Resuming its 2017 session, the Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations today recommended 47 groups for special consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council, and deferred action on the status of 15 others.
The Committee spent the majority of its day engaged in an often heated debate on when civil society could speak, suspending the meeting to make an amendment to its agenda, voting on whether a Member had the right to cede their speaking slot to an non-governmental organization, and later invoking the “no‑action” motion.
Voting against allowing a Member to cede its speaking slot to civil society were the following 14 members: Pakistan, Russian Federation, South Africa, Sudan, Turkey, Venezuela, Azerbaijan, Burundi, China, Cuba, India, Iran, Mauritania and Nicaragua. Voting in favour were the United States, Uruguay, Greece and Israel. Guinea’s representative was absent. The vote followed the representative of Uruguay’s proposal to yield her turn to speak to Amnesty International, to which the representative of China objected. Echoing China’s concerns, the representative of the Russian Federation warned against the use of trickery and manipulation by Members to use civil society to push their political interests. Members were not opposed to letting civil society speak in their due time, he said.
The representative of the United States said the Committee had to hear voices of civil society in order to conduct its work. Pushing a similar position, Uruguay’s delegate said there was no rule outlawing it ceding its speaking turn to a member of civil society. To which China’s responded that a lack of procedure did not mean permission.
In the afternoon, the representative of the United States, following yet another proposal to give the floor to Amnesty International, called for another vote when China and the Russian Federation objected to her request. In response the representative of the Russian Federation proposed a no-action motion, which resulted in the suspension of the discussion. The votes were 13 in favour (India, Iran, Mauritania, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Russian Federation, South Africa, Sudan, Venezuela, Azerbaijan, Burundi, China, Cuba) to four against (Israel, United States, Uruguay, Greece), with one abstention (Turkey). Guinea’s representative was absent.
“I don’t understand where the fear is coming from,” the representative of the United States said, referring to the shutting down of multiple proposals to hear from civil society. Mexico’s representative said the measure of abdicating debate with a no-action motion was extreme and ran counter to the spirit of the United Nations. Consultative-status non-governmental organizations now seemed to be subjected to veto-style measures.
“We cannot be forced to take a vote every time there is no consensus,” said the representative of Venezuela, echoing the views of several Members who called for constructive dialogue and to focus on reaching consensus. Echoing that, the representative of the Russian Federation said that rather than engaging in negotiations to reach consensus on how to present civil society concerns, the representatives of the United States and Uruguay pushed forward their sole interests. Their positions almost seemed to part of a “premediated ploy”.
Earlier in the day, prior to adopting its agenda (document E/C.2/2017/1) and programme of work, the Committee orally revised its schedule removing the item “statements”, following a debate on when and who could take the floor to make statements. China’s delegate requested that the window in the schedule designated for “statements” be amended to “Statements by Member States and Observer States” to avoid ambiguity. The representative of the United States objected to that amendment. Also taking to the floor on the matter were representatives of India, Russian Federation, Israel, Greece, Venezuela, Iran, Cuba and Nicaragua.
The Committee also elected, by acclamation, Hassan Idriss Ahmed Salih (Sudan), on behalf of the Group of African States, as its Vice-Chair. Jorge Dotta (Uruguay), on behalf of the Group of Latin American and Caribbean States, would continue to serve as the Committee’s Chair; and Ceren Hande Özgür (Turkey), on behalf of the Western European and other States Group, and Farid Jabrayilov (Azerbaijan), on behalf of Eastern European States, would both continue to serve as Vice-Chairs. Mr. Jabrayilov would also serve as the Committee’s Rapporteur.
The Committee also considered its agenda items on “strengthening of the Non-Governmental Organizations Branch of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the Secretariat” and “general voluntary trust fund in support of the United Nations Non-Governmental Organizations Informal Regional Network”.
Marc-Andre Dorel, Acting Chief of the Non-Governmental Organizations Branch at the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, said the Committee had been seized with a record number of new requests for consultative status. Some 289 applications were submitted at its 2017 regular session and 164 for its resumed session. He said that the examination of over 100 applications would be delayed until 2018. Such postponements would have significant consequences for the Committee’s programme of work. He also explained that the increase in the number of applications before the Committee contrasted in a decrease in resources allocated to the Committee by the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary). He also cited the considerable increase in submission of quadrennial reports, while highlighting initiatives to speed up the review of those items.
