"The Conference of NGOs (CONGO)"
The Conference of NGOs (CONGO) The Story of Strengthening Civil Society Engagement with the United Nations W ritten and com pi l ed b y Ren at e Bl o em Is ol da Ag a zz i Ph il ipp e D am T a b l e o f c o n t e n t s 1 . I n tr o d u c ti o n 3 2 . L e g a l ba si s fo r t h e c o n su l ta ti o n o f NG Os w i th i n th e UN sy ste m 4 3 . T h re e ge n e ra ti o n s o f UN – c i vi l so c ie ty re la ti o n s 5 4 . E vo l u ti o n o f CONG O’ s r e l a ti o n sh i p w i th th e Un i te d Na ti o n s 6 5 . T h e W or l d S um m i t o n th e I n fo rm a ti o n S o ci e ty 8 6 . T h e c i vi l so c i e ty fo r a i n th e re g i o n s a n d a t UN Hea d q u a r ter s 12 7 . T h e M i l le n n i um + 5 16 8 . Hu m a n Ri g h ts 19 9 . L e sso n s l e a r n e d 22 10. Co n c l u si o n 26 Page 2 of 26 1. I n t ro d u c t i o n Brief History The Conference of NGOs in Consultative Relationship with the United Nations (CONGO) was founded in 1948 to safeguard the rights of NGOs in consultative status, on the basis of article 71 of the UN Charter providing that the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) “may make suitable arrangements for consultation with non-governmental organizations which are concerned with matters within its competence”. ECOSOC established such arrangements by Resolution 288B (1950); revised by Resolution 1296 (1968) and then fully replaced by Resolution 1996/31 (1996). Thus, for nearly 60 years, CONGO has actively facilitated and promoted the participation of civil society organizations in the work of the United Nations and its agencies. More recently, CONGO has been successful in helping influence and democratise further global decision-making processes by ensuring a more strategic participation of the entire NGO community. Today, CONGO reaches out to NGOs around the world to facilitate and enhance their efforts to cope more effectively with important matters dealt with in UN fora. It seeks to raise and strengthen national NGOs‟ voices at global as well as regional levels in support of the consensus reached at major world conferences and exemplified in the Millennium Summit Declaration and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Membership With more than 500 members representing the large diversity of NGOs (many of which are umbrella organizations themselves), at all levels (local, national and international), and dealing with all major civil society issues, CONGO is a truly global organization and is well recognized as a most effective interface between the UN and NGOs. Mission CONGO‟s main purpose is to be a primary support for civil society, represented by informed, empowered and committed NGOs. It aims at enabling these NGOs to fully participate together with the UN in decision- making and the implementation of programmes leading to a more just, peaceful, diverse, sustainable, socially and economically responsible world. CONGO believes that a global civic ethic, based on core values that can unite people of all cultural, political, religious or philosophical backgrounds, should be the bedrock for global governance. Such governance should be underpinned by the observance of human rights, gender equality and true democracy at all levels and ultimately by the rule of enforceable law. The UN is the principal intergovernmental body and the centre of policy formulation in the areas of economic and social development, peace and security. In order to give the governed an opportunity to be a party to these processes and their outcomes, it is crucial for NGOs and civil societies to actively participate at all levels of UN policy mechanisms. CONGO can provide this access. Strategy CONGO‟s strategic goals are to enhance: Dialogue to build partnership and synergy; Outreach, to meet, in particular, the needs of the global South; Training and Capacity Building; Global Communications and Member Services. Partners in carrying out CONGO‟s mandate are: CONGO members, other NGOs with ECOSOC accreditation status, major groupings of civil society organizations, other intergovernmental organizations and the United Nations, in particular the NGO Sections of the Department of Economic and Page 3 of 26 Social Affairs (DESA) and of the Department of Public Information (DPI), and the Non-Governmental Liaison Service (NGLS). CONGO’s General Assembly The General Assembly is the most important organ of the Conference. It is convened every three years with a view to establishing CONGO‟s policy for the following triennium. The Assembly elects an individual as President and 20 member organizations that are to serve on the Board. nd CONGO‟s 22 General Assembly was held in Geneva, Switzerland, from 4 to 6 December 2003 at ILO Headquarters. Its proceedings focused on the theme: Inclusive Global Governance: Challenges and Opportunities for CONGO in Partnership with the United Nations. The general debate included discussions relating to contextual problems facing the United Nations and NGOs. The meeting also offered an opportunity for a dialogue with members of the UN-Civil Society High-Level Panel and a debate on the Millennium Declaration and Development Goals. Four Commissions dealing with Peace, Security and Disarmament; Human Rights; Sustainable Human Development; and Information and Communication Technologies - all topics including both gender and ethical values perspectives – helped deepen the discussions and prepare for guiding CONGO into the next triennium. CONGO Committees CONGO does not take position on substantive issues. However, it has established NGO Committees in Geneva, New York and Vienna that work on substantive issues in compliance with the objectives of the UN Charter. These issues range from human rights to development, peace and security, spiritual values and the status of women. Committees are independent. Details on them and their activity reports can be found at CONGO‟s website: http://www.ngocongo.org. 2. L e g a l b a s i s f o r t h e c o n s u l t a t i o n o f NGOs w i th i n t h e UN s ys t e m Several provisions established in the UN Charter and by ECOSOC pertain to the participation of NGOs in the activities of the United Nations. National, sub-regional, regional and international NGOs may be granted consultative status at ECOSOC pursuant to: Article 71 of the UN Charter “The Economic and Social Council may make suitable arrangements for consultation with non- governmental organizations which are concerned with matters within its competence. Such arrangements may be made with international organizations and, where appropriate, with national organizations after consultation with the Member of the United Nations concerned”. It is in this article that the term “non- governmental organization” (as opposed to “association”) was spelt out for the first time in an official UN text. Page 4 of 26 ECOSOC Resolution 1968/1296 provided a first specification of the modalities of NGO accreditation. However, under that resolution, only international NGOs could obtain consultative status and their possibilities of participation were still limited. ECOSOC Resolution 1996/31 ECOSOC follow-up Resolution 1996/31 opened the door for accreditation of national and regional NGOs as well, with the proviso that “their aims and purposes are in conformity with the spirit, purposes and principles of the UN Charter”. It encouraged the accreditation of NGOs established in developing countries. Obtaining consultative status was henceforth conditional upon the NGO having an established headquarters, a democratically adopted constitution, an assembly, an executive organ, and a representative structure being accountable to its members and nominating authorized representatives to speak in its name at the UN. The consultative status is granted by the Committee on NGOs1, an ECOSOC standing committee made up of 19 member states meeting two to three times a year in New York. The Committee may also suspend or withdraw consultative status, particularly in cases of “unsubstantiated or politically motivated acts against Member States of the UN incompatible with those purposes and principles”. There are three different categories of consultative status: general, special and roster, for a total number of almost 2900 NGOs at the time of writing. ECOSOC Resolution 1996/31 also sets the modalities of accreditation, to UN conferences, of NGOs that are not in consultative status. 3. Th re e g e n e ra t i o n s o f UN – C i vi l S o c i e t y re l a t i o n s Article 71 of the UN Charter set, in 1948, the legal framework for the relationship between the UN and NGOs. Since then, that relationship has evolved considerably. Tony Hill, Head of UN NGLS, distinguishes three generations in UN – civil society relations2: The first generation The first generation, which spans approximately from 1945 to the end of the Cold War, consists almost exclusively of international NGOs having consultative status with ECOSOC. The Cold War frequently led to a paralysis in the deliberations at the UN, thus creating an environment that was not conducive to strong NGO participation in the activities of the Organization. NGO fora were therefore organized in parallel to international summits, but were rather autonomous, having only little impact on intergovernmental deliberations. An important exception was the participation of NGOs in the North–South dialogue held under the auspices of UNCTAD during the 1970s and at the beginning of the 1980s to promote a New International Economic Order. NGOs contributed however to the standard-setting in human rights. They also helped specify the rules of accreditation outlined in more detail in ECOSOC Resolution 1968/1296. 