Global Policy Forum

NGO Sounding by Amb. Kamal


By Naomi Onaga

World Federalist Movement
December 9, 1996

On 9 December, Ambassador Ahmad Kamal of Pakistan held a "sounding" with NGOs (at the request of the General Assembly President) to get NGO views on ECOSOC decision 1996/297, which recommends that the General Assembly examine the question of the participation of NGOs in "all areas of work" of the UN.

The meeting was open to all NGOs and was announced in the UN Daily Journal. It was held in the ECOSOC Chamber and lasted from 10:00 AM to approximately 1:20 PM. About 40 NGOs made statements, and many more were present. Member states observing included Ireland, UK, Netherlands, Russian Federation, Malaysia, Egypt, Chile, India, Vietnam, Canada, Germany, Indonesia, US, Algeria, Cuba, and others. A videotape of the session will be available at the NGO Resource Center Library.

Ambassador Kamal opened with a brief statement. He posed several questions that focused mainly on the methodology on how to proceed, particularly (1)whether a separate working group should be established, or (2)whether the question should be dealt with in the High Level Open-Ended Working Group on Strengthening the UN system (the "Essy Group"), and (3) what is the best method for NGOs to participate in the work of the GA.

Ambassador Kamal also asked NGOs to comment on the fear of member states that there will be too many NGOs wanting to attend meetings, or make statements in meetings. (Many NGOs responded by saying that NGOs have the capacity and interest to form coalitions or caucuses and limit their statements. They have had much experience in doing this in the past, particularly in the World Conference preparatory process.)

A variety of NGOs made statements. They included NGOs from areas including disarmament and peace, humanitarian, human rights, women's, development, international law, technological, economic, environmental, and others. ECOSOC and DPI NGOs made statements, including CONGO (Conference of NGOs for those in consultative status with ECOSOC) and members of the DPI NGO Executive Committee. The speakers addressed issues of methodology as well as substance.

Ambassador Kamal summarized the meeting at its closing. He stated that what he feels that we have learned from this "sounding" is that while there is a diversity of views among NGOs there is general agreement on 1) the urgency of the issue - many NGOs spoke of the need for action in the fifty-first session, 2) the desire for a simple solution, particularly the extension of the current arrangement for NGOs in ECOSOC (ECOSOC resolution 1996/31) to the General Assembly and its Main Committees, with appropriate changes, with a solution dealing the issue of DPI NGOs, who are not covered in this resolution, 3) the inscription of this issue in the Plenary of the General Assembly in June or July 1996 in order to adopt a short resolution, 4) the preference for a separate working group to deal with the issue, and strong resistance to the Essy Group; however, because of the awareness of financial constraints, there is a general acceptance of a sub-group of the Essy Group if it has autonomy and reports directly to the GA, and is not linked to the other issues in the Essy Group (he also noted that there was a proposal for a short resolution to be negotiated in informal consultations convened by the GA President or his designee, for instance, by Kamal), and 5) that any process must allow NGO participation.

Ambassador Kamal said that the next sounding will probably be on 11 December, but he would need to consult with governments on whether it would be open to NGOs (but it probably would not be because many member states feel they need to have some discussion amongst themselves.

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