NGO consultative status

CoNGO President to Speak at ECOSOC NGO Committee Consultation With NGOs

STATEMENT BY LIBERATO BAUTISTA, PRESIDENT OF CoNGO,
AT THE ECOSOC COMMITTEE OF NGOs CONSULTATION WITH NGOs

13 December 2022 | UN Headquarters, New York City

(The following statement by Liberato Bautista, the President of CoNGO—Conference of Non-Governmental Organizations in Consultative Relationship with the United Nations—forms the basis of his three-minute presentation scheduled for delivery at the ECOSOC NGO Committee consultation with NGOs to be held on Tuesday, 13 December 2022 at UN Headquarters in New York City. Many of the points raised in the statement come from comments received during an open mic conducted by President Bautista with CoNGO member organizations.)

1. I am Liberato Bautista and I am speaking as President of the Conference of Non- Governmental Organizations in Consultative Relationship with the United Nations. CoNGO is an NGO in general consultative status with ECOSOC whose membership includes more than 500 NGOs who are themselves in consultative status with ECOSOC. Since CoNGO’s founding in 1948, it has been a major interface between NGOs, now the broader Civil Society, and the United Nations System. CoNGO has consistently promoted, defended and boosted civil society access—both physical access and political access—to deliberative and decision-making processes throughout the entire United Nations System.

2. CoNGO has encouraged and facilitated competent NGO inputs across the entire spectrum of issues that constitute the daily and yearly agenda of the United Nations. All these, while maintaining open lines of communication with the President of ECOSOC, the Chair of the Committee on NGOs, the Chief of NGO Branch at UN DESA, and other NGO liaisons within the UN System in consonance with my leadership emphasis on consultation, collaboration and cooperation.

The following points address the four questions sent in advance by the ECOSOC Committee on NGOs for the consultation to address:

On question 1: How can NGOs further contribute to the work of ECOSOC and its subsidiary bodies? What are the most efficient modalities for NGOs to contribute to the United Nations policymaking, be recognized and be influential in these processes?

3. In its 74 years as a major interface with the United Nations System, CoNGO has constantly reiterated the importance to the UN of encouraging and receiving open and interactive engagement with NGOs and broader civil society. We again underline that ECOSOC Resolution 1996/31 contains virtually all the technical and procedural modalities to achieve this purpose. Member States must faithfully implement all the provisions of 1996/31, being the most effective guarantee that NGOs can contribute, be recognized, and enrich the UN’s deliberative and decision making processes.

4. Specifically, NGOs should receive targeted advice on accessing information on major UN documents issued, on timely registration for UN conferences and consultations, on any supplementary badging procedures, on conditions for submitting NGO documents, and on physical access to meeting rooms. NGOs should receive timely information on the conditions for organizing side-events, plus practical guidance for on-site arrangements. For its part, CoNGO has designed its website (www.ngocongo.org) as a portal to valuable information on UN and NGO meetings, and on the UN regulations on the consultative process.

5. The UN must structure in its work modalities access of NGOs and the hearing of their voices at UN meetings. The speaking time for NGOs should be allotted in such a way that their turn to speak is not based on remaining available time but rather on a specific time. Accessing digital space, including through the UN WebTV is laudable but should not be a substitute for physical, in-person presence of accredited NGO representatives.

6. Member States, having already in Resolution 1996/31 acknowledged and endorsed the fundamental value of the consultative relationship, should place no ad-hoc or meeting-specific limitations or restrictions on NGO participation in policy-making, nor invent counter-productive measures on participation that contradict the spirit of the consultative process. This, and more, is the essence of a statement I delivered at a consultation conducted by the ECOSOC President in 2021 with Chairs of its functional commissions and expert bodies.

7. Recognizing the people-oriented grass-roots experience of NGOs, along with their professional and technical competences on issues being considered by the United Nations, Member States should be open and welcoming to the monitoring and advocacy initiatives of NGOs, both within and outside UN premises. Competent NGO input to policy-making enhances government policy output.

On Question 2: What in your organization’s view should be done to provide better support to NGOs during the process of obtaining consultative status with ECOSOC?