1 Currently the members of the Committee on NGOs are: Angola, Burundi, China, Colombia, Cuba, Dominica, Egypt, Guinea, India, Israel, Pakistan, Peru, Qatar, Romania, Russian Federation, Sudan, Turkey, UK and USA. 2 Tony Hill, Three generations of UN – CS relations, Padova, Italy, 2004 – paper written for a seminar on global civil society. Page 5 of 26 The second generation During the 1990s, at the end of the Cold War, the UN organized a series of world summits that gave rise to a new type of relations with NGOs, not only with international, but especially with national and regional NGOs active in both Western and Southern countries and, to a lesser extent, in the former Eastern bloc. NGOs started to develop a strong interest in UN work as several of the conference themes tended to receive ample attention at the international level, but which still needed to be conveyed at the national level. In contrast to the first generation of NGOs, these new national and regional NGOs sought direct involvement in intergovernmental deliberations and, through lobbying and the mobilisation of support, to influence intergovernmental conclusions. New forms of transnational and international organizations started to emerge, such as Oxfam, the Third World Network and the Coalition for the International Criminal Court. This trend was perceived as the emergence of a “global civil society”, leading to its participation in international deliberations (“democratisation of global governance”) and seeing the UN as backbone of a new international architecture. It is also at that time that the private sector increasingly expressed interest in a dialogue with the UN. In light of this evolution, the UN redefined its relations with NGOs in 1996 by means of a new ECOSOC resolution which paved the way for accreditation of national NGOs as well. The number of NGOs that subsequently requested consultative status grew exponentially during the following years (from 744 in 1992 to almost 2900 in 2006). It is indicative, in that context, that more than 700 NGOs participated in the World Summit on the Information Society. NGOs of the second generation tend to have a more “political” character and seek to democratise the process of decision-making at the global level (“global governance”). They have pursued an expansion of their operational relations with the Secretariat itself and the UN agencies. UNDP, WFP, UNICEF, FAO, UNFPA and other agencies finance programmes and projects in developing countries through direct collaborative arrangements with NGOs, contrary to what was happening in the past when funds were often exclusively allocated to government agencies. This new approach has been chosen even more frequently for the delivery of emergency and humanitarian assistance. Towards a third generation Today we are witnessing the emergence of a third generation of NGOs and hence of UN–civil society relations: coalitions of governments and “like-minded” CSOs (such as those in support of the International Criminal Court and the International Convention to Ban Landmines) as well as various forms of multi- stakeholder partnerships, public–private sector partnerships such as the Global Compact and the more than 200 “Track II” partnerships launched in Johannesburg, or those concluded at the World Summit on the Information Society. It needs to be pointed out, however, that many NGOs see these new forms of partnerships sceptically, particularly the involvement of the private sector. 4. E vo l u t i o n o f CON GO ’ s re l a t i o n s h i p w i t h t h e UN The account of the evolution of CONGO‟s relationship with the UN follows the same approach (differentiation between generations of NGOs) used in the preceding chapter. Page 6 of 26 The first generation CONGO was founded in 1948 to safeguard the rights of NGOs in consultative status and has, since then, been an advocate for civil society. At a time when the Cold War paralyzed the activities of the United Nations and gave rise to endless debates at the General Assembly (GA), CONGO provided a platform for NGOs from the East and the West to meet and look for common positions. It is interesting to note that, by an unwritten rule, half of the twenty CONGO Board members were NGOs from Western countries and half from the former Eastern bloc. The second generation NGOs were not allowed to participate at the World Conference on Human Rights in Teheran in 1968, held to celebrate the 20 th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In response to this refusal, CONGO organized, in Paris, the first NGO Forum in conjunction with a UN summit. Since then, it has insisted that, whenever UN summits are to be organized, NGOs in consultative status be automatically invited and invitations also be extended to NGOs not in status, but with relevant expertise on the subject at stake. CONGO was most notably present at the ground-breaking conferences in Rio, Beijing, Vienna, Durban, Johannesburg, Geneva and Tunis. Lessons were learned from the process leading towards the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna in 1993. CONGO, having established an NGO Preparatory Committee, had not been sensitive enough to include experienced human rights actors from different regional and diversity issues backgrounds. It was consequently accused of being insensitive to cultural diversity and trying to impose a single voice on NGOs. Since then, it has sought to adopt consistently a bottom-up, participatory approach reflecting the diversity of sensitivities and opinions of NGOs participating at its meetings. It has been careful to present its positions as emanating from a general consensus among NGOs and never pretended to “represent” or even “coordinate” NGOs, nor to speak “on their behalf”. CONGO emphasizes nowadays that it sees its mission as a facilitator and creator of space for NGOs to speak with their own voices. At the World Conference against Racism in Durban (2001) CONGO participated actively at the NGO Forum, being responsible for space allocation and events held in the international tent. CONGO helped organize and chair the morning briefings for NGOs, during which space and opportunities were given to different caucuses to express their views and have an impact on the proceedings of the Conference. Throughout the Conference it consistently sought to pursue a vision of tomorrow, of changing mentalities, of recognizing and respecting the „other‟. 2nd World Summit on Sustainable Development (Johannesburg, South Africa, 2002) After the Rio Conference the “major groups” participation approach was meant to be adopted for the participation of civil society at the Johannesburg World Summit, including both NGOs and the private sector. The outcome of that Summit was considered by some a success, by others a failure, depending on 3 the issue and the geographic perspective . The World Summit had to tackle an unusually complex agenda: the combination of social and economic development issues with environmental protection topics inevitably 3 See http://www.johannesburgsummit.za Page 7 of 26 rendered negotiations difficult. The methods of work applied to track I (government negotiations) and track II (partnerships with civil society) were innovative, although suspicious to many NGOs, fearing that Governments tried to shy away from their responsibilities, leaving too much leeway to the private sector. Civil society‟s impact on the Conference was fragmented, due to a variety of factors, including time constraints as a result of long distances between the different venues. CONGO was a member of the International Steering Committee set up to organize the People‟s Forum. It tried to liaise between those NGOs working as „major groups‟ (however limited) at the Government Convention Centre at Sandton and hundreds of NGOs meeting at the Global Peoples‟ Forum at Nasrec. CONGO also negotiated successfully with governments and UN officials to avoid an NGO boycott or walk-out after security officials had denied them access to the Convention Centre. The third generation The adoption of ECOSOC resolution 1996/31 and the subsequent exponential increase in the number of accredited NGOs confront CONGO with an enormous challenge as it seeks to reach a certain degree of coordination between them to attain maximum impact, while preserving every NGO‟s specificity. The NGO world is characterized by a large diversity in their constituencies, many of which insist on preserving their individual positions. However, in order to be accepted as partners by governments and not to get bogged down by unmanageable agendas, they need to rationalize the pursuit of their objectives. Despite initial mistrust and open opposition by some large and experienced NGOs, CONGO has successfully acted as an honest broker among fellow civil society entities to achieve concerted action. That approach has proven particularly beneficial in the context of the following events: The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS); The civil society fora organized in the regions and at UN Headquarters; The Millennium + 5 process; and Human rights activities. 