Reclassification of Status for One Organization, Rejects One Application, Leaves Two Pending

NEW YORK, 17 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 Committee's working methods.  In the afternoon, the Committee recommended five NGOs for consultative status with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and rejected the application of Germany's Lesbian and Gay Federation.

A standing committee of the Economic and Social 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 enjoying 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 ECOSOC agenda, while NGOs with roster status can only attend meetings.

NGOs 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 it adequate for the fulfilment of that obligation.  In exceptional circumstances, when there has been a complaint, for instance, the Committee can request a "special report".

The Committee recommended reclassification from roster to special consultative status for the Federation for Peace and Conciliation, an international organization headquartered in the Russian Federation, which conducts its activities in the field of disarmament and security, conflict resolution, tolerance, democracy and human rights.

By a recorded vote of 9 in favour (Cameroon, China, Côte d'Ivoire, Iran, Pakistan, Russian Federation, Senegal, Sudan, Zimbabwe), 7 against (Chile, Colombia, France, Germany, Peru, Romania, United States), with 2 abstentions (India, Turkey), the Committee rejected, on the proposal of Iran, the application of ILGA-Europe, an international organization with headquarters in Belgium, which aims to promote universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms, and to work for the equality of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgendered people, as well as liberation from all forms of discrimination.

That action followed the rejection of Germany's no-action motion by a recorded vote of 7 in favour (Chile, France, Germany, India, Peru, Romania, United States), 11 against and 1 abstention (Turkey).  The representatives of France and Germany spoke in favour of the motion, while those of the Sudan and Senegal spoke in opposition.

Submitting her proposal for immediate rejection, the representative of Iran, supported by Sudan's delegate, said that like the NGO whose application had been rejected yesterday, ILGA-Europe and others were part of the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA), whose application had also been rejected.  Iran had doubts over how the organization could contribute to ECOSOC's work and the answers it had provided were not satisfactory.

In general statements and explanations of position, the representatives of Germany, France, Chile, Romania, India and Peru expressed their concerns that due process had been violated as the NGO had not been given an opportunity to answer Iran's objections.  France's delegate noted that today's rejection, as with yesterday's, was a violation of article 15 of resolution 1996/31 governing the Committee.  Speakers also expressed concern that discrimination had entered the Committee's realm.  However, other speakers, including the representative of Pakistan, said due process had been followed.  Questions had been asked and the NGO had answered.

A decision on the application of Uma Qualcuno Pensi ad Abele, an international organization headquartered in Italy and concerned with human rights and governmental abuse of power, was postponed as the representative of Cuba and the observer for Algeria posed additional questions and noted contradictions in the answers provided by the organization.

Cuba's representative pointed out that that in one answer the NGO had claimed to have organized a conference on the topic of human rights violations in Cuba, whereas it had claimed in another answer only to have attended that conference.  However, the organization's name appeared on the cover of the conference brochure as one of the main organizers.

Moreover, one of the participants was the Cuban Democratic Directory (CDD), based in Miami in the United States, which had well-known terrorists on its payroll, he said, asking whether Uma Qualcuno, given its links with the Directory, was aware of the quality of the its membership.  Another matter was the slander in which the organization had engaged by accusing Cuba of indoctrinating Saharan children that it had hosted as refugees.  The NGO had stated that that information had been verified by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  What was the source of that information?  The NGO's organization of a political event and its association with a terrorist entity contradicted resolution 1996/31.

The observer for Algeria also sought clarification regarding the conference on Cuba, noting that, according to the latest reply, the organization had participated in that conference because a Moroccan diplomat would attend as well.  What causal relationship did the NGO see between the participation of a Moroccan diplomat and its own need to participate?

France's representative emphasized that the fact that the NGO had organized or participated in a conference concerning Cuba should not be held against it.  Moreover, the NGO's representative had earlier acknowledged an error regarding the alleged indoctrination of children in Cuba.  France appreciated the organization's humanitarian work in Italy.

Endorsing those remarks, the observer for Italy expressed the hope that the Committee would give due consideration to the answers provided by the NGO, which was doing humanitarian work in Italy and around the world.

Also left pending was the application of Asociación Civil Consorcio Desarollo y Justicia, a national organization in Venezuela concerned with social sustainable development, democracy, human rights, education and judicial reform.  The representatives of Cuba and the Sudan, as well as the observer for Venezuela asked about the organization's foreign funding, particularly that from the National Endowment for Democracy, and its political activities and affiliations.

Other speakers, including the representatives of Chile, Peru and Colombia, praised the NGO's activities and noted that it had consultative status with the Organization of American States.  The delegate of the United States objected to questions about the opinions of the National Endowment for Democracy, saying that it was not a Government organization.

Carlos Ponce Silén, the NGO's Director-General, said the organization had been working in various communities for 15 years on social justice and other projects.  Initially, it had been funded by private contributions from members.  A small, self-financed organization, it had also conducted fund-raising activities.  Funding from foreign organizations in no way interfered with any of its operations and it had not associated itself in any way with any political party.  The organization was completely independent and had even been criticized for that by some groups that had withdrawn their funding.  It tried to get financing from private enterprise, both foreign and domestic, but none had attached conditions to their funding.

