Global Policy Forum

Amb. Ahmad Kamal


Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the UN

Speaking Notes for Informal Soundings with Member States on NGO Relations with the UN System
(ECOSOC Decision 1996/297)

Wednesday, 11 December 1996

On 2 December 1996, I held my first meeting with the member states to take soundings on ECOSOC Decision 1996/297 on the examination of the question of the participation of non-governmental organisations in all areas of the work of the United Nations.

I believe that I received the following reactions to the four questions that I had posed to the member states:

  • It was premature to hold a debate on the question in the plenary of the General Assembly in December 1996.

  • It was premature to work on a short resolution to extend, mutatis mutandis, the existing provisions of ECOSOC resolution 1996/31 to the General Assembly and its main committees.

  • Many countries felt that a separate working group could have been the best mechanism for addressing the question. A large number of states stated that in view of the United Nations' financial crunch, it would be inadvisable to consider the creation of a separate working group.

  • A majority of member states recommended, as a second option, referral of the question to the Essy Group. However, the predominant opinion was that instead of referring the question direct to the Essy Group, a sub-group should be created within the Essy Group which which could examine the matter exclusively, with a high degree of independence.

    About the last option some concerns were voiced. For instance, it was argued that in the Essy Group (a)the fate of the NGOs could become hostage to the overall package on UN reform, (b)consideration of NGO participation as one of the many items on its agenda could relegate the whole matter to oblivion, and (c)the final decision on NGO participation would be unduly delayed in the Essy Group.

    The option of consultations in an informal setting was also discussed. In this connection, the need for full conference services, particularly interpretation, was emphasized

    Most delegations underlined the urgency of the matter and the need to complete our exercise during the 51st session of the General Assembly. Others said that we could commence our work at the 51st session of the General Assembly but the conclusion of our work would depend on the overall agreement on the substantive issues; we could not determine an arbitrary date for the completion of our work, it was said.

    There was near consensus on the point that the most important aspect of our work, at this juncture, was the establishment of a viable and practical mechanism which could address the whole range of issues without further loss of time.

    On Monday, 9 December 1996, I convened a meeting of the NGOs to sound out their views. Many member states were also present during that meeting. Thirty-five NGO representatives expressed their views both on the methodology and the substance of NGO participation in the General Assembly and its main committees. Their inputs can be summarised in the following points:

  • Urgency: Concrete action should be taken during the fifty-first session of the General Assembly.

  • A Short Resolution: A short resolution should extend, mutatis mutandis, the rights and privileges already granted to the NGOs by Resolution 1996/31, and by the international conferences, to the General Assembly, its main committees and its subsidiary bodies. This resolution can be handled directly in the General Assembly through informal consultations which could be convened between now and June/July 1997.

  • GA Plenary Debate: The short resolution should be presented to a plenary meeting of the General Assembly in June/July 1997. An exhaustive debate on the broader question of NGO participation in all areas of the work of the United Nations could be held prior to the adoption of the short resolution.

  • A Separate Working Group: The NGOs unequivocally indicated a clear preference for the establishment of a separate working group, modelled on the ECOSOC Working Group that dealt with the updating of ECOSOC resolution 1296, so that it could address the question comprehensively and exclusively.

  • Essy Subgroup: There was some opposition to consideration of the question in the Essy Group because of its nontransparent character, its slow pace and the complex nature of the interrelated matters before it. However, theNGOs were ready to recommend the establishment of a subgroup provided it was (a)autonomous, (b)directly responsible to the President of the General Assembly and (c)delinked from the ongoing reform agenda items in the Essy Group.

  • NGO Participation: NGOs should be closely associated with any process/mechanism that is agreed upon by the member states. They should be allowed to observe, and participate in, the negotiations that will directly affect their relationship with the United Nations.

  • Transparency: The consultations and the decision-making process, regarding this question should be totally transparent.

  • Special Sessions: The question of NGO participation in the special sessions should be decided in accordance with the rules laid down in Part VII of Resolution 1996/31.

  • All categories of NGOs: While considering this question, inclde the views of all NGOs -- ECOSOC NGOs, DPI NGOs, Conference NGOs, NGOs accredited to Conventions/Treaty Bodies and other NGOs not yet accredited.

  • No deluge: NGOs do not want to inundate the General Assembly and its committees. They are willing and able to resolve the problems relating to (a)the number of NGOs following the work of the General Assembly and (b)time constraints.

    I also heard some exhortations about cutting short our soundings and getting down to business. I have scheduled only three meetings for the soundings, two with member states and one with the NGOs within a period of just eight days. The process of the preliminary soundings coud not have been shorter.

    After listening to the member states and NGOs in the two soundings that I have conducted earlier, in today's meeting I want to come back to three basic questions about the mechanism --

    a) Should we hold informal consultations directly in the General Assembly to adopt a draft resolution, pending a more extensive discussion of the question?

    b)Should we establish a separate working group? When?

    c) Should we recommend to the President of the General Assembly creation of a subgroup with the Essy Group which could be:

    i) autonomous
    ii) able to report directly to the President of the General Assembly
    iii) delinked from the overall reform package of the Essy Group
    iv) transparent, ensuring access to NGOs

    More Information on NGOs and the General Assembly


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