Global Policy Forum

Statement on NGOs and the


World Federalist Movement
9 December 1996

Mr. Vice President,

On behalf of our President, Sir Peter Ustinov and Executive Director, Bill Pace, I want to express our deepest appreciation to you and President Razali for the leadership you are giving to this important issue. We want to express special gratitude to the G-77 who took the lead in bringing this issue to the General Assembly.

WFM believes that a fundamental element to reforming and strengthening the United Nations and improving upon its effectiveness and efficiency is to increase transparency in its decision-making. Transparency is a fundamental element of accountability. Extension of NGO rights of access and participation to the General Assembly, and consideration of extending these arrangements to other areas of the UN, is essential to achieving a more efficient, strengthened and democratic International Organization. WFM will contribute, at a later time, to the the documentation of the scale, forms, and importance of the contributions NGOs are making to the work of the UN throughout the entire system, including consultative contributions to the vital global policy-making work of the General Assembly. Whether it is dealing with natural disasters, famine, droughts, aftermaths of wars, refugees, health matters, advancement of women, protection of children, promoting literacy education, preservation of wildlife and environment, sustainable development, calling for disarmament and greater financial equity in the world, NGOs from all sectors and regions are helpful partners to governments and the UN. Let us acknowledge here that regardless of the forum - GA, ECOSOC, Secretariat, Specialized Agencies, Trusteeship Council, Security Council even including judicial and financial institutions, the contributions NGOs make, whether in the field or conference rooms, are not only important, but often essential.

While WFM not only recognizes, but devotes a great deal of its program to the goal of reforming and strengthening all areas of the UN system, WFM believes the most important first step is to address the issue of extending rights of participation of NGOs to the General Assembly and its Main Committees and subsidiary bodies. The General Assembly is clearly competent to take this modest, conservative first step during the session. We do not believe the General Assembly needs first to receive a report from the Secretary-General on this issue. WFM agrees that, beyond the General Assembly, the call to examine participation of NGOs in "all areas of the UN" is much more complex. While competent to address this issue in the General Assembly, many government representatives in the GA are not expert on existing arrangements in other bodies of the UN - in specialized agencies, funds and programs, in treaty bodies, or in the international financial institutions, such as the existing arrangements for NGO participation in the meetings of the World Bank and Global Environmental Facility.

This broader area of addressing 1996/297 is clearly a multi-tiered, multi-year challenge and the GA would, on these wider issues, benefit from a report from the Secretary-General describing existing and best practice and other arrangements that may be beneficial, and suggesting possible ways and advantages of efforts to extend consistency and harmony to the various types of arrangements that exist. This would be beneficial particularly as not all member states are agreed or clear on the type of NGO arrangements that would appropriate in some organs and bodies of the UN, such as the Security Council, treaty bodies, etc., and such a study could form a some provide more information for discussions.

For these reasons, and the logic inherent in the adage - that before one would move the world one should move oneself - we believe the essential first step is for the GA to agree to extend NGO rights of access and participation to the Plenary and Main Committees during the current GA, dealing with the wider issues in stages over a longer period of time.

Mr. Ambassador, let me address a number of issues before you as succinctly and candidly as possible.

After months of extensive debate and discussion with NGO colleagues, and taking into consideration the opposition to and costs of creating a new working group this year, WFM favors the adoption by the GA of a short resolution extending 1996/31 arrangements, in principle, to the GA and its Main Committees and subsidiary bodies. Resolution 1996/31 is the product of literally 51 years of experience at the UN with NGOs. This resolution was agreed to by an open-ended working group - not restricted to ECOSOC members - after nearly three years of careful, often tortuous negotiations. The rights of access and participation for NGOs in 1996/31 are actually very modest - rights of attendance, to documentation, of consultation, and limited ability to present written and oral statements. Let us be honest. Extending these rights to the GA is a modest and conservative advance - taking the GA not far beyond existing, albeit extremely erratic, practices.

WFM supports extending ECOSOC 1996/31 arrangements, in principle, to the General Assembly and its Main Committees within the 51st session. If necessary, perhaps there can be provisions to allow committees to adapt, improve or tailor the arrangements in ways to maximize efficiency. To summarize this point, Mr. Ambassador, WFM believes the 51st General Assembly should agree to the following:

The General Assembly should hold discussions on and debate in Plenary on a resolution or resolutions which:

A. As a first step extend to the General Assembly, in principle, the ECOSOC 1996/31 arrangements.

B. Call for a report from the Secretary-General to be completed by 1998 describing existing or best practices and other possible arrangements in the GA and other organs of the UN, and describing the variety of arrangements in the UN system, including relevant treaty bodies, recommending possible modalities of improvements or harmonization of these arrangements in all areas of the UN.

