Presidential Statements

Presidential Statement on the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize to UN World Food Programme

Presidential Statement on the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize to UN World Food Programme

Liberato C. Bautista, CoNGO President

12 October 2020


On behalf of the Conference of Non-Governmental Organizations in Consultative Relationship with the United Nations (CoNGO), I congratulate the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) on its receiving the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of both of its many years of action to alleviate hunger across the world and of its relief work during this time of the pandemic.

The award to the WFP is a yes to food security and a no to “the use of hunger as a weapon of war and conflict.” In their announcement of the award, the Norwegian Nobel Committee stated: “The link between hunger and armed conflict is a vicious circle: war and conflict can cause food insecurity and hunger, just as hunger and food insecurity can cause latent conflicts to flare up and trigger the use of violence. We will never achieve the goal of zero hunger unless we end the war and armed conflict.”

Funded by the voluntary contributions of UN Member States and civil society worldwide, the World Food Programme is a shining example of cooperation between government on the one hand and civil society on the other. Much of its work depends on partnerships with non-governmental organizations of the kind that the Conference of NGOs is proud to represent.

At this time of crisis, when many governments are struggling to feed their people and in which the incidence of poverty is rising because of economic disruption, CoNGO calls on UN Member States to support the global work of the World Food Programme on nongovernmental organizations to work increasingly together to redouble their efforts to achieve the same goals, and on people of goodwill everywhere to play their part both in supporting the World Food Programme and in urging their governments to do the same.

Presidential Statement on United Nations Charter Day 2020

Presidential Statement on United Nations Charter Day 2020

Liberato C. Bautista, CoNGO President

26 June 2020

On June 26, 1945, a new dawn arose. On that day, the United Nations Charter was signed in San Francisco, creating a successor to the League of Nations and declaring unambiguously that the new United Nations Organization’s goals were, among other things,

  • to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war,
  • to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained,
  • to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good

The UN Charter, from the outset, established the world organization to be at the apex of solutions to the major global challenges that are necessary conditions for building a peaceful world, including international economic and social cooperation to ensure social and economic progress for all based on equal rights and self-determination of peoples. For the first time, human rights were made into a central objective of a world organization.

The United Nations Charter created the prime multilateral international institution that would be the linchpin for a complex but indispensable system of interdependencies. Governments and peoples had learned that the alternative to multilateralism—unilateralism and rote nationalism—had led the world to the disasters of two World Wars.

As civil society celebrates the values enshrined in the UN Charter—signed by governments on behalf of” We, the peoples”—and celebrates the values enshrined in the UN Charter, we cannot but ask: Why have wars between, among, and within nations so frequently recurred? Why are inequalities and uneven development between rich and poor increasing internationally and nationally? Why can international financial institutions continue to practice policies at odds with the UN while the Charter calls for coordinating all specialized agencies? Why is the unaccountable power of transnational corporations expanding? Why have the legacies of centuries of slavery, colonialism, and racism not been repaired? Why have treaties and international law been so frequently neglected or undermined? Why has disarmament become forgotten when the resources squandered on arms could add needed resources to sustainable development for all?

Civil society salutes the aims and purposes of the United Nations as defined in the Charter. It will continue to work for their achievement as it has been done untiringly for 75 years. We plead and demand that the governments of UN member states do no less: that they live up to their commitments and promises and take their Charter commitments seriously and unremittingly. As it has done for 72 of those years, since its founding in 1948, the Conference of Non-Governmental Organizations in Consultative Relationship with the United Nations (CoNGO) pleads and demands that governments recognize that the civil society organizations in their countries and internationally are powerful force working for the public good, acting selflessly to promote and expand those exact causes for which the United Nations was established.

Article 71 of the UN Charter opened the door to non-governmental organizations. Over the years, there have been innumerable beneficial interactions between the UN and NGOs—in all their operational and terminological diversity. Establishing formal consultative status for NGOs with the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) was groundbreaking for the system of international relations. ECOSOC Resolution 1996/31  governs the establishment of consultative status and accreditation of a broader civil society group to United Nations conferences and consultations. It contains principles and modalities for regular NGO participation in designated United Nations bodies that have stood the test of time and enjoy broad NGO support. In that context, and in furtherance of the UN Charter values, CoNGO pleads and demands that governments take every opportunity to further incorporate into their deliberative and decision-making processes the competent voices of NGOs and all civil society. The encouragement and acceptance by governments of the input of the knowledge, competence, and experience of peoples and communities will consequently enhance the output of governmental mechanisms, thus making treaties, conventions, and other decisions more realistic and implementable. That would be wholly in line with the goals of the Charter.

