Conference of NGOs (CoNGO and human rights

CoNGO, WCC, and civil society groups, reiterate shared commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

During a webinar presented by the Conference of Non-Governmental Organizations in Consultative Relationship with the United Nations (CoNGO) and hosted by the World Council of Churches (WCC), civil society and faith-based groups explored their shared commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Speaking at the podium at the Main Hall of the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva is CoNGO President Liberato Bautista, delivering his presidential remarks at the 75th anniversary commemoration of CoNGO on December 15. The event was held in a hybrid format–in person in Geneva, online webinar, and live streamed via the CoNGO YouTube channel–with a little over 200 participants hearing the presentations in English, French, Spanish and Arabic. Photo: Gregoire de Fombelle/WCC

Geneva, Switzerland | 18 December 2023 — CoNGO, the Conference of Governmental Organizations in Consultative Relationship with the United Nations, is celebrating its 75th anniversary, as is the World Council of Churches (WCC)—and the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights itself. 

Among keynote speakers at the commemorative event held on December 15 at the main hall of the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva was Rev. Dr Kenneth Mtata, WCC programme director of Public Witness and Diakonia. He thanked CoNGO president Liberato Bautista for his leadership at a time when civil society space is closing up and getting restricted. 

We must indeed celebrate some considerable progress made in the advancement and reinforcement of the human rights protection mechanisms over the last years,” said Mtata. The establishment of the Human Rights Council and of the Universal Periodic Review mechanism could be listed among the efforts to strengthen the United Nations human rights machinery in a more democratic and transparent way.”

However, Mtata said, most human rights mechanisms do not yet adequately take into account the human rights violations amplified by perpetrators of climate crimes. Many governments encroach on the freedom of worship and numerous places of worship are attacked by non-state actors,” he noted. It is evident that there is still a huge gap between words and deeds, promises and action.”

Adopting and ratifying intergovernmental human rights instruments, although very important, simply does not suffice, Mtata continued. Governments must defend the rights of the people that are under their jurisdiction and must show their political will to seriously tackle the grave human rights violations that occur in various parts of the world,” he said. First, we must reiterate our shared commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and to the principles enshrined within it, and advocate for its full adaptation to the human rights violations caused by climate destruction.”

UN officials pay tribute to CoNGO and civil society; no civil society without faith-based actors

Sophie Torelli-Chironi, head of the NGO liaison unit, speaking on behalf of Tatiana Valovaya, Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva, highlighted the partnership between the United Nations and CoNGO. “It is a longstanding and solid relationship which dates back to 1948 when the NGO was created. CoNGO has since played a major role in strengthening the relations between NGOs in consultative status with ECOSOC and various UN bodies. This is particularly true for us here at the United Nations Office at Geneva. We have collaborated with CoNGO for many years to reinforce the participation of civil
society in multilateral processes in Geneva in our areas of work – sustainable development, peace and disarmament, and human rights.”

Ibrahim Salama, chief, Human Rights Treaties Branch at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, was among several keynote speakers who underscored the importance of faith-based voices for human rights. There is no human rights without civil society,” he said. There is no civil society without faith-based actors.”

Lina Nykanen-Rettaroli, senior technical lead for human rights, World Health Organization, spoke about the human rights of women in low-income countries. A woman in a low-income country is about 30 times more likely to die from pregnancy or child-birth related causes than a woman living in a high-income country,” she said. They so often have the worst health outcomes.”

Ruth Marlyn Grace Sidabutar, project officer, World Summit on the Information Society at the International Telecommunication Union, the UN Agency for Digital Technologies, reflected on the challenges to human rights posed by artificial intelligence and other technology.

The opportunities for advancing human rights are enormous—but so are the challenges,” Sidabutar said. There are now more mobile phones than people in the planet.”

Barbara Reynolds, chair, United Nations Working Group of Experts of People on African Descent, also mentioned the importance of civic and faith-based groups in drawing the world together. The pursuit of human rights can be seen as a saving of our people today,” she said. 

Alejandro Bonilla, NGO Committee on Ageing Geneva, spoke of how ageism intersects with every other form of discrimination. In a world where many circumstances are beyond our control, we are eventually presented with a choice: how will we relate to our people, and how will we relate to others?” he asked. The divide between older and younger generations—age is one of the first things we notice about the others.”

In his presidential remarks, Liberato Bautista pointed to CoNGO’s organizational motto: “defining the present, shaping the future,” and the addition of a third phrase for the anniversary year, “making the change now,” The motto, he said, “indicates how crucial the role of civil society is in addressing the existential threats to people and the planet—including climate change that is compromising planetary sustainability and human rights violations that are threatening human dignity.”

“For all the lofty words we manufacture—whether at the UN or in our NGO circles—we must be willing to be the change we want and get ready to work on those changes now,” Bautista said.

