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Mar
27

“Opening 2020 Regular Session, Non-Governmental Organizations Committee Recommends Status for 66 Groups, Defers Action on 34 Others”

Editor’s note:  The UN posted the above-titled article, which reads in part as follows:

“Opening its regular session for 2020, the Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations today recommended 66 entities for special consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council and deferred action on the status of 34 others.

The 19-member Committee vets applications submitted by non-governmental organizations (NGOs), recommending general, special or roster status on the basis of such criteria as the applicant’s mandate, governance and financial regime.  Organizations enjoying general and special status can attend Council meetings and issue statements, while those with general status can also speak during meetings and propose agenda items.  Those with roster status can only attend meetings.

At the meeting’s outset, the Committee adopted its agenda (document E/C.2/2020/1) and programme of work.  It re-elected Mohamed Awadalla Sallam Adam (Sudan), on behalf of the Group of African States, as Chair, and elected Mine Ozgul Bilman (Turkey), on behalf of the Group of Western European and Other States, as Vice-Chair and Rapporteur.

Mr. Sallam, in opening remarks, said a sharp increase in the number of NGOs from around the world applying for consultative status reflects their strong interest in contributing to the work of the United Nations and to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  In 2020, the Committee has an unprecedented number of applications and reports before it, he added, including 360 new applications for consultative status from 81 countries.  That brings the total number of applications under consideration to 637, including deferred requests for reclassification and merger.  The number of deferred applications is higher in 2020 because the Committee was unable to complete the second review of new applications at its last session.  The Committee also has before it 616 new quadrennial reports, 75 reports deferred from previous sessions, one new request for reclassification and several requests for change of name, he said.

Marion Barthelemy, Director, Office for Intergovernmental Support and Coordination for Sustainable Development, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, said that as the international community engages in a decade of renewed efforts to implement the 2030 Agenda and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, the role of civil society as a partner of the United Nations has never been more important.  By 1 June 2019, the Office had received 860 new applications for consultative status, an absolute record number, representing a four-fold increase compared to 2010.  The high number of deferred applications, meanwhile, calls into question the Committee’s capacity to review its programme of work in full.  “Given current trends, with prospects for more than 300 new applications at each session and a similar number of deferred applications, the Committee cannot hide from a revision of its current practice”, she said.  While the NGO Branch has made every effort to cope with the increased workload, it must be ensured an appropriate level of resources to sustain its high level of performance, she said, stressing the need for Member States to provide financial support for a new integrated information and communications technology-based system to replace the three platforms currently being used by the Branch.

The Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations will meet again at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 21 January, to continue its session, which runs from 20 to 29 January and 7 February.

General Statements

The representative of Mexico, speaking on behalf of a cross-regional group of Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) members, said the international community must create an enabling environment for civil society both within countries and in the United Nations system.  “Civil society plays an important role in bringing new perspectives to [United Nations] discourse”, he said, stressing that such groups remain vital to hold Governments accountable to their international commitments.  Welcoming the fact that the number of NGOs applying for consultative status continues to increase each year, he also noted the need to address certain aspects of the Committee’s work to render it more effective and efficient.  In that regard, he spotlighted unnecessary accreditation delays that hinder the work of some organizations.  “Members of the Committee should not use the review process as a method to stymie the participation of civil society organizations that express views with which a Government disagrees”, he said.

The representative of the United States said her delegation has serious concerns with any Committee member that insists that NGOs use so-called correct United Nations terminology as a condition for receiving consultative status.  NGOs should be free to refer to “Taiwan” or to special administrative or autonomous regions such as “Hong Kong”, “Macau” and “Tibet”.  Insisting on the use of alternative terminology would have the effect of censoring NGOs and stifling civil society voices at the United Nations.  Citing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Committee’s mandate as set out in Economic and Social Council resolution 1996/31 and an opinion from the Office of Legal Affairs, she said NGOs can use any terminology they choose without their commitment to the Charter of the United Nations being impugned.

The representative of Turkey said that, with their expertise and on-the-ground experience, NGOs have the ability to understand and convey the needs and concerns of the people.  Expressing full support for the establishment of consultative relations between the Economic and Social Council and NGO groups, she said the surging number of applications for consultative status nevertheless impacts the Committee’s workload.  In that vein, she underlined the need for members to keep in mind their duty to be diligent in evaluating applications in accordance with Economic and Social Council resolution 1996/31 and commended steps taken towards enhanced transparency and efficiency.

The representative of the European Union said NGOs speak truth to power and often give voice to those most excluded.  It is therefore disappointing that groups from the global South continue to be underrepresented compared to their Northern counterparts, he said, voicing concern that the current accreditation process lacks transparency, objectivity and efficiency.  Spotlighting instances of repetitive questioning and unjustified delays that disproportionately affect groups that work on such issues as human rights, he said such organizations often face what often amounts to “de facto rejections”.  Allegations against NGO groups should be supported by evidence and shared with them in sufficient time as to allow a reasonable chance to respond.  In that regard, he called upon all members not to hijack the Committee for national or politicized objectives and to guarantee an enabling environment for NGOs domestically.

The representative of the United Kingdom, associating herself with the European Union, underscored her country’s commitment to championing the work of civil society globally, including at the United Nations.  “Sadly, we don’t always give civil society the platform they deserve”, she said, adding that the Committee’s role is to facilitate access to the Organization by civil society, not to impede it with bureaucracy.  She added that it was a shame that the Committee held no consultations with civil society in 2019, as it did in 2018.  Hopefully, those consultations will be reinstated this year.

The representative of China, pointing to article 2 of resolution 1996/31, said any application for consultative status should abide, first of all, by the purposes and principles of the Charter, including the national sovereignty and territorial integrity of Member States.  In China’s view, using correct terminology is a basic criterion for applying for NGO status, he said, adding that such organizations should not put forward applications merely on the basis of their own charters or articles of association.  Using correct terminology has nothing to do with freedom of speech, he said, adding that China does not agree at all with a certain member’s “jungle-law philosophy”.

The representative of India, speaking on the Committee’s methods of work, welcomed its decision to include additional screening questions on connections that applicants might have with entities on the Security Council’s sanctions lists.  She noted two instances in which applications referred by the Committee to the Economic and Social Council were reversed due to links to terrorism.”

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