It is time now to reaffirm the benefits, indeed the indispensability, of multilateralism. Renewed and reinvigorated multilateralism, especially in this year of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the UN, is fundamental to achieving two other of the UN Charter principles:

  • to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security
  • to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all

The UN Charter principles are crucial to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, which encapsulate the fundamental purpose of having an effective and reliable United Nations Organization devoted to “the advancement of all peoples” and shaping a more just, participatory, peaceable, and equitable world.

But for the United Nations System to be effective and reliable, it must be adequately resourced—in finance and personnel. CoNGO repeats its oft-expressed alarm over the adverse effects of the continuous shrinking of the regular budget of the United Nations. Significantly more than in 1945,   many of today’s world problems respect neither physical nor territorial boundaries. The unfinished agenda of decolonization and corollary issues related to self-determination cry out for attention.

The United Nations System is more and more the world’s “plumber” not of last but of first resort, called into service to “stop the leaks” before a deluge (climate change, a pandemic, natural disasters, weapons of mass destruction, endemic poverty, global hunger, forced migration, gender violence, and injustice, racism…) overwhelms our only planet. For this, we demand governments adopt a sufficiently increased UN regular budget this year and a generous increase over the long term. And, of course, governments pay their contributions fully and on time!

“Building Back Better” is not just a slogan for the post-COVID-19 recovery period (long as that may yet be) but a challenge to build better on the UN Charter. Even more urgent now is to go back beyond pandemic management and into addressing the roots of our global maladies by acting justly and peaceably and ensuring that peoples and communities reap and enjoy the benefits of multilateral negotiations equitably, foremost of which are agreements in the protection of human rights and ecological justice. And we must build back so that neither war, poverty, nor systemic racism is inevitable. The Charter is a tool and an opportunity. “We the peoples” plead and demand that governments work with us—in consultation, collaboration, and cooperation—to save succeeding generations from the scourges of the twenty-first century.

New York City

For further information:
Liberato C. Bautista,

Intervention at the ECOSOC Presidency Briefing for Civil Society



Acceptance Speech by Liberato C. Bautista, President of CoNGO

Thank you, delegates of the 26th CoNGO General Assembly, for this signal honor to be, once again, at your service as President of CoNGO. What an honor and privilege to be associated with this distinguished conferential body of dedicated nongovernmental organizations gathered for consultation, collaboration, and cooperation under the umbrella of what we call CoNGO—the Conference of Nongovernmental Organizations in Consultative Relationship with the United Nations.

Seventy years of existence for an organization like CoNGO is no mean feat. This veritable gathering of nongovernmental organizations is almost synonymous with the life of a compelling proposition seventy-three years ago, the United Nations. In 2002, during that decade of international consultations and conferences, we sought consultative status with the UN through its Economic and Social Council. In so doing, we formalized our affirmation of what its Charter required the UN to do: to find  “suitable arrangements for consultation” with nongovernmental organizations.

It is worth noting that our organization is as old as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The seventy years of this preeminent universal instrument are the same seventy years of our organization. This instrument, more popularly referred to as UDHR, inscribes the understanding of the foundational character of human dignity—the building blocks of human rights—which is that human dignity is born with every human being. This instrument has given the necessary protections to human dignity through fundamental human rights that are now enumerated in this most globally accessed international multilateral agreement. Our solemn obligation is to affirm human dignity and our commitment to promoting human rights.

The drafting of the UDHR drew from the expertise of nongovernmental and civil society representatives. Seventy years have tested the strength of this instrument. And for seventy years, nongovernmental organizations and members of civil society have dedicated, if not given their lives, to defend this sacred premise that we owe no one our human rights save that they arise from the dignity that is born with each one for simply being human.

Today, CoNGO is the beneficiary of this consultative arrangement with the UN. It has afforded us all the protections the Universal Declaration of Human Rights affords. And these are all civil, political, social, economic, and cultural rights. The UDHR and the succeeding instruments that are now part of the human rights regime that they have inspired to develop have, in considerable measure, propelled our imagination and fruition of just and democratic functioning of society and its institutions, which, if provisioned well, and sustainably, they can genuinely work in securing for us—indeed for humanity and the planet—the conditions that make for peace and security, prosperity and sustainable development, human dignity and human rights, and the rule of law that bolsters democratic participation. These pillars of the United Nations undergird our consultative relationship with this indispensable institution called the United Nations.