5. Th e Wo rl d S u m m i t o n t h e I n f o rm a t i o n S o c i e ty ( WS I S ) The World Summit on the Information Society, the most recently held UN global summit, constituted a historic breakthrough in UN-NGO relations. For the first time, a Civil Society Bureau was self-established by civil society constituencies involved in the Summit, as a counterpart to the intergovernmental bureau, for the preparation and conduct of the Summit itself. Thus, the WSIS approach took the format of a multi- stakeholder tripartite model and helped establish an exchange platform between governments, civil society and the private sector. The promotion and the practical application of the multi-stakeholder approach in an international political process are considered as one of the essential outcomes of the Summit, giving a strong legitimacy to the WSIS process. During both Phase I and Phase II of the Summit, civil society entities benefited from most favourable conditions for their participation in the decision-making process in terms of access to policy documents and meeting spaces, modalities of interaction during the negotiation of the outcome document and the inclusion of marginal groups. Page 8 of 26 Civil Society’s self-organized structure One of the main achievements of civil society entities during the WSIS process was, with CONGO‟s strong support, the establishment of a civil society self-organizing structure. The Civil Society Plenary, fully inclusive and open to participation for all civil society entities accredited to WSIS, was the ultimate decision- making organ for civil society and the main organ for joint civil society initiatives and actions. More than 30 regional and thematic civil society caucuses and working groups, put together by groups of NGOs working on the same issue, dealt with the gathering of substantive content, the drafting of statements and joint official submissions, and the strengthening of joint lobbying strategies. A Content and Themes Group was in charge of coordinating and strategizing the essential initiatives of these working groups. It notably coordinated the drafting of an independent Civil Society Declaration “Shaping Societies for Human Needs” at the end of Phase I and the Civil Society Statement “Much more could have been achieved” at the end of Phase II. The Civil Society Bureau dealt with procedural issues and organizational arrangements to facilitate civil society contributions to the process. It worked closely with the intergovernmental bureau and the WSIS Executive Secretariat. The Civil Society Bureau was composed of 20 members representing various groups of civil society. CONGO led the process of identification, by each of the NGO groups, of a focal point nominated to serve on this new Bureau. CONGO also played a moderator function and a leading support role in the work of the Civil Society Bureau, servicing its meetings and implementing its initiatives, in particular during Phase II of the Summit. In addition to meetings taking place during PrepComs, civil society entities established list-serves and websites for dialogue and a transparent working process between the official meeting periods. CONGO provided through these list-serves regular information and reports on the ongoing negotiations processes, while leading several consultations on procedural and organizational matters. This bottom-up dynamics within civil society constituencies accredited to WSIS was one of their most successful contributions to the Summit. It brought greater visibility to civil society‟s shared positions and joint actions during the negotiations processes, while guaranteeing transparency, diversity and quality of the civil society contributions. It promoted facilities for gathering and information-sharing for all civil society entities, thus encouraging the exchange of experience and ideas as well as the creation of new networks among civil society participants during the preparatory process and at the Summit. Civil society working methods were hailed by most governments and NGO/CSOs as a major step forward. They also caught the attention of the media and were widely reported in the press. The WSIS experience of working together, overcoming the diversity of civil society entities and their sometimes opposing interests, brought to CONGO a new vision of its role within civil society processes. The modern nature of the issues addressed by the Summit and the development of ICT-based working methods at the global level contributed to a better understanding, by CONGO, of the challenges and opportunities facing civil society at large, even beyond WSIS. The WSIS process will certainly impact on how CONGO will approach multilateral processes within the UN and promote building common understanding and consensus among NGOs. Page 9 of 26 WSIS Phase I, Geneva Summit, Switzerland, 8 - 12 December 2003 CONGO played a central role throughout the preparatory process of the Summit: Renate Bloem, President of CONGO, served on the Civil Society Bureau since its creation during PrepCom-2, to ensure the effective inclusion of civil society in the negotiations process. The secretariat and support services for the Civil Society Bureau were provided by the Civil Society Division of the WSIS Executive Secretariat. Rik Panganiban, CONGO Communications Coordinator, organized the WSIS Civil Society News Centre, a website presenting the most up-to-date news and views of civil society organizations involved in WSIS. The News Centre fed information and analysis of the negotiations to civil society groups around the world and published their views and proposals. During the Summit‟s Phase I the News Centre was hosted on the WSIS-online website4, thus significantly increasing the visibility of civil society's positions and proposals. CONGO organized several parallel events on critical issues, such as the eradication of poverty, human rights, interfaith dialogue and combating HIV/AIDS. These events served to highlight their relation to the Information Society, bringing together key actors in civil society, UN agencies and governments to discuss these issues. CONGO‟s President also spoke on behalf of civil society at a welcome ceremony sponsored by the Swiss Government. Isolda Agazzi, Senior Programme Officer, briefed at a side event on the NGOs‟ contributions to the implementation of the MDGs. WSIS Phase II, Tunis Summit, Tunisia, 16 - 18 November 2005 A reform of the working methods of the Civil Society Bureau in December 2004 entrusted CONGO with the support and servicing activities for the Bureau until the conduct of the Tunis Summit. CONGO committed its staff to ensure that adequate facilities be available for civil society during the Summit‟s Phase II as well. It subsequently played a strong facilitating role for the 606 NGO entities (more than 6000 civil society participants) registered for Phase II. CONGO regularly liaised with senior management of the WSIS Executive Secretariat and the chairperson of the intergovernmental bureau, with a view to ensuring a proper information flow between these and the civil society constituency. It organized well attended orientation sessions at the beginning of each meeting of the Preparatory Committees and prepared a comprehensive “Orientation Kit” in collaboration with UN- NGLS and with financial support provided by the NGO HIVOS. A first version of that 50-page document was circulated to civil society participants during PrepCom-3 in September 2005. An up-dated version, as well as a French-language version, were made available on the occasion of the Tunis Summit. As mandated by the Civil Society Bureau, CONGO assumed the responsibility for managing sensitive issues for civil society constituencies. This task included the establishment of a close dialogue between NGOs and the WSIS Executive Secretariat on the modalities of implementation of the Summit Host Country Agreement. Tensions between NGOs focusing on the issue of human rights violations, particularly the lack of freedom of expression in the host country, and the Tunisian Government persisted during the entire WSIS process. CONGO‟s attempts to enter into a dialogue with Tunisian government officials were not successful and a hoped-for lessening of restrictions did not occur. While the Summit itself was well 4 See http://www.wsis-online.net/csnews Page 10 of 26 organized and no incidents occurred within the Summit‟s premises, repression outside to prevent meetings in support of Tunisian independent civil society continued. CONGO organized and supported a major part of the media coverage of civil society participation at the Summit. CONGO facilitated the achievement, by civil society, of a broad consensus to have an independent civil society statement. The CONGO President delivered a statement during the first plenary session. CONGO also organized a parallel event on “Civil Society Best Practices to Bridge the Digital Divide”, featuring high- level UN officials and grassroots organizations as speakers. WSIS follow-up The Tunis Summit left behind a complex follow-up structure. It created the Internet Governance Forum and requested ECOSOC to oversee the overall follow-up within the UN system. It entrusted UN agencies with facilitating the multi-stakeholder thematic implementation at the international level. ECOSOC was also asked to enhance the responsibilities of its existing Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD) with the additional mandate of WSIS follow-up (implying an expansion of that Commission). More recently, the UN Secretary-General established the Global Alliance for ICT and Development (GAID), an open multi-stakeholder mechanism for advancing the UN development agenda, including the pursuit of the MDGs, through ICTs. ECOSOC and the CSTD A series of open consultations between February and May 2006, convened by the ECOSOC President, paved the way for negotiations on the review of the CSTD by ECOSOC. CONGO pleaded to open the CSTD process for more stakeholders, in particular for WSIS-accredited entities, even if these were not holding ECOSOC accreditation status (only 10 percent of all civil society participants in WSIS had ECOSOC status). In parallel, CONGO held informal talks with the Executive Director of the WSIS Secretariat and UNCTAD (providing the secretariat to the CSTD), to ascertain their support and identify future opportunities for NGO participation. ECOSOC‟s Working Group, chaired by Ambassador Janis Karklins, met in parallel to the annual ECOSOC Substantial Session between 11 and 27 July 2006. CONGO was eager to ensure that civil society representatives could observe and contribute to the Working Group‟s negotiations in an open and transparent way until a consensus could be achieved. The consensus text admittedly contains rather weak wording, having no provision, however, that would oppose the inclusion of civil society. The CSTD reform thus paves the way for a follow-up process in an intergovernmental body that uses the multi-stakeholder approach. The agreed final text contains constructive provisions, including interim modalities for the participation of WSIS-accredited civil society entities at the next two sessions of the CSTD. Its first session is to be held after its review in May 2007. Page 11 of 26 Global Alliance for ICT and Development (GAID) GAID is conceived as an open multi-stakeholder forum composed of representatives of governments, UN agencies, civil society and the private sector, with a small secretariat at UN/DESA. Membership is open to all parties with a relevant work focus. GAID is governed by a Strategy Council, a small Steering Committee, to which the President of CONGO has been appointed, and is assisted by a High-Level Advisory Group and a Champion‟s Network. The Global Alliance stands for the implementation of an innovative multi-stakeholder model, working in an inclusive, dynamic and bottom-up manner, opening great challenges for the commitment of civil society actors and other stakeholders in the use of ICTs in the pursuit of the MDGs. CONGO will continue to play a leading role in supporting the strengthening of the Global Alliance and the achievement of its goals, as well as in the mobilization of civil society actors for its activities. 