21 June 2004


Press Briefing

press briefing by panel on un – civil society relations

To be effective in today’s world, the United Nations must reach beyond its core membership of central governments and make full use of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the private sector, parliamentarians and local authorities, former Brazilian President Fernando Cardoso told correspondents at a Headquarters briefing today.

Presenting the report of the 12-member Panel of Eminent Persons on United Nations-Civil Society Relations, entitled “We the Peoples:  Civil Society, the United Nations and Global Governance”, Mr. Cardoso, who chaired the Panel, stressed that global governance was no longer the sole domain of governments.  “Constructively engaging with civil society is no longer an option for the United Nations, but a necessity”, he said.

Highlighting the reports proposals, Mr. Cardoso, who was accompanied by fellow panel members Kumi Naidoo of South Africa and Mary Racelis of the Philippines, emphasized the need to expand the idea of multilateralism to include multiple actors, from civil society and business as well as central and local governments, who had helped draw up and implement global agreements.  He also underscored the importance of multi-stakeholder partnerships in a world where networking was no longer limited by national borders.  “The world has changed, and the United Nations must change too”, he said.

Other recommendations included forging stronger links between the local and global levels, which would help overcome democratic deficits in global governance, Mr. Cardoso said.  The Panel had also proposed that the General Assembly, rather than the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), become the entry point for non-governmental organizations to the United Nations, in an accreditation process that depended less on politics and more on skills and expertise.  In addition, it had suggested ways of reducing the imbalance between civil society groups in the North and South, including a fund to assist southern NGOs in attending United Nations activities.

A correspondent asked whether increased civil society involvement in the General Assembly, which the report had also proposed, could lead to tension between government representatives and NGOs, in cases such as the invasion of Iraq.  Mr. Cardoso responded that the Security Council had already established successful contact with civil society, especially in implementing humanitarian decisions following conflicts.  Civil society organizations would have no seat or vote in the General Assembly, he explained, but would simply be allowed a voice.

Responding to another question on how NGOs would feel about the term civil being expanded to include the private sector, as well as central and local authorities, he said that some NGOs preferred not to be lumped together with other groups, but they had also realized that the Panel made a distinction between them.  “We are not putting them all together in the same basket”, he said.

Asked how the United Nations would choose which organizations would have a voice in the General Assembly, Ms. Racelis expanded on Mr. Cardoso’s earlier mention of shifting NGOs accreditation from ECOSOC to the General Assembly.  A Secretariat office would sift through the applications and come up with a list of organizations that adhered to United Nations aims and procedures.  In the end, the list would go to the General Assembly for review.

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For information media. Not an official record.