This consultative relationship is multiplied in its power and impact when harnessed with the most excellent intentions and commitment. That multiplier is the “power of Co,” It is the power generated and produced from consultation, collaboration, and cooperation. By reproducing consultation, collaboration, and cooperation in many forms, we also multiply their impact not just for the institution called the UN but, more importantly, the communities and associations whose aims are to better and secure the lives and livelihoods of “We, the peoples.”

The idea of the power of co comes from the mathematical power of pi. But alas, not only am I not a mathematician, but the little that I know of mathematics is very little. I am a failure in this field. But I was to appropriate part of what the mathematical power of pi means. In that case, if we assume the entire membership of the conference as the mathematical circle, we can then measure the power of co by the distance around the circle’s perimeter (conference) and the distance across the broadest part of the circle (membership). That may need to be clarified mathematically. In its crudest way to explain the power of co, it means that the strength of our conference—the power of co—comes from the intensity of consultation across CoNGO (consultation)  and the involvement, through collaboration and cooperation, of the broadest expanse of CoNGO membership. That’s the power.

The power of Co is within us. We are CoNGO. All members of CoNGO are more vital than CoNGOs together. It is in the DNA of CoNGO to confer with each other; this is why we are called a Conference. We are a conferential body where conferring with each other is the lifeblood of what we do and how we implement our organizational mission and objectives. As we confer with each other,  we also confer upon each other trust and confidence, integrity and accountability, and indeed, even relevance.

The power of Co brings to our consultative relationship with the UN and the multilateral enterprise a tremendous opportunity to prove and offer our rich and varied competencies. One venue to offer such competencies is in the implementation of Agenda 2030 and the realization of the 169 targets under the 17 sustainable development goals. And CoNGO is dedicated to the critical support and implementation of Agenda 2030, even pushing them where their limitations are pegged.

Make no mistake; the power of Co will also be challenged. Not the least because togetherness bolstered by consultation, collaboration, and cooperation is formidable, but because togetherness erects a strong front that must and will challenge the shrinking of democratic space, the suppressing of democratic discourse, and even those that foment incivility in civic life and civil society.

The rise of illiberal democracy, intolerant practices in society, and the continued prosecution of pernicious and unjust wars, coupled with unrelenting climate change and the persistence of formidable epidemics, and the rise of pandemics in our world today are conditions that will test our strength and the power of Co. But these conditions will coax and lead us to demonstrate together the ability of Co that comes from the multitude of competencies in our membership and that make for our conferential body an organization of note and importance. But we must seize the opportunity, rise to the occasion, and keep our work strong.

Indeed, we must ensure the UN is well-provisioned to meet these global challenges. We must mobilize the power of Co for the adequate funding of the UN and its related agencies. This work will be challenging because these global conditions will sap energy and resources from the UN member states and make them think the international agenda will be secondary to their national interests. Sometimes these interests are disguised as sovereign assertions over increasing cosmopolitanism.

The power of Co positions us to argue that the national and the international are simultaneous locations, much as the local and the global. It is to say that we must address together conditions that go beyond the backyard of nation-states, beyond constructed and imagined borders.

This requires glocal imagination!

The power of Co positions us to challenge the hurdles put up by functionaries to make our physical and political access to political processes and decision-making venues more difficult—be they in the local government units, national governments, or international institutions like the UN. These conditions also have the potential to derail the best-intentioned internationally agreed development goals and to imperil social justice agendas of the peoples of the world, even of the planet, not the least about the overarching agendas and crosscutting principles of gender equality and inclusion and the primordial safeguarding of the dignity and rights of children.

But we also know that when we rise to the occasion and meet these tests and challenges head on it is this test that we will prove to the nation-states, indeed to the member states of the United Nations, that the power of Co is the power of “We, the peoples.” The UN cannot deny and renege on a charter obligation.

The power of Co stands at the threshold of unprecedented challenges and opportunities. They are the same challenges that will test anyone’s leadership, and indeed, they will try the Presidency of this organization.

Given another opportunity to serve as your president, let us harness as much of the power of Co so that together we will rise to the occasion and make visible our contribution to bettering humanity and the planet.