6. Th e c i vi l s o c i e t y f o ra i n t h e re g i o n s a n d a t UN He a d q u a rt e rs Reaching out to the people in the regions is one of CONGO‟s most important strategic activities. The UN goals have to be conveyed to all stakeholders irrespective of their location. They must be given the opportunity to express their views which, in turn, need to be channelled to international decision-makers. CONGO has organized major civil society gatherings in the regions, targeting both NGOs in consultative status and those that are not familiar with the UN system. With the general objectives of democratizing global governance and contributing to achieving the MDGs, these fora were tailored to take into account regional realities and local needs and organized together with local counterpart NGOs. So far, one forum has been held in Africa, two in Asia and one in Latin America. A fifth forum is currently being prepared; it is to take place in Africa in March 2007. African Regional Consultation, Kampala, Uganda, 1998 The African Regional Consultation of NGOs, held in Kampala, Uganda, in 1998 was the first of CONGO‟s outreach activities. In response to the keen interest expressed by African NGOs during consultations with CONGO, four development themes were selected: “health and reproductive health”, “human rights and gender equality”, “peace and conflict resolution” and “democracy and good governance”. The discussions cut across thematic boundaries and revealed, inter alia, the dynamism of women‟s contributions and the centrality of women‟s concerns for the future of African societies. The consultation on each thematic area revealed many difficulties African NGOs encounter in their operational environment. The African Civil Society Forum, to be organized by CONGO together with its partners in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in March 2007, will be held under the theme: “Democratizing governance at the regional and global levels to achieve the MDGs”. The Forum targets around 300 participants and is to address the following issues: “peace and human security”, “governance and human rights” and “development: trade, finance, debt relief and investment”. Page 12 of 26 Asian Civil Society Forum, Bangkok, Thailand, 2002 The Asian Civil Society Forum was held in Bangkok, Thailand, in December 2002, focusing on the theme: UN/NGO Partnerships for Democratic Governance: Building Capacities and Networks for Human Rights and Sustainable Development. Its objectives were: To promote cooperation and solidarity among NGOs in Asia engaged in advocacy activities at the UN; To raise awareness among Asian NGOs of the MDGs and to assess their contributions to the MDGs‟ implementation; To facilitate proactive dialogue and debate among NGOs on issues pertaining to UN/NGO partnership for democratic governance; To provide NGOs with practical and innovative training in advocacy activities at the UN; To assess the implementation and impact of UN conferences in Asia, such as the UN Millennium Summit 2000, the World Conference against Racism (WCAR) 2001 and the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) 2002; and To develop NGO strategies to ensure that government pledges made at UN conferences be fully implemented. The Forum was a success: A gathering of 572 participants from 33 countries exceeded everyone‟s expectations. The particular situation in Afghanistan and the urgent need to strengthen that country‟s emerging civil society made four Afghan NGO representatives attend the Forum. Most NGOs had come by their own means (CONGO had been able to fund 148 participants), which was proof of their interest in the issues and of the timeliness of the Forum. Participation was balanced in terms of gender and geographical distribution, even though some countries came with relatively large “delegations” such as India, the Republic of Korea and the Philippines, hence countries with strong and vibrant civil societies. Most of the NGOs attended although they had no UN accreditation - hence were not CONGO members, many of them participating in an international conference of this kind for the first time. Judging from the scope and nature of the organizations represented, the objective of reaching out to grassroots organizations that are active especially at the local and national levels seemed to be attained. However, most of the participants‟ background implied that they had not been particularly active in advocacy work within the UN system. The Forum therefore provided a much-needed opportunity for exposure to and learning about the workings of the UN in relation to the many global issues that find their expression at the local and most basic level in society. At the end of the Forum, most participants expressed serious interest in developing international advocacy work geared towards the UN. NGO Forum on the ECOSOC High-Level Segment on Rural Development, Geneva, Switzerland, 2003 CONGO had been asked by the ECOSOC Secretariat to organize for the third consecutive year an NGO Forum preceding the ECOSOC High-Level Segment (HLS). The theme of the Forum, as well as the one of the HLS, was: “Promoting an integrated approach to rural development in developing countries for poverty eradication and sustainable development”. The Forum took place in Geneva, Switzerland, on 27 June 2003. Page 13 of 26 The purpose of the Forum was to bring to the attention of the HLS the recommendations of NGOs that were to flow into the debate and the Ministerial Declaration. The Forum gathered some 100 participants, about half of them being NGOs in consultative status with ECOSOC, and hence already used to the functioning of UN mechanisms and aware of advocacy activities of NGOs. The other half represented NGOs without consultative status, which therefore had not had previous UN exposure. The programme was clustered around five thematic subjects focusing on rural areas: poverty eradication; agricultural development and food security; the promotion of health, water and sanitation; participation and decentralization; the promotion of women and gender equality. Speakers had been selected along the criteria of geographical and gender balance and on the basis of their experience/relevance in working in rural development. The panellists had been asked to present concrete recommendations that were then summed up by the general rapporteur of the session. These recommendations were subsequently transformed into a declaration that the CONGO President presented to the ECOSOC HLS. The declaration was well received by the audience which applauded the concerns and aspirations of NGOs. Latin America and Caribbean Seminar, Santiago de Chile, Chile, 2004 CONGO organized a seminar for Latin America and the Caribbean in Santiago de Chile from 1 to 4 June 2004 with the theme: “Partnerships for a New Era: Achieving the Millennium Development Goals”. The seminar was attended by some 130 participants, representing 120 local, national and regional NGOs from 13 countries. Achieving the MDGs by 2015 was considered by many an impossible and unrealistic objective. The second report released by the UN Secretary-General on the Implementation of the Millennium Declaration (September 2003) indicated mixed perspectives for their achievement at a worldwide scale. The prospects for Latin America and the Caribbean were, however, encouraging as most of the regional indicators showed improvements during the 1990 – 2000 time-span. The Latin American Seminar was a further stepping stone on the way from commitment to implementation. It helped gain momentum in the process of awareness-raising of NGOs and civil society organizations in Latin America, to alert the people of their region that their governments had committed themselves to halve poverty, reduce child mortality, empower women and achieve universal primary education within a specific timeframe and that this process was being monitored by the UN. The seminar provided an opportunity to help participants learn more about the MDGs and about avenues for NGOs to contribute to their achievement. It produced a concrete Plan of Action that was seen as a strong commitment to mobilize the governments of the region, in cooperation with UN agencies, to increase their efforts to reach the MDGs. The Santiago Plan of Action explicitly requests governments to include the MDGs in their national strategies. It underlines the need for fostering good governance at the national level – through transparency, accountability, participation and decentralization – by requesting governments to: 1. Clearly specify which government agencies are responsible for implementing each individual MDG; 2. Establish an agenda for monitoring the decentralized pursuit of the MDGs; Page 14 of 26 3. Disseminate reports on MDGs to a large variety of segments of society, including especially the media. It is considered imperative for civil society organizations and the media to join forces to raise the awareness of and educate public opinion. The Plan of Action specifically states that the power of information helps demand accountability from governments; 4. Involve NGOs in designing policies to achieve the MDGs and in the reporting on their implementation. CSOs active in the region want to participate in the elaboration of pertinent indicators for monitoring the attainment of the MDGs and in reporting thereon. They stress the need to “get each country redefine and construct its indicators, as the 48 indicators