Arrangements for Consultations with Non-Governmental Organizations
A. UN Secretary General's Report
We note with appreciation the Report of the Secretary-General of the United Nations on the General Review of Arrangements for Consultations with Non-Governmental Organizations. It clearly identifies several important issues to be addressed in the review process. The Baha'i International Community would like to offer its views on a few of the issues raised in that report.
B. Adequacy of Council Resolution 1296
In light of our experience, Council Resolution 1296 has been adequate to regulate the arrangements for consultations between NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) and the UN at meetings called by ECOSOC (United Nations Economic and Social Council) and its subsidiary bodies. Although in general it is as relevant today as it was twenty-five years ago, a few articles need to be updated to reflect present day reality.
The resolution does not, however, address the question of how NGOs can participate in meetings called by the General Assembly or other non-ECOSOC entities of the United Nations System. This lack of formal arrangements has resulted in a wide range of confusing and contradictory approaches to NGO participation in non-ECOSOC meetings, which warrants the attention of the Working Group. In our view, all United Nations conferences need to have a common framework which would maximize the number and diversity of NGOs able to participate.
Let us take, for example, the participation of NGOs in the area of human rights. It may be recalled that the Second World Conference on Human Rights was held in Vienna, Austria, in June 1993. A quarter of a century had elapsed since the First World Conference on Human Rights was held in Tehran, Iran, in 1968. The Baha'i International Community was pleased to note that the NGO Forum was made accessible to close to 1500 NGOs from all parts of the world (the Conference close to 900). By contrast, in 1994 at the fiftieth session of the Commission on Human Rights, which, like the Sub-Commission on the Protection of Minorities, meets yearly, only about 150 NGOs, most with consultative status, participated. Although fewer in number, the NGOs with consultative status are able to participate in the on-going substantive work of the Commission all year round. Therefore, accreditation for regular consultative status should not be confused with accreditation to once- or twice-in-a-lifetime conferences called by the UN.
Moreover, the Open-ended Working Group may wish to note that most of the functional commissions of ECOSOC -- notably the Commission on the Status of Women and the Commission on Human Rights -- have been functioning, in our view, reasonably well under the guidelines of Council Resolution 1296. It may be prudent, therefore, when devising regulations for such bodies as the Commission on Sustainable Development that might require special arrangements, to allow other commissions to function under the framework of the rules of Resolution 1296 with only the adjustments necessary for that commission.
C. The Right of NGOs to be Consulted at the Regional and National Level
Mr. Chairman, NGOs are organized and operate at every level of society -- local, national, regional and international. At every level of society, the same issues of concern to civic society are addressed. Hence, the Working Group might wish to examine what is the scope, form of organization and activities of NGOs that might qualify to be heard at the international level. By the same token, how can NGOs at the local, national and regional levels be consulted by the UN on issues in which they are competent and have something unique to contribute?
The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), its functional Commissions and other United Nations bodies such as UNDP, WHO and others, might wish to consider initiating consultations in a more systematic way with national and regional NGOs in their own surroundings so as to facilitate more broad-based input into their respective proceedings.
As a starter, the United Nations might encourage, nay facilitate, the participation of regional and national NGOs in meetings of the UN Regional Commissions located on all the continents as well as in regional preparatory meetings for global conferences. The Commission on Human Rights might also be well advised to require Special Rapporteurs and Representatives to consult with appropriate local, national and regional NGOs in their area of concern when they are compiling their reports. Some reports are country specific, while others are global in scope. Rapporteurs and Special Representatives should make known ahead of time their schedule of work and when they plan to be in a given country or region. In that way interested NGOs might be able to make their presentations in person or send their written submissions on time without having to travel to New York or Geneva.