Defining the present, shaping the future

CoNGO must be ready to offer its energy and facility in making available venues, locations, and platforms for the consultative process to be meaningful and relevant in the campaigns and struggles of peoples and nations who want their issues and concerns to get a hearing in the international community. We can bring CoNGO to a level where it can help civil society re-imagine international relations so that NGOs can be valued and taken seriously as a pillar of the global system. While hitherto nation-states dominate the international system, we are also aware of the vast potential, some of which are already being harnessed through formations like the World Social Forum, of civil society in defining the present and shaping the future.

The revitalization of civil society must happen far and beyond the governance centers of governmental and intergovernmental bodies. This is the genius of the much-needed outreach to the regions of the world that hitherto need to be represented in the conferencing we do as an international organization.

We look forward to another 70 years of CoNGO life and work today. This must mean for us the infusion of new access points in the geographical reach of our work and the enfolding in our agendas of far more varied concerns than are now imagined in the confines of the three centers of our operation.

We cannot rest on the perception that the world is global because our fingertips can travel the world. Instead, the world is global because we intentionally clasp hands and join arms together to feel and address the aches and pains, and the joys and jubilations, of peoples and nations raging against injustice and unpeace and waging campaigns and struggles for durable peace and sustainable livelihoods.

In the end, ensuring access to the UN is part of the larger project of making the UN a responsive, accountable, and relevant entity in the lives of peoples and nations so that access is not in vain for those who have to toil daily for mere existence. I can only surmise that thoughts of food occupy the imaginations of those who struggle every day and where to get food.

I must confess that much of international law I know remains wrought in the imagination of the relations and negotiation of ties that the so-called Westphalian truce in 1648 has spawned through the creation of sovereign nation-states. In the end, the United Nations is a function of sovereign nation-states gathering to craft decisions of global import need not and cannot be the end of our imagination of what this extraordinary institution can be.

The permutations of the “transformation of Westphalia,” including but especially multilateralism, must inevitably be part of a meaningful transformation project that, in many ways, truly honors “we the peoples.” We can make it the beginning of a transformation. That transformation must necessarily, even constantly, include the engagement of the broadest representation of “we the peoples” in their varied formations—NGOs, civil society organizations, or social movements. CoNGO must engender transformative discourse to locate, nay relocate, a narrative of empowerment of peoples at the center of governance at all levels. It may take a counter-narrative to engender such transformative discourse and praxis in international and grassroots practice.

The direction to which I want to bring CoNGO is a humble contribution to the construal of new venues and structures of empowerment—ones that are not centered on the presidency but on the constituency. CoNGO is a membership organization, and the members, gathered as committees and working groups, we can be a meaningful and relevant force in not only transforming the discourse of just and peaceable governance but practicing it even more so.

Whatever we do, we must no longer be content with what the Westphalian project has endowed us—the impositions of the global nature of our interaction press upon the necessity of both location and positionality. We must realize that, by commission or omission, what we do as non-governmental organizations, if they are to be relevant, are an exercise in the politics of transformation.

We can no longer be an organizational form that proceeds with politics as usual in these unusual times. We must be about politics that organizes and mobilizes around “the creation of the fundamentally new, which is also fundamentally better.”

Our normative claims about durable peace, sustainable development, human rights, and dignity must evince the transformed societies we imagine and envision the future. It is a future that matches our normative claims with that of the interpretive significance of the victims of this world—those who do not see, feel, and experience in their lives the presence and the living out of our claims. For example, our normative claims about human rights do not mean anything to someone detained for one’s political beliefs until this person is released from prison.

Human rights learning is about making human rights not just a normative claim but a possible and visible way of life. We must rise to the challenge of making human rights a way of life and living! The imagination of human rights learning as truly embodying and engendering human rights in our being, knowing and doing, might yet transform human rights in ways that, in the words of Michelle Foucault, the French philosopher and thinker, “bear the lightning of possible storms.” Here is the full quote:

“I can’t help but dream about a kind of criticism that would try not to judge but to bring an oeuvre, a book, a sentence, an idea to life; it would light fires, watch the grass grow, listens to the wind, and catch the sea foam in the breeze and scatter it. It would multiply not judgments but signs of existence; it would summon them from their sleep. Perhaps it would invent them sometimes—all the better. All the better. Criticism that hands down sentences sends me to sleep; I’d like a criticism of scintillating leaps of the imagination. It would not be sovereign or dressed in red. It would bear the lightning of possible storms.”