CoNGOs 75th anniversary year was marked by four commemorative celebrations at UN centers in Vienna (April), Bangkok (May), New York (October), and Geneva (December) and six global thematic webinars which attracted a little over 3,500 participants worldwide. (Marianne Ejdersten/WCC and CoNGO InfoNews)


For more information about the event, including concept note, speakers and schedule, please visit this link.

CoNGO 75th Anniversary Commemoration in Geneva and the Sixth Global Thematic Webinar

The Conference of Non-Governmental Organizations in

Consultative Relationship with the United Nations (CoNGO)

and co-organizer

with co-sponsors

invite you to the

CoNGO 75th Anniversary Commemoration in Geneva

and the

Sixth Global Thematic Webinar

CoNGO and UDHR: Celebrating 75 Years

December 15, 2023

Geneva 13:30 – 17:45 CET | New York 7:30 – 11:45 EDT | Nairobi 15:30-19:45 EAT
Bangkok 1:30-5:45 ICT Dec. 16 | Fiji 00:30-4:45 FJT Dec. 16
Rio de Janeiro 9:30-12:45 BRT | Beirut 14:30 – 18:45 BRT
Time Zone Calculator

Venue: In-person (Main Hall, Ecumenical Centre, Geneva) and Online (Zoom)

This event will also be live-streamed on YouTube.

Language interpretation in English, Arabic, French and Spanish

Register for In-Person Participation

Register for Online Participation

Concept Note Ver. 7.0

A. In commemoration of its 75th Anniversary in 2023, the Conference of Non-Governmental Organizations in Consultative Relationship with the United Nations (CoNGO) has organized three Commemorative Events (chronologically Vienna, Bangkok, and New York) and five Global Thematic Webinars generating engagement, cooperation, and action on global issues that constitute the core of ongoing programs of non-governmental and civil society organizations. These sessions have been conceived in the spirit of CoNGO’s commemorative motto, “Defining the Present, Shaping the Future, Making the Change Now.”

B. The Civil Society Summit on Substantive Issues, “Shaping the Future: The UN We Need for the World We Want,” held by CoNGO on 8 October 2021, highlighted global justice among all humanity’s significant global critical concerns. The Summit brought together over 1,000 participants worldwide to contribute experience and competencies, share doubts about our current world, and collectively articulate aspirations and proposals we must achieve for the world we want. The Civil Society Summit was rich in outlining concepts and actions needed to shape the future. As a direct outcome, the CoNGO General Assembly resolved to use the outcome of the Summit—the Synthesis Report—as a substantive basis for CoNGO’s programmatic direction, especially highlighting it in 2023, CoNGO’s 75th-anniversary year. The assembly agreed to convene a series of six high-level global thematic webinars throughout 2023 to engage a global constituency on the critical themes articulated at the Summit and to elaborate on the agenda, responses, and actions necessary to implement the anniversary theme.

C. The first webinar (March 2, 2023) focused on social justice, particularly migration, racial, and health justice. The second webinar (June 5, 2023) focused on pursuing global justice and solidarity, particularly realizing Agenda 2030, sustainable development and humanitarian action. The third webinar (August 31, 2023) focused on gender justice, youth and intra- and intergenerational justice and solidarity for future generations. The fourth webinar (September 7) focused on peace, human security and the threats to the security and sustainability of people and the planet, continuing what previous webinars had explored—engaging CoNGO’s constituency in a deeper dive into the UN Secretary-General António Guterres’s “Our Common Agenda,” including the proposed convening in 2024 of a Summit of the Future, which was projected to offer what was being called the “Pact for the Future.” The webinar also examined the UN SG’s Policy Brief on A New Agenda for Peace. The policy brief included recommendations “to achieve more effective multilateral action for peace and security, based on international law, for a world in transition.” The “A New Agenda for Peace” was framed around the core principles of trust, solidarity, and universality that were the foundations of the UN Charter and a stable world. It presented twelve concrete sets of proposals for action in five priority areas.” The fifth webinar (October 27) focused on cooperation with the United Nations System, built into the purposes and operations of numerous NGOs/CSOs. The UN and NGOs struggle individually and collectively, every day and every year,  to meet the needs, sufferings, and aspirations of people and the planet in a time when global inequities are widening, human rights are under renewed threat, a climate emergency time bomb is ticking, and millions affected by ongoing or new catastrophes are off the public screen. Debt crises, inequalities, wars and conflicts have prevented many governments from providing their citizens with adequate health, education, social protection and other human rights. All these topics are the elements of ongoing UN-NGO interaction,  both in conference halls and in rural and urban settings worldwide. The sixth and final webinar will be focused on human rights, allowing for a double commemoration of the 75th anniversaries of both CoNGO and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

D. The Fourth Anniversary Event and the Sixth Thematic Webinar will be held in Geneva on December 15, 2023, honoring and sharing in the 75th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (December 10 is Human Rights Day). It is also relevant that 2023 is the 75th Anniversary of the World Health Organization, UN Peacekeeping Operations, and the ILO Convention on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize. It is also the 75th Anniversary of the CoNGO Member Organization, the World Council of Churches, based in Geneva, which will host the sessions. The first director of the WCC Commission of the Churches on International Affairs, Dr. O. Frederick Nolde, is credited for drafting Article 18 of the UDHR, dealing with, among others, freedom of religion. WCC was a founding member of CoNGO in 1948. The World  Federation for Mental Health, a long-serving CoNGO member who will join us on December 15, also celebrates its 75th Anniversary this year.