D. Access to Non-ECOSOC United Nations Meetings
Consultative status for NGOs, now confined to ECOSOC, needs to be extended to the entire UN system. Recent trends at the UN suggest an increasing role for the Security Council in the protection and promotion of Human Rights. In some instances Special Representatives have submitted their reports to the Security Council before submitting them to the Commission on Human Rights, the body that mandated the study in the first place. NGO input can, of course, be channeled through the Special Rapporteurs; however, the Open-ended Working Group may wish to explore how relevant NGOs might be allowed to attend open sessions of the Security Council as observers.
Moreover, in light of discussions about restructuring the UN, what would happen to NGO participation if ECOSOC goes out of existence? What will happen if a new body, such as a Social and Economic Security Council materializes? In view of the above, it is perhaps prudent to consider the consultative status of NGOs to the UN as a whole, rather than to ECOSOC only.
Many international NGOs already participate in the work of the General Assembly and its committees. Yet, they have been doing this on the basis of their consultative status with ECOSOC. The Open-ended Working Group may wish to address this reality.
E. Participation in Drafting Groups
The Open-ended Working Group might wish to consider the question of the participation of NGOs in drafting groups at UN World conferences and ECOSOC-called meetings. In our view, it is beneficial if NGOs can sit as observers when a drafting group meets. The work of drafting groups in any UN conference needs to be transparent, with a timely sharing of information with the UN community at every stage in the drafting process.
We are most encouraged by the way the Open-ended Working Group on the Review of Arrangements for Consultation with NGOs has been operating. Perhaps, given the sensitive and able leadership of its chairman, this working group might set an example by inviting NGOs to participate in the final drafting of its findings and recommendations to ECOSOC.
F. Grouping NGO Contributions by Theme or Region
It should be noted that the current tendency to group NGOs by theme or region might hamper the NGO contribution to the work of the UN. In some situations, the quality and originality of a proposal is more important than the number of NGOs supporting it. Hence, in our view, both individual and group presentations should be allowed so that one can get a unique point of view as well as the consensus thinking about a given issue.
G. Establishment of a Voluntary Fund for NGO Input to the UN System
UN budget constraints have resulted in the gradual reduction of UN Secretariat services to the NGO Community. The publication of NGO statements as official UN documents has in the past assured their circulation to member states in the appropriate language. This practice in some situations has been suspended, putting the burden of preparing and translating documents on NGOs. This effectively bars meaningful NGO input, especially from the South because of the limited resources NGOs in those regions have.
It might perhaps be wise to establish a Trust Fund to which interested governments and other institutions, including NGOs, might contribute. This fund could help finance the translation and production in electronic or print form of those statements that fall strictly within the guidelines of council resolution 1296 or any successor regulation.
This fund might later be expanded to subsidize the participation of NGOs from the South in UN international fora. This in a way is being done now on an ad hoc basis. It could, however, be institutionalized.
H. NGO Increased Access to UN Conferences and Premises and Strengthening of the NGO Unit of the UN Secretariat
It is futile to talk about increasing NGO access to the UN without making arrangements to provide the logistical support to go with it. It has been noted time and again that the NGO Unit within the Secretariat has been told to handle more and more NGOs without being given the additional resources necessary to discharge its duties. The end result is that NGOs with Consultative status cannot get the efficient and timely services to which they are entitled.
Moreover, the physical seating arrangements are unsatisfactory. When one advocates an increase in NGO participation at meetings, it is also prudent to prepare adequate seating arrangements. In reality, in many of the conferences there has been a net decrease and not an increase in this vital logistical requirement.
Finally, in the name of security concerns, there have been arbitrary restrictions in access to the UN normally accorded to NGOs. Although, security needs to be taken into consideration, restricting the number of passes and limiting the places where NGOs can be admitted have curtailed effective NGO participation in many activities taking place on the grounds of the UN. Access by Consultative NGOs to the plenary session of the UN General Assembly, especially during the general debate, is now almost impossible and we hope the Open-ended Working Group will also address these issues.
In conclusion, the Baha'i International Community and its affiliates in 170 countries and territories, with over 20,000 organized local communities, are prepared to assist in the on-going review by the Working Group, be it at the international, regional, national or local level.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.