Our organizational values

The canvas on which we will inscribe the next 70 years of CoNGO is not entirely blank, and it is open to new ideas and forms of being, knowing, and doing. We must contribute to continuing to define the present to be counted in shaping the future. But we must do so as a credible partner and worthy interlocutor between the vastness of civil society and the governmental and intergovernmental system.

As your President, much like the first time you gave me this mantle of leadership, I will lead with the organizational values of accountability, transparency, and responsibility.

Accountability for the ideas we prosper and the platforms and resources we provide for these ideas to grow.

Transparency in how we engage the broader world of civil society and global governance—with the clout we exercise, with the power of the structures with which we exercise our responsibilities, and transparency in how we use the resources we generate and the resources we are privileged to manage.

And then responsibility that owes its salience not in how we become good at self-referential exercises but in how best we permeate civil society by diffusing ourselves in solidarity with others in need of our accompaniment in their hopes, struggles, and aspirations.

As we move on to another set of organizational values, as I will lay out next, we will continue instituting mechanisms and measures for the first set to permeate our corporate ethos.

What’s in a name: restating the power of Co

As I take leadership for the second time, I want to emphasize that you can hold my administration and the board of directors by putting together a set of organizational values.

In the field of non-governmental work, we cannot rest on our laurels, self-referentially thinking of what makes us unique and essential no matter how needed this exercise must be.

To not rest on our laurels means that because we know we have the potential and resources to make a difference in defining the present and shaping the future, we must get down to work not soon but now and not alone, still, in consultation with the UN, collaboration within the CoNGO fold, in cooperation with like-minded NGOs whose values are equally about those that define us.

If we know that the issues and concerns beset us are vast and daunting to address, we too must realize that any single organization or institution cannot do and go it alone. CoNGO (in all caps) must look at once humble itself to know we are but one among many in work for social transformation in the multilateral enterprise’s vast landscape.

We are building on solid blocks of accomplishments by my predecessor president and the board of directors who worked with him. I now challenge us to relaunch ourselves beyond simply writing the acronym of our name with one small O. Every so often as we can, we must pronounce our name as Co-NGO merely to emphasize the power of Co. This is not to entirely abandon what we’ve always pronounced as CoNGO but more as a way to catch the attention of the curious watcher and the serious collaborator, again by demonstrating the power of Co.

When we say we are co-NGOs together, I believe we are saying that our strength as an umbrella organization of many members worldwide lies in our being a collaborative body of many diverse NGOs. The power of our collaboration is secondarily about how many we are and primarily because our number has a beautiful diversity. When this number and this diversity define what together is, I think we can make a difference.

We must increase our membership through a systematic membership drive even as we must seek to diversify that membership through, for example, regional outreach such as the one that culminates at this meeting when we launch the Asia Regional Committee.

To be Co-NGOs together is to be consultative, and this means taking the consultative status seriously, as I have laid out above. It also means demonstrating the consultative process that defines how we conduct business. This will entail a reappraisal of the CoNGO Substantive Committees so that their raison d’etre—a gathering of NGOs engaging substantive issues and themes that matter in their interface with the UN—is indeed what they are in mission and method of work.

We are Co-NGOs together, harnessing the power of Co when we recognize that the CoNGO substantive committees are the veins, vessels, and platforms through which the consultative process is not only organized collaboratively but a widely shared formation and function by CoNGO members and like-minded persons and organizations.

We are Co-NGOs together, harnessing the power of Co when we recognize the lifeblood that flows through the veins and vessels that are the substantive committees. This lifeblood, our members, defines our competences and competencies and marks our relevance.

The CoNGO board members compose the limbs that make our conferential body move to work. The members serve as the nexus that connects the vessels that will pump the necessary energy and blood for the proper functioning of our organization.

So much more to be said. I barely scratched what being CoNGO means. More must be spoken of this and what becoming CoNGO and belonging to CoNGO means. And the power of Co will even be more powerful when you join our new board and me in saying what needs to be done to make our organization more robust, relevant, effective, and responsive. To be, to belong, and to become CoNGO are matters I would like to invite conversation on in the years of my term.

The work in this chapter of our life together has just begun. And I am grateful for your support, now and in the future.

CoNGO General Assembly

Geneva, Switzerland

3 March 2018

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