The 19-member Committee vets applications submitted by non-governmental organizations, 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 meetings of the Council and issue statements, while those with general status can also speak during meetings and propose agenda items. Organizations with roster status can only attend meetings. However, for the first time the Committee’s meetings were broadcast via webcam, following an Economic and Social Council decision to do so.
The Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations will meet again at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 23 May, to continue its session, which runs from 22 to 31 May, and again on 12 June.
The representative of Uruguay requested that a civil society representative speak on her behalf, to which China’s representative objected. The representative of the Russian Federation warned against the use of trickery and manipulation by Member States to give civil society representatives the floor when their time was not due, while calling for better organization of the Committee’s work.
The observer for the European Union delegation described civil society as indispensable to the health of democracy and decision-making. The European Union supported all efforts to make the Committee’s work more effective and transparent, he said, welcoming the recent decision to broadcast its meetings.
The representative of the United Kingdom, speaking as an observer and associating himself with the European Union, welcomed the recent Economic and Social Council decision to webcast the Committee’s meetings. Urging the Committee to embody the principles of transparency and impartiality, he said it was unfortunate that they were not reflected well in its actions. Applications continued to lag, others to be deferred and rejected for no good reason. As the volume of applications continued to increase, the Council and the Committee must work together to move the work forward, he emphasized.
The representative of Chile, speaking as an observer, stressed the importance of broadcasting the session in order to ensure that the Committee’s practices remained in line with those of other subsidiary bodies of the Economic and Social Council. Noting civil society’s major role in enhancing and strengthening the efforts of States, he said the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development would be driven by civil society, and to that end, it would be critical to increase the Committee’s transparency and accountability.
The representative of Austria, associating himself with the European Union, said he fully supported the decision by Uruguay’s representative to allow a member of civil society to speak on her behalf.
The representative of Uruguay said no provision in the rules prevented her from giving the floor to a member of civil society.
The representative of India said the participation of civil society was critical to the work of the United Nations and to the internationally agreed goals. Perhaps it would be conducive to make a list of civil society members of wishing to make statements before the session, “so that everything is scheduled properly and does not interrupt the work of the Committee”, he suggested, pointing out that its real work was to review applications and grant status.
The representative of Greece also said there was no provision prohibiting a non-governmental organization from taking the floor.
The representative of the United States said the Committee’s role was to promote engagement between civil society and the United Nations. There had never been a point of order to stop anyone from speaking, she said, requesting that her colleague from China clarify why civil society should not be allowed to speak.
The representative of the Russian Federation warned against penetration of the Committee’s work by “fake news” and “fake proposals”. He said that, although his delegation favoured allowing civil society to speak, he had never seen a Member State cede its turn to a non-governmental organization. It was “categorially unacceptable” to employ gimmickry and trickery, he emphasized. “This is part of a broader agenda.”
The representative of China asked the Legal Department whether a Member State could turn over its speaking slot to civil society.
The representative of the United States said that, since there was no point of order, members of civil society should just request the floor.
The Chair said there was no rule on the matter, and in principle, if it was not prohibited it was permitted.
The representative of China said the absence of a provision did not imply permission.
The representative of the Russian Federation said no pressure should be placed on Member States, adding that his delegation supported civil society speaking, but only in accordance with the rules and procedures. The civil society member concerned would not speak today, but perhaps at a later time.
The representative of Uruguay requested that a vote be held on the matter.
The Chair clarified that it was Amnesty International that would speak on behalf of Uruguay.
Speaking in explanation of position, the representative of Iran said the Committee’s workload prevented it from venturing into other spheres. “We are not here to listen to non-governmental organizations,” he said. It was the prerogative of a Member State to yield its speaking slot to a speaker, but only if that speaker belonged to the same delegation. Since that was not the case, Iran would vote against the proposal.
The representative of the Russian Federation expressed concern over the phrasing of the question upon which the Committee was to vote. “Of course we are not against giving civil society the floor,” he said. Warning against gimmicks and manipulation, he said that he would be voting against allowing Uruguay to cede its speaking slot to the non-governmental organization.
