Global Policy Forum

NGO Status at the UN



NGO's won a place in the original UN Charter. Article 71 says that the Economic and Social Council "may make suitable arrangements for consultation with non-governmental organizations which are concerned with matters within its competence." NGOs can give their opinions on social and economic matters, but in the powerful political organs -- the General Assembly and the Security Council -- they did not get a role.

Resolution E/1996/31 adopted in July 1996 to replace Resolution 1296 of May 1968 rules the current arrangements for consultation with non-governmental organizations.

It introduced some changes and more are in process, but the general framework of NGO status continues in a similar form. At the top are three levels of consultation with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). This status allows some direct participation in the intergovernmental process. Below ECOSOC status, there is "association" with the Departement of Public Information(DPI), which does not allow participation, but does permit access to the UN. And finally, there is accreditation to conferences and other one-time events, which can permit considerable participation and lobbying in informal sessions, but of course does not allow a continuing relationship with the UN.

Conference accreditation must be obtained separately for each event, usually from the conference secretariat. It tends to be easier to obtain than the full accreditation, but still requires submission of forms and documents describing the organization and its work. The criteria and rights vary substantially from one conference to another, but rights have tended to increase over time. At the international conferences, NGOs have actively lobbied government delegates, but NGOs have also been very involved in their own "parallel" conferences, called the "NGO Forums", which feature booths, main events, and hundreds of workshops.

The formal statuses accord very different rights to NGOs, but in practice active NGOs with lower status can gain greater access than less active NGOs with higher status. Getting accreditation can take lots of time and can be subject to blockage by member states who dislike the work of a particular NGO. But the rules are somewhat flexible and effective NGOs can find many opportunities to be heard.

Updated by Aline Baillat (December 2000)



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