E. It is foreseen that Items 4-7 in Section F below will be based on presentations of the present and desired future of human rights commitments, obligations and aspirations in each sub-thematic area. It will also consider the strides in developing a right to development and the right of future generations and the intersections between human rights and planetary justice in the age of the Anthropocene. Among the categories to be referenced will be women’s rights, older persons’ rights, migrants’ rights, labor/worker’s rights, the actions and safety of human rights defenders and environmental rights defenders,  and lawyers and journalists engaged in protecting and promoting human rights, closing the gaps in the implementation of United Nations Conventions and Covenants; and more. Much like the previous five, the discussions in this last webinar aim to engage the UN 2020 General Assembly Declaration on the commemoration of the UN 75th anniversary and to produce NGO contributions to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s Our Common Agenda, the UN Summit of the Future and related Pact for the Future and the 11 Policy Briefs.


F. Programme

See Speaker Bios

SEGMENT I: Moderated by CoNGO President Liberato Bautista


1. Introduction and Message by Liberato Bautista (CoNGO President)

2. Welcome and Keynote Address by Jerry Pillay, General Secretary, World Council of Churches (Delivered by Kenneth Mtata, WCC Programme Director for Public Witness and Diakonia)

3. Keynote Addresses from the UN System

a. Director General Tatiana Valovaya (Delivered by Sophie Torelli-Chironi, NGO Liaison Unit, United Nations Office at Geneva) 

b. Written Communication from Volker Turk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

c. Ibrahim Salama (Chief, Human Rights Treaties Division, Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights)

d. Lina Nykanen-Rettaroli (Senior Technical Lead for Human Rights, World Health Organization)


SEGMENT II: Moderated by Cyril Ritchie (CoNGO First Vice President)


e. Ruth Marlyn Grace Sidabutar (World Summit on the Information Society | International Telecommunication Union) (human rights and ICTs)

f. Barbara Reynolds (Chair, UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent) (human rights and racism)

4. Human Rights, women and gender justice:

a. Jane Aeberhard-Hodges (Former Director, Gender Bureau, ILO) (human rights in the context of the 75th anniversaries of the UDHR and the Freedom of Association as a fundamental human right

b. Carolyn Handschin (Chair, NGO Committee on Status of Women Geneva)      

c. Casey Harden (General Secretary, World YWCA)

5. Human Rights in the Age of the Anthropocene

a. Human Rights and the Right to Development (Shyami Puvimanasinghe, Human Rights Officer, Right to Development Section, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights) 

b. Human Rights and Economic and Environmental Justice (Budi Tjahjono, International Advocacy Director, Franciscans International and Geneva Interfaith Forum on Climate Change, Environment and Human Rights) 





SEGMENT III: Moderated by Manjit Dosanjh (International Cancer Expert Corps, CoNGO Board Member)


6. Human Rights and Specific Populations and Concerns

a. Human rights and health (Manjit Dosanjh, International Cancer Expert Corps) 

b. UDHR and Freedom of religion or belief (Ganoune Diop, Seventh-Day Adventist | International Religious Liberty Association) 

c. Migration and human rights of migrants (Torsten Moritz, Churches Commission for Migrants in Europe) 

d. Human rights, minorities and indigenous peoples (Antine Sonde, Associate Human Rights Officer, UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights) 

e. Human rights, food sovereignty and human security (Manoj Kurian, Coordinator, Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance) 

f. Human Rights and Ethics (Fadi Daou,  

g. Human rights education and learning (Elisa Gazzotti, Soka Gakkai International) 

h. Intergenerational Justice and Solidarity (Alejandro Bonilla, NGO Committee on Ageing Geneva | Greycells)


SEGMENT IV: Moderated by CoNGO President Liberato Bautista


7. Navigating the Future

a. Human Rights and the Building of a New Eco-Social World: Navigating Future Directions (Joan Davis-Whelan, Vice President, International Federation of Social Workers) 

b. Towards the UN Summit of the Future (2024): Strengthening the UN System, Reinforcing Human Rights (Jan Lonn, Secretary-General, International Youth and Student Movement for the United Nations) 

8. Concluding remarks by Liberato C. Bautista (CoNGO President) 


G. Reception

17:06 to 17:45

A reception at the Ecumenical Center will follow after the programme.

For inquiries, contact:


Liberato C. Bautista Cyril  Ritchie

CoNGO President CoNGO First Vice President 


13 December 2023 (Version 7.0)