Global Policy Forum

Open Letter from the Secretary-General


By Pierre Sané

Amnesty International
March 23, 2001

We also need to adapt our deliberative work so that it can benefit fully from the contributions of civil society. Already, civil society organizations have made an important contribution to articulating and defending global norms [....] It is clear that the United Nations and the world's people have much to gain from opening the Organization further to this vital source of energy and expertise –– just as we have gained from closer institutional links and practical cooperation with national parliaments.

Kofi Annan, We the Peoples - Millennium Report

Dear Minister,

Amnesty International welcomes the response by Member States to the above call from United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan to strengthen the United Nations (UN), including its commitment to "give greater opportunities [..] to non-governmental organizations and civil society in general, to contribute to the realization of the Organization's goals and programmes", as expressed in paragraph 30 of the Millennium Declaration.

Amnesty International has been contributing to the work of the UN for over thirty years in areas such as the elaboration, ratification and implementation of international standards on human rights, as well as the analysis of human rights situations in specific countries. Much of its work has revolved around the UN General Assembly (UNGA) as well as International Conferences or Special Sessions established by the General Assembly. Together with other non-governmental organizations (NGOs), Amnesty International has been able to put its human rights expertise at the disposal of governmental delegates who are working to uphold the aims of the UN, including the protection and promotion of human rights.

While the General Assembly has long benefitted from the contributions of civil society, the UN has adopted inconsistent and contradictory NGO policies regarding the access of NGOs to meetings and conferences which has had a negative effect on NGOs to contribute. In an effort to address this disparity, Amnesty International asks you to express support for the principles in the attached draft resolution prepared by the International NGO Task Group on Legal and Institutional Matters (INTGLIM). Amnesty International considers that the resolution offers Member States a practical way forward in terms of implementing the commitment made in the Millennium Declaration regarding the participation of civil society in the work of the UN.

While respecting the clear distinction between the respective roles of States and NGOs, the reasons behind having special arrangements for NGO consultation, the attached resolution responds to the uneven levels of access which NGOs currently experience. It proposes that existing and limited consultative arrangements to the UNGA are extended to its Main Committees and, as appropriate, its subsidiary and ad hoc bodies. The adoption of the resolution would effectively formalize practices which have been in existence and the subject of numerous of UNGA resolutions for the last five decades, by which NGOs have had the right to attend open meetings of the UNGA, receive documentation and make their own reports available.

In 1996 the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) unanimously adopted Resolution 1996/31, in Part VII it established, uniform procedures for the participation of NGOs in International Conferences convened by the General Assembly as well as their preparatory processes. The resolution attached here not only calls on the General Assembly to implement these procedures but also to apply them to Special Sessions of the General Assembly, unless the UNGA specifically decides to not to invite NGOs to participate. By setting up one standard set of procedures, the General Assembly would avoid the need for delegates to have to renegotiate basic procedures governing NGO participation each time an International Conference or Special Session is convened.

As an NGO in special consultative status with ECOSOC, Amnesty International greatly values the speaking rights it has before ECOSOC and the Commission on Human Rights. The attached resolution does not call for these rights to be extended to NGOs before the UNGA, but it does, however, encourage the UNGA to develop further ways of improving consultative interaction with accredited NGOs: for example, through dialogue, panel discussions and provisions for oral or written statements to be given on an ad hoc or occasional basis.

In the interest of ensuring that the work of the UN be truly strengthened, I appeal to you to recognize the important and unique contribution of civil society to that work by supporting the adoption of the attached draft resolution. Amnesty International looks forward to its adoption as a practical first step in enhancing further collaboration between governments and NGOs.

Yours sincerely,

Pierre Sané
Secretary General

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