were defined at the global level with no participation of the regions or civil society”; and 5. Include the private sector to mobilize sufficient resources for achieving the MDGs. Latin American NGOs advocated for a “change in mentality” that would help bring about changes in the policies of international bodies. They intend to become protagonists of their own development and “stop being poor and dependent on the rich”. They stress the importance of sustaining initially investments from high-income countries in the areas of research and development, to be replaced progressively by public and private sector investments. Knowledge – human intelligence – was seen as the highest economic and social value. In general, the Plan of Action underlines the importance of shaping the MDGs to meet the needs of local communities, to be responsive to specific socio-economic groups and cultural realities. Civil Society Forum in conjunction with the ECOSOC High-Level Segment on Employment and Decent Work, Geneva, Switzerland, 2006 The ECOSOC HLS in 2006 dealt with “Employment and Decent Work”. The objective of the Forum was to produce recommendations that would be discussed with dignitaries and included in the HLS Ministerial Declaration. It was imperative to give a concerted view on the issue at ECOSOC since many civil society activists believe that globalization requires an appropriate international framework with the authority to help implement the Millennium Declaration, including the MDGs. They also wanted to see included in the conclusions a reference to the respect for human rights and particularly for core labour rights. The Forum considered that ECOSOC – mandated by the GA‟s High-Level Meeting (September 2005) to act as the coordinating body for development policies at the international level - should boldly take up its strengthened mandate and strive for a consensus on how to best guarantee these rights. The Forum‟s 306 participants, representing 80 civil society organizations from over 50 countries, took part in the following six clusters: 1. Globalization and its impact on decent work, both in developing and developed countries (with a special focus on labour migration); 2. Creating an enabling environment at the national level, conducive for growth and employment creation (with a special focus on the informal sector); 3. Employment for women, youth and the elderly; 4. Human rights and employment for vulnerable groups: indigenous peoples, people with disabilities and people living in post-crisis situations; 5. Employment in the rural and urban areas; and 6. New forms of employment (including e-employment). Page 15 of 26 Speakers and workshop conveners had been identified for every cluster, taking into account geographical, thematic and gender balance. African civil society organizations had expressed a particular strong interest in participating and had been encouraged to do so by CONGO as the African region lags the furthest behind in achieving the MDGs. Every cluster was divided into workshops focusing on specific issues that reflected the substantive interests of the participants. The workshops‟ recommendations were synthesized into cluster recommendations for debate and adoption by the Plenary. The final outcome recommendations were presented at the HLS and discussed with HLS dignitaries and representatives of international organizations on 5 July 2006 during an interactive luncheon. Cluster 1 dealt with globalization issues and discussed how to achieve policy coherence between international financial institutions, WTO and ILO. Tackling the issues of decent work, economic growth, migration and development, the cluster emphasized that migration is the product of a new globalization that has failed to achieve its goals of full employment and decent work. Cluster 2 debated on working environments at national level and featured a workshop on quality public services, with a special focus on the universal access to energy as a key factor for development. Major issues discussed were: social dialogue and alliance building, labour standards and ILO‟s role in promoting these key concepts, as well as presentations of country experiences and case studies cases. Cluster 3 looked at the issue of decent work from a gender perspective, with an emphasis on discrimination against women (particularly in Eastern Europe) and on “women in development”. Participants were invited to equally consider other major topics such as: equality of opportunity for women, education issues, trafficking and fight against poverty in Africa, youth employment and child labour. Cluster 4 centred its debate on vulnerable groups with presentations by NGOs from war-torn countries and by indigenous and marginalized people. One workshop focused on the issue of HIV/AIDS and decent work, with an emphasis on the situation in Africa. Cluster 5 addressed the theme of employment in rural and urban areas, covering issues such as the informal economy and the roles of decentralized cooperation and of local authorities in employment creation. Cluster 6 dealt with new forms of employment, focusing on the use of ICTs and e-employment to provide youth, women and deprived populations with decent work. 7. Th e M i l l e n n i u m + 5 p ro c es s One of the most important tasks of NGOs is their “watchdog activity” which implies that (i) they remind governments of the commitments taken at international conferences and of the treaties ratified and (ii) they endeavour to monitor the implementation of such commitments and treaties. This process is illustrated by the steps leading to the constitution of the Millennium Assembly and the adoption – and monitoring of the implementation – of the MDGs. In May 2000, the Millennium Forum gathered, in New York, NGO representatives from all continents to elaborate a declaration and an action plan that largely influenced the adoption of an official Declaration by governments in September 2000, thus leading, in turn, to the adoption of the MDGs, eight goals with objectives and indicators that best crystallise the engagements taken during the 1990s in the areas of poverty eradication, health, education, gender, environment and international partnerships5. 5 http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals Page 16 of 26 On 23 – 24 June 2005 the GA held its first ever hearings with representatives of civil society and the private sector in preparation for the GA‟s High-Level Summit (14 – 16 September). The purpose of the hearings was to obtain the views of some 200 organizations – and 1000 observers – on the four clusters of the Secretary-General‟s report “In Larger Freedom”; i.e. freedom to live in dignity (human rights); freedom from want (MDGs); freedom from fear (security) and United Nations reform. The conclusions of these hearings th were intended to be reflected in the Draft Outcome Document (DOD) of the GA‟s 60 session, also known as “Millennium + 5 Summit”, that was to assess the implementation of the Millennium Declaration and the MDGs five years after their adoption and endorse the Secretary-General‟s ambitious reform proposals. The hearings, at which numerous Member States participated, were defined as an “historic moment” since never before had the GA directly consulted CSOs and the private sector. They were chaired by the GA President, opened by the Under-Secretary-General and closed by the Secretary-General. Ms Bloem, President of CONGO, delivered a statement at the opening session. The first cluster dealt with freedom to live in dignity, namely human rights. Generally speaking, NGOs concurred with the Secretary-General on the principle that human rights must become the foundation of the UN system and be given the same institutional status as security and development. The proposal to create a standing Human Rights Council and to elevate it to one of the principal organs of the UN was welcomed by many, who supported the idea that members should be elected by the GA with a two-thirds majority and be seen as having demonstrated a genuine commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights. Speakers insisted on the fact that NGOs be assured at least the same level of participation in the Council that they presently have in the Commission on Human Rights. Due consideration should be given to equitable geographical distribution in the Council, and it should be empowered to alert the Security Council whenever urgent remedial action is deemed to be required. Consensus was expressed on the need to strengthen the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, both by increasing its financial resources (which should be doubled within five years) and diversifying its staff. The need was felt to take into account the situation of vulnerable groups, particularly that of women, children, youth and indigenous peoples, when taking action on human rights issues. Several NGOs regretted that the DOD did not adequately reflect women‟s human rights, especially at a time when violence against women had become a high-priority issue of the international community. NGOs conveyed the general dissatisfaction, during the session on freedom from want (MDGs), with the prevailing approach to development that is centred on markets and not on human beings. NGOs advocated for a paradigm shift from a neo-liberal approach to a human rights-based approach to development, arguing that strengthening markets, liberalizing trade and producing goods primarily for export had proved to be “disastrous”. Several speakers criticized the MDGs for “relying on the discredited notion that economic growth can reduce poverty”. More specifically, during the session on MDGs 1 to 7, speakers insisted on the interconnectivity of all MDGs, that these must complement each other and cannot be treated separately. They argued that poverty can be eliminated only through a genuine participation of the poor and called for the inclusion of particular groups in the development and implementation of strategies to achieve the MDGs, especially the inclusion Page 17 of 26 of indigenous peoples and youth. Women were seen as essential participants