He said the National Endowment for Democracy had provided some funding for a civil society project, as well as one aimed at strengthening justice.  In 2002, it had sent a communication to the National Endowment for Democracy condemning the short-lived coup in Venezuela, where the legality of its foreign funding was covered by rulings of the Supreme Court.  Its activities in Venezuela were all legitimate.

Under the agenda item "Strengthening of the Non-Governmental organizations Section of the Secretariat", Ricardo Espinosa, NGO Liaison Office, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, gave an overview of activities in Geneva, saying that his office there comprised one Professional and two General Service staff.  Some 60 to 70 per cent of his time was spent promoting, explaining and even defending NGOs' consultative status with ECOSOC, within and outside the context of the United Nations in Geneva.  He attended some 120 meetings annually, half of them outside the Geneva headquarters and played the role of a kind of teacher, providing information to NGOs interested in obtaining status, and explaining resolution 1996/31 to those already enjoying it.

He said his office also kept in touch with the NGO focal points of other United Nations agencies and entities, as well as with the Swiss authorities.  He was active in organizing the NGO Forum during or before the substantive sessions of ECOSOC in addition to monitoring situations where NGOs used the United Nations logo or advertised the fact that they were part of the Organization.  He also monitored carefully who was invited to meetings of ECOSOC and other bodies owing to security concerns.

Hanifa Mezoui, Chief, Non-Governmental Organization Section, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, gave a multimedia presentation on the workings of the United Nations Non-Governmental Organizations Informal Regional Network (United Nations-NGO-IRENE).  The goal of IRENE activities was, among other things, to enhance NGOs' contributions to ECOSOC, to provide them with access to information, and to promote partnership initiatives and projects with the United Nations.  The IRENE target groups were regional and subregional coordinators, NGOs with consultative status, the NGO community at large, the United Nations NGO Section and donors.  The ECOSOC's decision E/2002/225 had established a General Trust Fund to support IRENE and its activities, including:  networking and exchange of information among NGOs; capacity-building for NGOs in relevant areas of the Millennium Development Goals; and partnership programmes.

She said IRENE had surveyed NGOs with consultative status to find out which could best contribute to ECOSOC's high-level segments.  As for geographical distribution, IRENE concentrated its efforts in Africa and Asia.  In 2005, 12 per cent of NGOs in consultative status had been from the former and 15 per cent from the latter.  That was a big improvement compared to 1996.  The work of IRENE was helped by regional coordinators.

The theme of each year's high-level segment was distributed to NGOs and those participating could submit their statements to the Committee, she said.  Those statements showed the kind of contributions NGOs could make to ECOSOC and served as input for the Ministerial Declaration.  The IRENE partnership activities in 2005 included the NGO/Civil Society Forum on Information and Communication Technology in Tunis, and the annual NGO/Civil Society Forum in New York.

In reply to a representative's question, she said that contributions to the General Trust Fund were voluntary.  So far, one contribution of $10,000 had been made by the Government of Turkey.

The representative of the United States expressed some concern that the work presented today somehow impacted on the priority work of the NGO Section, namely the processing of new applications, the review of NGOs with consultative status and the facilitation of communications with them.  Other activities were secondary to those priorities.  If the movement of applications and quadrennial reports was satisfactory, one could start outreach programmes.

Ms. Mezoui reassured the representative that resolution 1996/31 was the NGO Section's first priority.

Cuba's representative expressed satisfaction with the Section's work and the innovative ways that it had found to assist and support the consultative relationship between NGOs and the Council.  The IRENE was one of them.  Innovative mechanisms had to be found to assist and support the consultative relationship.  Cuba called for greater support for NGOs from the South, which usually did not have the necessary resources to maintain the relationship with ECOSOC.  It was necessary to ensure that all NGOS, from the North and the South, were on an equal footing.

Turning to its working methods, the Committee then addressed such issues as the merging of NGOs with consultative status, what to do with NGOs that were behind in submitting their quadrennial reports, and submission to the Committee of NGO statements.  Committee members expressed dismay over the reduction of sessions to three weeks and called for the best and most efficient use of time during those sessions.

Regarding the timely submission of quadrennial reports, several suggestions were made, including one involving the possible demotion to roster status of NGOs that failed to submit their report after two or three communications.  However, it was stressed in that regard that NGOs from the South had less access to means of communication.

It was generally agreed that the consultative status of NGOs that merged with others, whether the latter had status or not, was a complex issue.  The Committee decided, therefore, that the informal working group would address that matter further before the next session.  The Committee also decided that instead of taking note of submitted NGO statements, it would acknowledge their receipt in order to avoid any impression that it endorsed their contents.

In other matters, The Committee took note of a communication from the "International Committee for European Security and Coordination", which had informed the Committee that it had ceased to exist.

The Committee members are Cameroon, Chile, China, Colombia, Côte d'Ivoire, Cuba, France, Germany, India, Iran, Pakistan, Peru, Romania, Russian Federation, Senegal, Sudan, Turkey, United States, and Zimbabwe.

The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. Thursday, 18 May, to continue its work.

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