8. NGOs unfamiliar with UN terminology would benefit from guidance on its intricacies, in all UN languages. Multilingualism should be pursued. During the preliminary review by the DESA Secretariat of new applications for accreditation, attention should be paid to the theoretical structure and claimed constituency of applicants in order to ensure that the organization is more than just its founder, and can genuinely be considered able to reflect representative public opinions and claimed competences.

9. The UN needs varied competences which diverse NGOs could bring to the multilateral arena. The application should be judged not solely from the angle as to whether or not it fits in to existing UN programmatic categories, but whether it can also contribute to the debate on new and emerging issues.

On Question 3: How can the participation of NGOs from developing countries and countries with economies in transition in UN’s work be increased?

10. A robust civil society in every country makes for a healthy democratic space in the public arena. The UN should work with civil society and Member States to develop democratic participatory practices in all levels of society.

11. In countries under authoritarian rule, and/or where governments have in recent years restricted civil society in contradiction to the terms of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International civil and political rights Covenant, this shrinkage of civic space should be fully reversed. Doing so will foster accountable and responsible civil society participation at local, national and international levels, including those NGOs seeking ECOSOC consultative status.

12. The accreditation process must not be used as an extension for governments to take reprisals against civil society organizations or representatives taking seriously their civil, human and democratic rights, including being able to participate fully in the life of the UN by gaining consultative status. All parties involved in the ECOSOC accreditation process must endeavor to make the process and the resulting consultative relationship a place and opportunity to jointly prosper democratic values and practices. CoNGO, for its part, has enjoined its NGO members to adhere to NGO good practices through a compendium of principles that it has adopted.

On Question 4: Once the consultative status is granted to organizations, how best can NGOs access the opportunities given to them to take part in UN processes.

13. The UN Safety and Security Service should be advised by the Secretary General that NGOs are just as much UN partners as media representatives (perhaps even more so…) and thus should not be excluded from, or hindered in access to, UN premises. Government representatives, notably those who hold Bureau positions at UN Conferences and Commissions, should be aware of the many positive precedents for NGO access throughout the UN System—both based on Resolution 1996/31 and beyond—and apply them with understanding and agility. The same remark applies to the senior UN Secretariat officials who serve UN fora. The flow of communications from the UN Secretariat(s) to NGOs must be extensive, comprehensive and targeted. Reference links to appropriate UN websites must invariably be
included, including to prior relevant documentation.

14. UN DESA should find ways to collaborate with NGOs in developing and prospering “good practice principles” that work both for inter-NGO relations as well as UN-NGO relations. All agencies/departments/entities of the UN System, including the Executive Office of the Secretary-General, should have a civil society focal point charged, inter alia, with promoting and facilitating NGO access to UN processes.

CoNGO’s commitment to the consultative relationship with the UN

15. CoNGO has often spoken out in defense of the values that the UN and Civil Society share, and has addressed governments with the plea—indeed the demand—that the financial underpinning of the UN be substantially reinforced to enable the UN to adequately respond to the needs of the people and the planet. More sustained and timely funding for the UN is also needed for it to engage more comprehensively with Civil Society, whose inputs are critical to the fulfillment of the UN’s mandates and activities.

16. Following a Civil Society Summit convened by CoNGO, we urge the UN General Assembly and ECOSOC to ensure the following priorities in all UN Resolutions, mandates and field programs:

a. Human dignity and human rights must undergird all government policies and intergovernmental policy.

b. Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals remain an essential template and challenge for all governments, all NGOs, and indeed all society. Total commitment to implementation is crucial.

c. Peace and the security of people and the planet have been newly and dramatically challenged this year, in defiance of the UN Charter. Governments start wars; we call on all governments to end them.

d. The world is plagued by unresolved issues of social justice, of managing migration, of continuing racism, of guaranteeing good health. We again remind governments of their overriding responsibility – collectively and individually – to respond meaningfully and urgently.

e. Equally, government action remains inadequate in achieving gender justice, in involving youth, in promoting intergenerational solidarity. We call on governments to be determined and courageous in tackling these issues.

f. The UN must be better “used” by its member governments to enhance multilateralism, to restore democratic discourse, and to protect civil space and NGO participation.

17. CoNGO will, during 2023—its 75th Anniversary Year—work tirelessly with its members and other NGOs, the ECOSOC Committee on NGOs, and with all relevant entities of the United Nations System, to achieve the just, peaceable, secure, sustainable and better world we want and need.