in such efforts. The DOD was blamed for the disappointing way it treated women‟s rights, principally as the core actions for achieving the 6 equality of rights for women were well known . Local communities and grass-roots organizations being other key stakeholders, it was recommended that 25 percent of national MDG-related budgets be allocated to community-based projects and indigenous people. NGOs insisted on the importance of environmental sustainability for the realization of the MDGs, pointing to the need to increase agricultural productivity as one of the essential prerequisites. They proposed that the DOD call for universal access to health care services and demanded a substantial increase in resources, to reach at least $ 22 billion by 2007, to fight HIV/AIDS. They requested the elimination of school fees and other barriers limiting access to education. The session on MDG 8 witnessed strong NGO calls to resist the economic paradigm of “marketization” and a policy framework that privileges the market over the state as “it gives priority to profits over the needs of the people”. Several speakers considered MDG 8 being “full of contradictions”, including the assumption that trade liberalization can solve the problem of poverty, to which they opposed the concept of “fair trade”. There was a vigorous call for the UN reform process to strengthen ECOSOC so that the policies of the World Bank, the IMF and WTO adjust to UN values. Noting that “social progress” had slowed down since 1999, it was urged to increase official development assistance without resorting to “cheap accounting tricks”. Governments had committed themselves 36 years ago to meet the target of official development assistance equal to 0.7 percent of gross national income, a target that is far from being met. Local ownership of national development strategies and the need “not to impose global economic policies on individual countries” (reference to the “policy space” of the Sao Paolo Consensus) were strongly emphasized. It was pointed out that “Africa has to take its fate in its own hands, with a development coming from within and not from without”. Economic growth was not seen as a means for poverty reduction as the origin of poverty emanates from inequitable income distribution. Assistance should therefore not be given to countries that do not adhere to democratic practices, concealing from their civilian population the actual flow of funds. Some speakers challenged the importance given by member states and the private sector to foreign direct investment, arguing that it often did not benefit the poor. They stressed the importance of corporate social responsibility of transnational corporations and insisted on the need to protect workers‟ rights, along ILO‟s four dimensions of decent work.7 There was a strong call for immediate and wide-ranging debt relief. The session on freedom from fear – conflict prevention witnessed an enthusiastic endorsement of the Secretary-General‟s call for the establishment of a Peacebuilding Commission to help countries in the transition from war to a lasting peace. NGOs stressed that sustainable security is based on human security, not on that of states, which required a shift from reaction to the prevention of armed conflicts. Women, youth and disabled people are key stakeholders in any conflict prevention strategy and in any peacebuilding measure. In line with the Secretary-General‟s proposal, NGOs endorsed the idea that, whenever prevention 6 These are: education; universal access to reproductive information and assistance; reduction of labour-intensive, time- consuming tasks for women; improving inheritance rights; closing gender gaps in earning; increasing women‟s participation in government; fighting violence against women. 7 Employment, basic rights at work, social protection and social dialogue. Page 18 of 26 fails, the UN has the responsibility to protect the populations, particularly the most vulnerable, including 8 women, children, refugees and aboriginal people . During the session on freedom from fear – peace and security some speakers argued that a non- representative Security Council is a threat to international peace and security and that, therefore, the international peace and security system must be democratized. It was proposed that a binding instrument on the regulation of the flow and trade of small arms be adopted. The exploitation by multinational corporations of mineral resources being often the cause of armed conflicts, it was underlined that the right of indigenous peoples to self-determination be given due recognition. The plight of women in conflict situations was reiterated as they are, together with girls, frequently victims of armed conflicts, threatened by forced prostitution, trafficking and other forms of violence. The session on strengthening the UN centred on the idea that “people, not power, must regain the priority they deserve by taking back the UN”. Strong support was expressed again for a Human Rights Council and a strengthened ECOSOC that should become a high-level development forum. It was argued that “for the UN reform to be effective, there must be a re-invention of the World Bank and WTO and a coordination mechanism with enforceable power over all intergovernmental organizations”. The wish was expressed to abolish the right of veto in the Security Council. Tt was urged once more that gender equality be put into practice at the UN as well, by nominating more women in visible roles. 8. Human Righ ts The issue in which NGOs have probably become most involved in at the United Nations is that of human rights. The Commission on Human Rights (replaced in 2006 by a Human Rights Council) was the ECOSOC subsidiary organ to which NGOs had gained the best facilities for access. Thanks to the lobbying of NGOs – and of CONGO in particular – these facilities are being maintained at the Human Rights Council. This situation is probably due to the intrinsic nature of human rights, the initial affirmation of which aimed at guaranteeing the freedom of the individual vis-à-vis the absolute power of the state. The paradox of human rights lies precisely in the fact that they are set by states to self-restrain their sovereignty towards the individual. Hence their protection would make no sense if NGOs – or associations of individuals – did not have the chance to denounce the violations of their rights by the same states. The number of NGOs in consultative status is growing steadily, thus leading to a consequential increase in NGO participation in the Commission/Council. NGOs therefore need to self-organize themselves in order st not to present repetitive statements to the plenary. During the 61 session of the Commission (2005), 261 NGOs participated, represented by a total of 1946 individuals. The NGOs‟ principal interventions at the Commission/Council take the following forms: 1. NGOs may present written statements (351 in 2005) and/or oral ones (473), the latter being limited to six for each NGO for the whole duration of the session and to a speaking time of three minutes. In 8 “There is an emerging norm that there is a collective international responsibility to protect, exercisable by the Security Council authorizing military intervention as the last resort …” Page 19 of 26 order to avoid repetitions and to maximize their speaking time, NGOs are encouraged to present joint statements (84 in 2006). Such interventions exemplify typical “advocacy” activities of NGOs in international fora. 2. NGOs may lobby national delegations to present or co-sponsor a given resolution. The real impact of this lobbying activity depends on the preparedness of member states to act as intermediaries. Some of them are known for being more “NGO-friendly” than others. 3. In addition to making statements in plenary, NGOs may organize parallel events that generally take place during lunch breaks. Such events reached a record number of 153 in 2005. The main challenge for CONGO at the Commission/Council is to guarantee a pragmatic quantum of coordination between NGOs, most notably by encouraging qualitative rather than quantitative performance. CONGO facilitates the participation of newcomers at the Commission/Council, mainly national and regional NGOs. It routinely organizes training sessions on UN mechanisms, briefings and consultations to arrange for concerted inputs by NGOs. CONGO liaises with the Bureau and other Commission/Council organs to obtain the most appropriate opportunities for NGOs to speak. One of the greatest challenges for NGOs in the human rights field are GONGO‟s – increasingly numerous government-organized NGOs or NGOs that are not genuinely independent but controlled more or less discreetly by states. The Commission on Human Rights The Commission on Human Rights, created in 1946, had become the main body, both within the UN system and at the universal level, dealing with the promotion and protection of human rights. It was a subsidiary organ of ECOSOC, its 53 Member States being elected by ECOSOC for a period of three years. Its six-week sessions once a year in Geneva were attended by delegates of Governments, NGOs and national institutions as well as independent experts. The UN Secretary-General, in his report entitled “In Larger Freedom: Towards Development, Security and Human Rights for All”, released in March 2005, proposed to replace the Commission by a Human Rights Council. He recognized in this report, which happened to be issued in the midst of the 61 st session of the Commission, its unique contribution to the development and codification of international human rights law and its “close engagement with hundreds of civil society organizations” which “provides an opportunity for 9 working with civil society that does not exist elsewhere” . However, he also acknowledged a situation that NGOs had been denouncing for years, namely that the Commission had lost credibility and professionalism and that “States had sought membership of the Commission … to protect themselves against criticism or to criticize others”. The Secretary-General therefore suggested, with a view to