The Chair said that he saw no manipulation in the question’s formulation.
The representative of Venezuela asked the Chair to expand on the question for the vote. Were Member States voting on allowing Uruguay to cede its turn to a non-governmental organizations today, or in future discussions also?
The representative of the United States said they were voting on whether civil society could speak or not speak. The United States would vote in favour, she added.
The representative of India expressed confusion and sought clarification of the question upon which the Committee was voting.
The Chair said it would vote on whether Uruguay could cede the floor to Amnesty International.
The representative of India said it was disconcerting that a Member State was giving the floor to a non-Member State. “We cannot accept that the floor is being given to someone that is not part of the delegation,” he emphasized, adding that India would vote against.
The representative of Cuba requested further clarification on the vote.
The representative of Nicaragua said the Committee would vote on whether a Member State could yield its speaking slot to a member of civil society.
An official from the Secretariat said Uruguay had requested a roll call vote on whether it could cede its right to speak to Amnesty International.
The representative of the United States said the question had been changed, adding that, apart from voting on whether Uruguay could cede its slot to the non-governmental organization, she had requested an additional vote on whether civil society could so speak in future sessions.
The representative of Greece said he would vote in favour of Uruguay’s request.
Voting against were the following 14 members: Pakistan, Russian Federation, South Africa, Sudan, Turkey, Venezuela, Azerbaijan, Burundi, China, Cuba, India, Iran, Mauritania, and Nicaragua. Voting in favour were the United States, Uruguay, Greece and Israel. Guinea’s representative was absent.
Following the vote, the representative of the Russian Federation said each country voting “no” had sought to preserve the Committee’s working methods. Members were not against civil society, but rather against being manipulated, he emphasized. While Amnesty International had a decent reputation, today’s occurrence would mark affect their image in a negative way and raise questions about their independence and impartiality, he added.
The representative of Pakistan, speaking in explanation of position, said he had voted against because the matter was a procedural one.
The representative of South Africa said her delegation had voted in accordance with the rules and procedures. The extent of today’s deliberations clearly indicated the need to discuss the Committee’s working methods.
The representative of Nicaragua said it was important to hear from civil society, but emphasized that procedures must be followed.
The representative of Mexico, an observer State, said the vote sent a limiting message to civil society, but set no precedent as to how Member States would take the floor.
The representative of the United States said that, since the Chair had given the floor to Amnesty International, the organization should have been allowed to speak.
The Chair said there may be varying interpretations of what had occurred.
The representative of the United States said that if she needed to do so, she would request that another vote be held with the aim of seeking to allow the non-governmental organization to speak. She cited rules and procedures allowing such an entity to take the floor.
The Chair then gave the floor to Amnesty International.
The representative of China, on a point of order, sought clarification of the move to give a non-governmental organization the floor.
The representative of the Russian Federation pointed out that the Committee had voted against giving the floor to a member of civil society, yet the United States and Uruguay continued to push for it. “Please, we ask you to stop manipulating us.”
The Chair said there was no need to “keep pointing the finger” or to use harsh language. “We are not, sir, enemies,” he added.
The representative of the United States sought clarity as to what was “technically” being done.
The Chair said it was clear that the Russian Federation’s representative opposed having civil society speak, and since there was no consensus he could not give the non-governmental organization the floor.
The representative of the United States requested that the Committee hold a vote to allow a non-governmental organization accredited by the Economic and Social Council to speak.
The representative of the Russian Federation requested that the Committee submit a “no-action motion”.
An official of the Secretariat then read out the Economic and Social Council’s rules of procedure, in accordance with a request by the representative of the Russian Federation.
The Chair then granted permission for two representatives to speak in favour of the motion and two against it.
The representative of China said he supported the Russian Federation’s proposal.
The representative of Greece objected to the no-action motion, saying it did nothing to facilitate the Committee’s substantive work.
The representative of the United States warned the Committee against using the no-action motion to stop deliberations and discussions. “We are taking a step back,” she said, reiterating the importance of hearing from civil society. “I don’t understand where that fear is coming from.”