C. The GA resolution(s) should call for a working group to be formed in 1998 or 1999 to consider the wider issues of extending NGO rights of access and participation to all areas of the UN, taking into account the Secretary-General's report and information gathered in informal meetings between now and then. This working group could also discuss, on the basis of experience gained, the fine-tuning of mechanisms for NGO arrangements that were instituted by the application of ECOSOC resolution 1996/31 to the GA in 1997, for example whether the GA will want to establish its own criteria and mechanisms for granting "accreditation" to NGOs, or whether it wishes to utilize, possibly with some complementation, the existing mechanisms in ECOSOC.

To achieve these elements in a resolution or resolutions during the 51st session, Mr. Ambassador, we do not believe it will be necessary to hold weeks of informal negotiations, such as required in the NGO Review. We believe one option is that you and President Razali could, in 4-8 informal meetings held between now and next June, formulate a range of alternative resolutions, which could be debated and action taken in Plenary before the end of the 51st GA. We believe this formula is the most realistic and efficient given the limited time and resources available.

Mr. Ambassador, please permit us to comment on a number of other issues briefly.

If the governments do not agree to this "fast track" multi-stage resolution or resolutions approach proposed above, we believe a new, separate working group is needed.

We do not believe that the High-Level Open-Ended Working Group on Strengthening the UN System, the "Essy Group", is an acceptable alternative. First, these General Assembly working groups on UN reform are closed to NGOs, and NGOs MUST participate in this debate. (In fact, we believe that it is outrageous that NGOs are not even being allowed to monitor those proceedings.) Second, we understand that the Essy working group has an extensive agenda already, and expecting it to be able to deal properly with the NGO issue is not realistic. As Ambassador Gomersall of the United Kingdom stated in the 2 December government sounding, some member states, will not want to deal with the NGO issues until they have dealt with the existing major proposals in the Essy Group for reforming the General Assembly, Secretariat, and downsizing or eliminating existing programs and offices, and others. Third, we are told that in this group is operating on the basis that "nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to," thus the NGO issue could be held hostage to the other issues. Therefore, Mr. Ambassador, WFM agrees with the statements by Canada at the December 2, 1996 informal "sounding" that submission of the NGO issue to this working groups is equal, most likely, to a decision by governments to do nothing.

The only acceptable possibility regarding the Essy Group may be if the issue is committed to a sub-group of the Essy Group that is able to report its recommendations directly to its Chair, the President of the General Assembly, and the General Assembly were able to take actions on these recommendations without any linkages to other issues in the Essy Group. NGOs must also be allowed to monitor its discussions in the same way we were allowed to follow the NGO Review informal discussions.

Mr. Chairman, WFM must also strongly argue against the proposal of the United Kingdom expressed in the December 2 meeting - of first asking each of the six GA Main Committees to conduct informal meetings on this issue. To have this discussion in six different forums is the most inefficient, and most expensive of all the proposals - one which could only result in the worst delays and a hodge-podge of proposals that will be a nightmare to consolidate into a cohesive mechanism for NGO arrangements.

Mr. Ambassador, the right way forward is clear. It is to build upon the excellent resolution sheparded to consensus by you last July - ECOSOC 1996/31 must be the basis of extending rights of access and participation to NGOs in the UN. The first step is the GA, the second is a report by the SG, the third step is establishing a working group in 1998 or 1999 to address the wider issues, harmonize and fine-tune the arrangements as appropriate.

Mr. Ambassador, I think we are all coming to agreement on the principle that NGO arrangements at the UN must be improved and enhanced. Are those countries, the US, Japan and EU in the north and other major powers in the South, who have repeatedly expressed their appreciation to NGO contributions in the world conferences in the last six years, now going to block our rights of participation in monitoring the implementation of the global action plans, or in participating in the reviews of the world conferences, or in new conferences held as special sessions? Are the permanent members and major contributors to the UN budget really intent, while citing concerns about efficiency, on wasting millions and millions of dollars, and thousands and thousands of hours of the UN's limited resources, and even greater amounts of their own Mission's and NGOs time and resources, over the next three or four years, just to end up where we all know we should inevitably arrive?

Or can we hope that with your's and President Razali's leadership, we might be able to address this issue in an efficient, progressive way with the prospect, after 51 years, of capturing and improving upon existing practice in the General Assembly, resulting in important advances in transparency, efficiency, and democracy in the United Nations? We have faith that this is the case; we hope that member states feel the same,

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