doing away with this contradictory situation and to elevating the issue of human rights to one of the three main pillars of the Organisation – along with peace and security, and development – to replace the Commission by a smaller, standing Human Rights Council. It was to become a principal organ of the UN – like the Security Council and ECOSOC – or, alternatively, a 9 “In Larger Freedom: Towards Development, Security and Human Rights for All”, para. 181. Page 20 of 26 subsidiary organ of the GA, its members being elected by the GA by a two-thirds majority. Most importantly, “those elected to the Council should abide by the highest human rights standards”. This proposal put NGOs in a difficult position. On the whole, they favoured, in principle, a reform of the discredited Commission. However, they also feared that they could lose, in the new organ, the rights acquired at the Commission, for which they had fought for more than fifty years. Following the Secretary- General‟s personal presentation of his reform proposal in Geneva, the Commission devoted an informal session to a discussion of the issue, at which NGOs delivered three joint statements expressing their concern10. GA Resolution A/60/251 establishing the Human Rights Council was finally adopted on 15 March 2006 in New York. During the month of March CONGO organized NGO strategy meetings to discuss the agenda of the Commission‟s last session. The Commission had started its work on 13 March 2006 only to adopt a motion to suspend its work. NGOs had wanted the Commission to end its agenda in dignity and approve, at its last session, two long awaited standard-setting instruments: the Convention on Enforced Disappearances and the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Governments could, however, not reach consensus on any substantive issue and decided to end the Commission‟s existence in a one-day procedural session. A slot was to be given to one NGO to speak for all, to recall the history of the Commission from an NGO perspective. CONGO convened another strategy meeting on 24 March 2006, during which it was concurred not to accept this top-down decision of authorizing a single statement on behalf of all NGOs, but rather to read a short non-statement emphasizing that this approach was unacceptable given the diversity and long- standing participation of NGOs in the Commission. On 27 March 2006, the Commission thus ended its 62 nd session and with it 60 years of human rights history in what NGOs called “a shameful funeral way”. The way to the Human Rights Council With the ending of the Commission‟s existence, both governments and NGOs focused on the establishment of the Human Rights Council with considerable expectations. The GA President sent the GA Vice-President to discuss with Geneva-based stakeholders ways for a smooth transition. CONGO arranged a meeting of NGOs with him for in-depth discussions on the NGOs‟ positions. Many government representatives held informal meetings also open to NGOs. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, acting as Secretariat of the Council, held numerous consultations with NGOs on procedure, substance and NGO participation in the Council. As this was the time before the election of Council members, set for 9 May 2006 at the GA, many governments lobbied during numerous consultations with NGOs to demonstrate their support. The CONGO President was invited to speak at the opening session of the Committee on NGOs on 10 May 2006 in New York. She used the opportunity to arrange for an early appointment with the GA President on 9 May 2006 to brief him on the ongoing positive consultations in Geneva. He invited her to attend the election, on the same day, of the 47 Council members. All 191 member states participated, electing the 47 members who, drawing on lots, were appointed for one, two or three-year terms. On 19 May 2006, the Chair-Designate was elected President of the Council‟s first session. He helped create an atmosphere of transparency and dialogue, by effectively consulting all actors, including NGOs, for 10 See http://www.ngochr.org/view/index.php?basic_entity=DOCUMENT&list_ids=522 Page 21 of 26 the preparation of the agenda and methods of work of the Council‟s first session from 19 to 30 June 2006. He invited the NGO community to provide him with three to five names of individuals or organizations to speak during the official inaugural session. CONGO started a difficult process with many (including regional) NGOs and succeeded in identifying five speakers from different regions, all known as human rights defenders. One of them, Shirin Ebadi from Iran, could ultimately not attend. The others were: Mr. Arnold Tsunga (Zimbabwe), Ms. Nataša Kandić (Serbia), Ms. Sunila Abyesekera (Sri Lanka) and Ms. Marta Ocampo de Vásquez (Argentina). When taking the floor, they echoed the vision of many NGOs and moved participants profoundly during the first session‟s ceremonial part. The High Commissioner called CONGO in the evening to thank the speakers for their contributions and CONGO for identifying them. Prior to the first session, on 12 June 2006, CONGO invited several key ambassadors and NGOs to an informal discussion on how to address upcoming difficult issues in an attempt to help enhance the spirit of dialogue among and with governments and NGOs. Detailed information on the above process, including reports on the transitional period, the Council‟s first session and copies of letters of the President to the Chair can be found at CONGO‟s website under the human rights and resources headings. After three Council sessions in June, September and December 2006, the institution-building phase of the Council has not yet been completed. One of the main tasks facing CONGO in 2007 will be in the area of coordination, a difficult undertaking given the complexity and diversity of the pursuit of human rights. 9. L e s s o n s l ea rn e d In light of the experience gained by CONGO during its almost sixty years of existence – and especially since 2000, when CONGO‟s professional staff was strengthened, thus allowing a substantial expansion of its activities – the time has come for a stock-taking of the lessons learned. The current system of global governance needs to be democratized The international system of governance is increasingly confronted with the phenomenon of eroding state sovereignty while, at the same time, the role of multilateral organizations in international decision-making is being enhanced. In this environment, pressure from civil society groups, NGOs and the private sector is mounting with a view to further democratizing global decision-making processes by integrating more decisively the positions of civil and non-institutional stakeholders into the shaping of global governance. The current system of global governance is considered by many as undemocratic. Decisions are taken increasingly by international organizations without the participation of peoples‟ representatives, be these elected national parliaments or civil society organizations. Enhanced participation in international decision- making processes is claimed especially by NGO representatives within the UN system and by several international law experts. This situation is reflected by the Cardoso Panel on UN-civil society relations. Under the leadership of the former Secretary-General Kofi Annan the UN embarked on an internal reform process aiming at reinforcing its political legitimacy. He acknowledged, in his report "In Larger Freedom", the need for increased participation of civil society in UN activities, reflecting the recommendations of the Cardoso Panel. The 2005-2006 President of the GA, Jan Eliasson, expressed the same concern. In light of Page 22 of 26 this state of affairs, it appears that the best approach for reinforcing NGO participation in global decision- making processes is through a new modus operandi with the UN system. Thus an improvement of global governance implies the opening of decision-making processes within the UN system to allow for more inclusiveness. The civil society fora organized by CONGO in the regions and at UN Headquarters aim at democratizing global governance by empowering NGOs to participate more effectively in international decision-making processes. Within the UN system, NGOs may be consulted by ECOSOC but not by the more political organs, i.e. the GA and, above all, the Security Council. 11 Nor may NGOs bring a claim before the International Court of Justice. NGOs are often excluded from negotiations and decision-making processes of the World Bank and the IMF, which have an impact on the lives of billions of people around the world. CONGO‟s activities therefore necessarily focus predominantly on ECOSOC. However, CONGO was given the opportunity to address the opening session of the first ever hearings of the GA with civil society, expressing the wish that these become the first of a long series. Since then, these hearings have been institutionalized and take place every year on different subjects, such as, in 2006, on migration. CONGO repeatedly expressed the wish to see the activities of the World Bank and the IMF supervised and coordinated by ECOSOC. In that context, CONGO welcomes the enhanced role attributed to ECOSOC as a result of the UN reform, more particularly the Annual Ministerial Review and the bi-annual Development Cooperation Forum. Starting in June 2007, CONGO will organize annual civil society fora aiming at providing a concerted input by NGOs for these new ECOSOC mechanisms and contributing to the MDGs countdown reviews up to 2015. The current status of NGOs within the international system needs to be enhanced The growing importance of NGOs in the international scene has not been adequately reflected in international law, or in the formal structure of international institutions. NGOs do not have an international legal personality - the only exception being Convention 124 of the Council of Europe, entitled "Recognition of the legal personality of international NGOs" (thus far only ratified by nine States). Hence, in the absence of any remedial action, the gap between their