The representative of the Russian Federation reiterated that he was all for having civil society speak, but categorically against other countries using civil society to pursue their own political agenda. “Let us not allow our Committee to be destroyed,” he warned.
The representative of Cuba, on a point of order, sought clarity regarding the vote.
The Chair said the vote was on the Russian Federation’s motion to adjourn the debate.
The Committee held a recorded vote, approving it by 13 in favour to 4 against (Israel, United States, Uruguay, Greece), with 1 abstention (Turkey). The representative of Guinea was absent.
The representative of Mexico described the measure of abdicating from a debate as extreme and contrary to the spirit of the United Nations. Non-governmental organizations enjoying consultative status now seemed subject to veto-style measures, he marvelled.
The representative of Venezuela highlighted the need for constructive dialogue. “We cannot be forced to take a vote every time there is no consensus,” she emphasized.
The representative of the Russian Federation said the position of the United States and Uruguay seemed to be part of a premediated ploy. Rather than conducting discussions and negotiations to reach consensus, those delegations were pushing their interests forward, he noted, suggesting that, perhaps, the Russian Federation should invite an organization to discuss the crimes committed in Iraq, and another 10 to discuss other matters. “While you can disagree with my opinion, please show respect,” he said.
The representative of the India said the question of civil society participation was being discussed without consideration of the long-term implications. Everything must be done to ensure that decisions were taken by consensus, he emphasized.
The representative of China also underlined the importance of consensus decisions.
Special Consultative Status
The Committee recommended that the Economic and Social Council grant special consultative status to the following 43 organizations:
African Trade Centre LTD/GTE (Nigeria);
Asian Marine Conservation Association (India);
Asociación Cubana de Limitados Físico-Motores (Cuba);
Association Debout femmes autochtones du Congo (Congo);
Association Mauritanienne pour la Promotion de la Famille (Mauritania);
Association des relais communautaires d’Oshwé (Democratic Republic of the Congo);
Association for Protection of Maternity, Infancy and Family João e Maria (Brazil);
Association mauritanienne pour la transparence et le développement (Mauritania);
Associação Brasileira dos Organizadores de Festivais de Folclore e Artes Populares (Brazil);
Associação de Jovens Engajamundo (Brazil);
Center for Development Support Initiatives (Nigeria);
Centre for Disaster Risk and Crisis Reduction (Nigeria);
Centre for Human Rights and Climate Change Research (Nigeria);
Centre for Policy Dialogue (Bangladesh);
Centre for Youth and Literacy Development (Ghana);
Centre for the Sustainable use of Natural and Social Resources (India);
Centre international de recherche – Action pour un développement durable (Togo);
Chia-Funkuin Foundation (Cameroon);
China Academy of Culture Limited (China);
China-Africa Business Council (China);
Farmers Development Organization (Pakistan);
Fundación América Solidaria Internacional (Chile);
Fundação Abrinq pelos Direitos da Criança e do Adolescente (Brazil);
Geo-Environmental Resource Association (Cameroon);
Health In Action Limited (China);
Hope for Women (Maldives);
Horizon d’échange et de lutte contre la pauvreté (Senegal);
Irene Menakaya School Onitsha (Nigeria);
Leadership for Environment and Development – Pakistan (Pakistan);
Les oeuvres sociales pour les actions de développement (Democratic Republic of the Congo);
Lokmanya Sewa Sangh Parle (India);
Nagorik Uddyog (Bangladesh);
Namaa Association of Social Development (Jordan);
NoBox Transitions Foundation, Inc (Philippines);
Pakistan Council for Social Welfare and Human Rights (Pakistan);
PathFinders Limited (China);
Peace Foundation Pakistan (Pakistan);
Public Organization “Public Advocacy” (Ukraine);
Samaj Kalyanka Lagi Yuwa Nepal (Nepal);
Save Our Needy Organization (Nigeria);
Sense International, India (India);
Small and Medium Scale Entrepreneurship Fundamentals Foundation (Nigeria);
Sociedad Cubana para la Promoción de las Fuentes Renovables de Energía y el Respeto Ambiental (Cubasolar) (Cuba).
