Global Policy Forum

NGOs Hope First Date Wasn't Just a


By Mithre J. Sandrasagra

Inter Press Service
June 24, 2005

Security, development and U.N. reform emerged as major themes over two days of civil society and private sector meetings with governments that concluded here Friday. But the main proposal made by the 200 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and 1,000 observers participating in the unprecedented General Assembly hearings was for similar consultations to be held before all major U.N. summits. Hopefully, the hearings will not be an isolated event, but will move the relationship between civil society and governments "from a historic precedent to a more formal institutionalised way of interacting," said Renate Bloem, president of the Conference of NGOs (CONGO). "CONGO has worked intensively for 57 years to enhance civil society's participation at U.N. forums," Bloem added.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan's report on U.N. reform, titled "In Larger Freedom", states that "the goals of the U.N. can only be achieved if civil society and governments are fully engaged." It goes on to propose that "prior to major events, the Assembly could institute the practice of holding interactive hearings between Member States and civil society representatives that have the necessary expertise on the issues on the agenda." Annan's report lays the basis of the agenda to be taken up at the high-level summit of world leaders to be held here in September. The report's proposals for development, security, human rights and U.N. renewal also provided the framework for the civil society hearings this week. NGO participants came to New York prepared to offer their ideas and recommendations, "based on firsthand experience of the issues," Bloem said adding, "I hope that their voices would not only be listened to, but heard, so that they might have a substantive impact on the document to be issued to the summit."

Pera Wells, acting secretary general of the World Federation of U.N. Associations, said that, "So far, there is only one reference to civil society in the draft outcome document being prepared for the high-level summit, and it is very weak." "We would like to see more references to civil society participation in the document to be considered by heads of state," she continued. There are over 40 references to negotiations on follow-up to the issues that are addressed in the draft outcome document, according to Wells. "There is a strong feeling among civil society and NGOs that we should be included in these negotiations, not just in separate hearings, but through the consultative treaty conference and prepcom processes that have been very successfully used by the U.N. over the years," she said, adding, "We do not want decisions taken in small groups behind closed doors, we want to see the U.N. come back to an open inclusive decision-making process."

Two years ago, Annan said that the U.N. had come to a "fork in the road." Recent events had called into question governments' commitments to development, security and human rights embodied in the Millennium Declaration unanimously adopted in 2000, according to Deputy Secretary-General Louise Frechette. "We now face a choice, with the upcoming review of the Millennium Declaration in September, of coming together to tackle challenges collectively, or we risk increased tension, disorder and inequality," Frechette told those gathered at the civil society hearings. If the September Summit takes decisions that help strengthen collective security, if the world provides the means to reach the eight Millenium Development Goals (MDGs), and if governments recognise the centrality of human rights and U.N. reform, then all the world's people will benefit, Frechette said. "In that process the voice of civil society representatives had to be heard," she stressed. Ana Nelson of the International Conflict Prevention Analysis Group agreed. "Civil society involvement is no longer an option, it is a necessity," she said.

The hearings took place at a critical time, amid ongoing closed-door negotiations among U.N. Member States preparing for the Assembly's 2005 World Summit, with a mid-term review of worldwide efforts to achieve the MDGs. The MDGs are a set of targets designed to halve or eradicate poverty and other socioeconomic ills by 2015. Gladman Chibememe, of the group Africa 2000, said that he appreciated and recognised the role of the U.N. in human rights, but noted with great concern that, "there was a lack of connectivity between documents and action on the ground." Stressing that indigenous communities should be empowered, Chibememe proposed creating a mechanism for enabling communities to play a leading role in achieving the MDGs. All the MDGs need to be implemented within the framework of "environmentally sustainable development on a local level," Chibememe added. "Freeing women from injustice was a prominent goal of the MDGs and the empowerment of women was central to achieving all the others," said Geeta Rao Gupta, of the International Centre for Research on Women. Gupta expressed disappointment in the draft outcome document's treatment of women's rights and suggested that they be elaborated.

NGOs also emphasised the need for the creation of a trust fund to facilitate the participation of Southern NGOs at future meetings. Canada, Finland and Norway made contributions to a fund that facilitated participation of developing country civil society representatives at this week's meetings.

In short, "We need to stop speaking and start acting," Shannon Kowalkski of Family Care International told IPS.

More Information on NGOs
More Information NGOs and the General Assembly
More Information on NGO Access at the UN


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