international responsibilities and activism on the one hand, and their legal standing in terms of international rights and duties on the other hand, is bound to widen. Moreover, most UN subsidiary organs and agencies have their own accreditation mechanisms for NGOs, thus adding to the complexity and limitations of the NGOs‟ working environment. National, regional and international NGOs may be granted, within the UN system, consultative status to ECOSOC in accordance with article 71 of the UN Charter and ECOSOC Resolution 1996/31. NGOs "in status" may thus be consulted by ECOSOC or by any of its functional commissions (such as the former Commission on Human Rights) on matters falling within their competence. This approach implies that NGOs may merely be "consulted", while the decision-making authority rests exclusively with member states. NGOs may therefore influence decision-making processes mainly through the following means: a. Advocacy, by presenting to the sub-groups and the plenary statements voicing NGO positions on particular issues; 11 Some limited access to these fora exists. Full access is however limited for NGOs to, usually, informal and ad hoc participation. Page 23 of 26 b. Lobbying, by seeking to convince individual delegations and "sympathetic" governments to include constructive provisions into draft texts under negotiation; c. Providing expert advice and testimony on scientific, technological or other highly specialized topics. Despite the limitations imposed on NGOs in the conduct of their advocacy activities, their involvement remains of primary importance. Their persuasiveness made governments commit themselves to adopt both non-binding and binding instruments of international law. Examples of their achievements are the outcome documents of world conferences such as the Rio Conference on Environment and Development (1992), the Copenhagen Conference on Social Development (1995), the Beijing Conference on Women (1995) and the GA Resolution containing the Millennium Declaration (2000). They helped accelerate the entry into force of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court following their worldwide campaign, as well as the adoption of the International Convention to Ban Landmines and the almost universal ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, both of which can be attributed to their worldwide persuasive action. Still, there have been cases of severely limiting the impact of such advocacy activities. A striking example is the process from the GA hearings in June 2005 in preparation for the September High-Level Summit to the limitations imposed on the contents of the final Outcome Document (see chapter 7). NGOs had contributed valuable inputs which were incorporated, to a large extent, into the intermediate Draft Outcome Document prepared by the GA President. Much of the proposed text was, however, subsequently deleted. Some segments of the originally proposed text were then retained throughout the negotiations but were not adequately reflected in the final Outcome Document. Many civil society organizations consider this document as highly unsatisfactory because, inter alia, of its complete silence on disarmament and arms proliferation, its vague commitments with respect to aid and the MDGs, its poor reference to women's rights and its complete failure to address the reform of the Security Council. Despite these set-backs CONGO advocates the approach that, although NGOs may not be allowed to contribute to “decision-making”, they can certainly provide invaluable inputs for the process of “decision- shaping” by governments. The influence of NGO statements and the impact of NGO lobbying, to have a bearing on governments‟ decisions, is unquestionable and even growing, at least among “sympathetic” governments. On the other hand, it must be underlined that the number of countries sceptical or even hostile towards NGOs is still significant. The granting of the consultative status needs to be de-politicized Consultative status with ECOSOC has been granted since 1946, following screenings by the Committee on NGOs, an ECOSOC Standing Committee now consisting of 19 member states, many of which have shown serious shortcomings in the promotion of a genuine culture of civil society, democracy and human rights. The granting of this status is often a highly politically-charged issue and, in the case of national NGOs, it can even be subject to approval by the UN member state concerned. As a result, NGOs that are not legally recognized in their home country, or NGOs that are considered too critical of their own government in autocratic states, have little chance of obtaining consultative status, whereas GONGOs (government- organized NGOs) tend to obtain that status easily. The serious problem of some 2800 NGOs currently having consultative status, but a number of them not being independent NGOs, was acknowledged by the Cardoso Panel on UN-civil society relations and by the Secretary-General himself. NGOs have long Page 24 of 26 recognized the damaging interferences of GONGOs - most particularly at the former Commission on Human Rights, where these tended to provide incorrect information on government policies and to "dilute" the voices of the victims. It is difficult, however, to de facto sideline them without violating the legitimate right of freedom of expression of all organizations. Some NGOs - including CONGO - have tried to tackle the issue but, for the time being, no real progress could be achieved in this respect12. These difficulties became evident during the recent second phase of the World Summit on the Information Society: Independent Tunisian NGOs were unable to obtain accreditation to the Summit in their own name. Accreditation was also refused for „Human Rights in China‟ - an NGO that has never been accredited to a UN Summit because of its role in denouncing human rights violations perpetrated by China. Problems also arise as a result of exclusion from accreditation with respect to the non-representation of minority groups in intergovernmental decision-making fora. Example for such cases are NGOs focusing on sexual orientation issues, or those accused by their national governments of being „terrorists‟ because of their political stance. CONGO has pleaded before the Committee on NGOs to abide by the principles of the widest possible inclusion of NGOs representing different sensitivities and of freedom of expression. NGOs need to question themselves on their legitimacy and independence The quest for a reworked accreditation mechanism for NGOs should thus address issues of their responsibility and accountability as well as their representativity, which is, in turn, linked to their legitimacy13. The issue of the degree of NGO independence vis-à-vis political authorities and governments is of particular concern to national (in contrast to international) NGOs. The Tunis World Information Summit on Civil Society provided examples for a coordinated submerging of debates by an impressive number of Tunisian pro-government NGOs, thus hindering Tunisian human rights defenders and independent civil society organizations to express themselves. As a result, GONGOs were successful in distorting the representation of „civil‟ society. That Summit was nonetheless an opportunity for independent NGOs (not being associated with governments or private interests) to express their concerns to the UN Secretary-General. They insisted on the need: "... to revise the UN rules for civil society accreditation to ECOSOC and to UN conferences in order to end the exclusion of civil society organizations on the basis of a decision of an individual 14 government with no right of appeal to any independent commission” . This concern was echoed by a delegation of members of the European Parliament at a meeting organized in Tunis. The European Union had supported the accreditation of „Human Rights in China‟ at the WSIS and the holding of the Citizens Summit, which was cancelled by the Tunisian authorities. During the preparation for WSIS and the Tunis Summit itself, CONGO tried to play the uncomfortable role of mediator between the freedom of expression of NGOs, particularly human rights groups, and the constraints imposed by the host government, owing to its minimalist interpretation of that freedom. 12 Isolda Agazzi, NGOs and GONGOs in the Context of the UN-CHR, http://www.ngochr.org/view/index.php?basic_entity=DOCUMENT&list_ids=130 13 Is their legitimacy bound to the causes they are defending? Are those NGOs democratic in their internal organization? Is it important that they are? Where are their funds coming from? What relevance does this have in relation to their legitimacy? 14 See http://www.citizens-summit.org/Letter-SecGen-241105.shtml Page 25 of 26 Multi-stakeholder partnerships may be the way forward The WSIS in Tunis has, so far, gone furthest in implementing the "multi-stakeholder approach" called for by the Cardoso Panel on UN-civil society relations. It thus helped tackle effectively complex technical issues at stake - bridging the digital divide and reforming the system of Internet governance. CONGO made an important contribution to the building of these civil society structures during the WSIS preparatory process and during the summits themselves. 1 0 . Co n c l u s i o n CONGO has been in existence for almost sixty years now. It has helped promote and accompanied a stronger involvement of NGOs and CSOs in UN activities and in the process of democratization of global governance. Yet, despite CONGO‟s efforts, the world we are currently living in is not particularly favourable towards civil society and, despite frequent rhetoric, to a stronger participation of non-state actors in multilateral affairs. However, this adverse position will need to change if the international community intends to respond successfully to the threats of the new Millennium, most notably in tackling the most crucial one, namely poverty eradication. CONGO will definitely continue its fight for a more just and equitable world where peoples can have a sense of ownership and belonging. Page 26 of 26