The Committee postponed consideration of the following 14 organizations:
Education Above All Foundation (Qatar) — as the representative of the Russian Federation requested further details on whether it conducts work with Syrians and on the Syrian territory, and if so, had it received permission from the Syrian Government.
Engineering Association for Development and Environment (Iraq) — as the representative of Turkey requested additional information on its activities in countries of operation.
Ertegha Keyfiat Zendegi Iranian Charitable Institute (Iran) — as the representative of Sudan requested additional information on its activities outside of Iran.
Institute of Sustainable Development (Iran) — as the representative of Sudan requested specifications on what non-governmental organizations the Institute creates databases for.
International Charitable Foundation “Alliance for Public Health” (Ukraine) — as the representative of the Russian Federation requested further information on its projects in Crimea and Sevastopol in the area of drug treatment.
Iraqi al-Amal Association (Iraq) — as the representative of Pakistan requested information on its work with other organizations.
Ohaha Family Foundation (Nigeria) — as the representative of South Africa asked for details on total income and expenditure and on its projects.
Okuolu International Limited (Nigeria) — as the representative of South Africa asked for financial details and information on its activities.
People’s Right to Information and Development Implementing Society of Mizoram (PRISM) (India) — as the representative of India asked how the group monitored Government programmes and schemes.
Public Aid Organization (Iraq) — as the representative of Turkey asked for details on a guide about a flexibility project and the representative of Iran requested a breakdown of contributions from organizations.
Qatar Foundation for Social Work (Qatar) — as the representative of Nicaragua asked for details on the national organization’s indication that it aimed at having offices outside Qatar, for instance, in what countries and regions.
Rebirth Charity Society (Iran) — as the representative of Sudan asked what steps the group had taken to maintain its independence from the Government of Iran.
Research Society of International Law (Pakistan) — as the representative of India asked for more information on the group’s deficit and for its latest financial statement.
Saafah Foundation for Transparency and Integrity (Saudi Arabia) — as the representative of Iran asked for information on where its contributions came from and the implications of that funding on the group.
During a question-and-answer in the afternoon, non-governmental organization representatives responded to queries posed by the Committee.
The representative of International Disability Alliance said his group was a global organization bringing together 14 global and regional networks representing about 1 billion persons with disabilities. Activities included building and supporting capacities to participate in national and global processes.
The Committee then recommended the organization be granted special consultative status.
The representative of WePower — Women’s Electoral Power for the Advancement of Women’s Leadership in Israel (R.A.) said her non-profit group focused on promoting women to high level positions in all cultures and origins in urban to rural areas of the country. The group measured, published and gave feedback to organizations that had achieved gender equality.
The Committee then recommended the organization be granted special consultative status.
The representative of Alliance to Renew Co-operation among Humankind said his group wanted to build an alliance that would allow for a more prosperous, environmentally friendly and humane society. The group was engaged with the Sustainable Development Goals and would like to help the United Nations to achieve their goals and targets.
The representative of Iran asked for written responses on more information on the link with a non-governmental organization and on visits to other countries.
The representative of the Russian Federation asked for details on a publication that had mentioned removing President of Syria Bashar Al-Assad.
The representative of Alliance to Renew Co-operation among Humankind said he did not represent a Member State, nor did he want to voice an opinion. He was a citizen of the European Union and did not want to impose his opinions on anyone. He also did not wish to comment on the issue the Russian Federation’s representative had asked about.
The Committee then postponed consideration of the application.
The representative of Win the War! Against Violence said his group aimed at preventing youth violence. It focused on issues related to youth security through education, such as in-school programmes.
The Committee then recommended the organization be granted special consultative status.
The representative of Heavenly Showers of Peace Church of God said his group’s goals and visions for humanity were in line with the work of the Economic and Social Council. Working on grass-roots-level activities, he appealed to the Committee to be able to do more work with people, including women, widows and single women. As a church, it participated in a range of activities, including voter mobilization in Nigeria. Having been asked to provide information on a 2008 conference that had been held in South Africa, he said his group had already provided those details, which included efforts to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS. He appealed to the Committee to provide his group with the opportunity to be part of the good work the Council was doing.
The Committee then recommended the organization be granted special consultative status.