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Welcome Speech for ACSf



           9-13 DECEMBER 2002


             Introductory Remarks
                 Renate Bloem
President of the Conference of NGOs (CONGO)

Mr. Foreign Minister, Mr. Executive Secretary, Excellencies, Distinguished UN and
NGO Colleagues, dear Friends, Ladies and Gentlemen,

        It is with deep emotion but also with a great sense of gratitude that I welcome
you all on behalf of the Conference of NGOs (CONGO) and its Working Group on
Outreach to Asia (WGOA) to this Asian Civil Society Forum. It is a moment of
historic dimension for CONGO – and therefore the emotion – to have come this long
way and meet for the first time (under the aegis of CONGO) here in Asia. We thank
the Thai Government, the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the
Pacific (ESCAP), all UN Agencies, the OHCHR for joining us in this extraordinary

        But above all I would like to express my deepest gratitude to all of you,
distinguished representatives of civil society organizations in Asia, that have gathered
here today to discuss and share your contribution to the achievement -or the lack of –
of democratic governance, to human rights and sustainable development. Your voice
is essential to articulate peoples’ concerns your work on their behalf keeps stirring
government and official bodies of the UN system at all levels, while at the same time
paving the way for better cooperation and partnerships.

        This Forum is not an isolated event, but it belongs to a long process of
awareness raising, empowerment and strengthening of civil society all over the world
and we are today, in such a diverse, rich and challenging region as Asia. There are
many new developments of civil society in China and elsewhere and we hail the
efforts of new peace and social movements…. Once again, I welcome you all!

        Within the overall framework of democratic governance we have an ambitious
agenda before us that is focused around the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs),
drawing inspiration and commitment from the Millennium Declaration. Together with
the UN DPI/NGO Section, the DESA/NGO Section, NGLS, WFUNA and other
partners and friends that are present here today and whom I wish to extend a
particular welcome, in May 2000 CONGO organized the UN Millennium Forum that
so largely inspired the official UN Millennium Declaration and the subsequent
Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and we see this Forum as a regional follow-
up action.

        The MDGs goals are centered around and respond to the real hurts and hopes
of the people and have been adopted by all governments as the most effective
instruments for poverty eradication, economic and social development, human rights,
gender equality, and environment protection. As NGOs we have to continue our
advocacy and lobbying to pressure governments to fulfill these commitments, but also
create new partnerships to help them achieve these ambitious and necessary targets.

        Since its creation in 1948 CONGO strives to ensure that NGO voices are
heard whenever important decisions are being taken at the United Nations. Today we
are reaching out to NGOs around the world, in particular from developing countries,

both to be strengthened ourselves by their presence at the United Nations and to
facilitate their efforts to relate more actively and effectively to the important matters
treated in UN fora. As CONGO we have emphasized the interconnectedness of all
major issues and it is in this context that the CONGO Working Group on Outreach to
Asia has chosen to focus here particularly on human rights, gender equality and
sustainable development and its inter-relationship, which we consider essential
elements of democratic governance.

        We are here to be bold and strive for this larger vision of a society/societies
where human rights and human development go hand in hand, mutually reinforcing
each other, bridging the gaps between North and South, rich and poor. For societies
which are based on Tolerance and Diversity, for societies which nurture a continued
conversion of mind and heart towards a culture which ensures full recognition of the
dignity and equality of all, and full respect for their human rights.

        We will also raise the importance of defending human rights particular in
these times of threatened national, regional and global security and the fight against
terrorism and appeal to societies not to restrict or deny fundamental liberties. But we
will do this not in a confrontational way but in the spirit of deepened dialogue and
respect for each other.

        In this light we wish also to assess here past UN Summits and prepare for the
future World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) that will be held in Geneva
in 2003 and Tunisia in 2005 and hope that this Forum will articulate its contribution
to the regional WSIS PrepCom in Tokyo in January. The Asian Social Forum to be
held in India shortly after ACSF is another major Civil Society event to which ACSF
should give its contribution.

        Finally, ACSF is also timely and pivotal to contribute to the current discussion
on the new round of UN Reform, the Secretary General’s plan to further strengthen
the United Nations, in particular to its section on “Engaging Civil Society”. We will
be vigilant to keep the spirit and the intent of the UN Charter alive which begins with
“We the Peoples of the United Nations”.

         In conclusion, I would like to thank all those that have made ACSF become a
reality, first and foremost Anselmo Lee, the heart and dynamo of ACSF and Convener
of the CONGO Working Group on Outreach to Asia. I thank the Local Hosting
Committee in Bangkok, and commend the CONGO staff, CONGO members and
other committed organizations. A special and deep thank goes to the German Ministry
of Foreign Affairs, the Government of the Netherlands, the Open Society Institute of
the Soros Foundation, to Soka Gakkai and Kyung Hee University without whose
generous support this Forum could not take place.

       It will be up to you, to the participants to decide on follow-up and more long-
term commitments.

        I wish us fruitful and constructive discussions hopefully leading to action-
oriented recommendations but also to more interrelatedness, interconnectivity and
solidarity to strengthen overall civil society in Asia. CONGO stands ready in support.


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