CONGO Comments on Cardoso-Panel (July 2004)

NGOs and Civil Society

See> for full letter, sz

Our principal concern relates to the manner in which the Report's proposals assimilate fundamentally different groups. Indeed, the difficulty flows from the terms of reference themselves, which call for proposals "for enhancing interaction between the Organization and civil society, including parliamentarians and the private sector" (emphasis added). Though the term 'civil society' is notoriously vague, we would argue that it does not cover parliamentarians or members of local authorities in view of their direct participation in the structures of government. The issue of whether that description also covers business entities is also highly contested, not least because of their frequent lack of accountability to society at large.

Though the term "non-governmental organization" is not itself defined in the Charter, successive resolutions of the Economic and Social Council and longstanding practice have recognized certain fundamental characteristics of this type of entity. ...This implies that much greater vigilance should be shown, as the Report itself suggests, over the accreditation of “Government-Organized Non-Governmental Organizations” (“GONGOs”), particularly where independence may have been sacrificed to political support or financial opportunism. [...]

None of this is to say that the United Nations should be precluded from engaging, where appropriate, with a wide range of “non-governmental” constituencies, including parliamentarians and business entities. However, the relationship between the United Nations and NGOs has a special character, based on its foundation in the Charter. Accordingly, any proposal for a uniform accreditation procedure (such as that contained in Proposal 19 of the Report) that extends to constituencies beyond those properly described as 'non-governmental organizations' risks moving outside of the existing Charter framework. The proposal (Proposal 24) to combine them all under an Office of Constituency Engagement and Partnerships could, in practice, lead to increased confusion about NGOs and their Charter relationship to the United Nations. [...]

The report gives no attention to the increasingly vexed issue of 'disciplinary' action concerning NGOs alleged to have breached the terms of the consultative relationship, and the application of the sanctions of suspension or withdrawal of status. Recent events in the Committee on NGOs and ECOSOC have underlined the importance of addressing this issue. It is regrettable that the opportunity was not taken in the Panel's Report. Furthermore, the Report does not speak about efforts by some governments, in North and South, to weaken, subordinate and control NGOs. Nor does the Report address the increasingly restrictive security environment that NGOs face at the United Nations.“