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    Press Release No: UNIS/PI/210
    Release Date: 29 August 2000
    Secretary-General, General Assembly President, USG Hogan Deliver 
    Opening Remarks as Fifty-third Annual DPI/NGO Conference Opens

    NEW YORK, 28 August (UN Headquarters) -- The relationship between the United Nations and civil society could never be measured by the numbers of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) at global conferences or participating in meetings at Headquarters -- what mattered even more was what happened out there in the world and on the ground, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said at the opening of Fifty-third Annual Department of Public Information (DPI)/NGO Conference this morning. 

    Whatever their main activity, he continued, NGOs had shown a courage, character and vision that should be the envy of all nations.  The United Nations had worked in the past few years to give NGOs more information and support –- especially through information technology.  “We shall continue trying to improve your access, though I know we shall sometimes fall short of your expectations.”  

    Ultimately, he said, decisions about the level of NGO participation would be up to Member States.  He believed that, in time, Members would agree that the Organization’s door must be opened.  He would personally keep doing all that he could to make that happen.

     Also addressing the opening session, President of the fifty-fourth session of the General Assembly, Theo-Ben Gurirab (Namibia), said that today there was a growing spirit of inclusion.  Governments and world leaders realized that NGOs must be active players and partners in achieving the goal of sustainable peace and development.  NGOs had proven to be effective in mobilizing the support of the international community for many worthy causes shared by Member States:  development, poverty eradication, human rights and humanitarian assistance. 

    “This Organization, quite simply, needs you and your innovative ideas, and all of us have come to see that we have shared agendas that require concerted efforts to advance”, he said.  “We all want to see a sober and solid partnership between the United Nations and NGOs, at all times”. The United Nations belonged to all its Member States and to “We the peoples”, including the NGOs.   “There is no escaping the fact that we are linked together on this ship of life”, he said.  “As such we will sink or swim together”.

    Kensaku Hogen, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, said the Conference would reflect the most experienced and diverse voices of the United Nations community, national and local Governments and civil society activists.  Their perspectives were connected by a deep commitment to the notion of partnership, in particular the working partnerships evolving between the Organization and civil society -- the best guarantee for the achievement of lasting peace and cooperation.  Participants would explore ways to move such partnerships from rhetoric to practice, which was one of the great challenges currently before the Organization.

    Statements in this morning's opening session were also made by:  Hanna Suchocka, Member of Parliament, Poland; Jaime Lerner, Governor of the State of Paraná, Brazil; Hanan Ashrawi, Secretary-General, Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy; Elaine Valdov, Chair, NGO/DPI Executive Committee; Dianne Dillon-Ridley, Chair, NGO/DPI Planning Committee; Afaz Mahfouz, President, Conference of NGOs in Consultative Relationship with the United Nations.

    The Conference will meet again this afternoon at 3 p.m. in Conference Room 4, when a panel discussion entitled "The 1990s:  Action Not Promises" will focus in the implementation of the action plans of the major United and NGO Conferences of the 1990s.

    The Fifty-third annual Department of Public Information (DPI)/Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Conference, entitled “Global Solidarity:  the Way to Peace and International Cooperation”, held its opening session in the General-Assembly Hall this morning.  For details see Press Release NGO/1732 of 24 August.

    Statements

     KENSAKU HOGEN, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, said the Conference would reflect the most experienced and diverse voices of the United Nations community, national and local Governments and civil society activists.  Their perspectives were connected by a deep commitment to the notion of partnership, in particular the working partnerships that were evolving between the Organization and civil society -- the best guarantee for the achievement of lasting peace and cooperation.  Participants would explore ways to move such partnerships from rhetoric to practice, which was one of the great challenges currently before the Organization.

     THEO-BEN GURIRAB (Namibia), President of the fifty-fourth session of the General Assembly, said the theme of this year’s DPI/NGO Conference -– Global Solidarity:  the Way to Peace and International Cooperation -– focused on making the growing partnerships between the United Nations and civil society a living reality.  The challenge over the next three days would be to discuss all aspects of that topic and make concrete suggestions for consideration and implementation by Member States as well as by business, labour and other stakeholders in civil society.

     He said that today there was a growing spirit of inclusion.  Governments and world leaders had realized that NGOs must be active players and partners for the achievement of the goal of sustainable peace and development.  The NGOs had proven to be effective in mobilizing the support of the international community for many worthy causes shared by Member States:  development, poverty eradication, human rights and humanitarian assistance.  “This Organization, quite simply, needs you and your innovative ideas, and all of us have come to see that we have shared agendas that require concerted efforts to advance”, he said.  “We all want to see a sober and solid partnership between the United Nations and NGOs, at all times”.  

     The Organization and Member States needed to identify complementary and constructive ways to respond to the growing involvement of civil society in the international arena.  The United Nations had responded by establishing an important new priority, namely to strengthen outreach to civil society in order to foster practical partnerships to fulfil the goals and mandates of the Organization.  At the conclusion of the Millennium Summit on 8 September, world leaders were expected to adopt an outcome document complete with renewed and collective commitment to, and a road map for, moving the United Nations towards realizing its goals of peace, human security, cooperation, poverty eradication and sustainable development.

     While that Declaration was addressed to Governments, he continued, NGOs could work to ensure that promises made therein were kept.  Another area where NGOs were uniquely positioned to make lasting contributions was the signing or ratification of the many outstanding treaties and conventions that had been adopted over the years.  “I look to you to do what you do so well:  galvanize Governments into action”, he said.  

     The question of humanitarian intervention was one on which Member States held a wide range of often conflicting views.  He was interested in knowing how discussions on that issue would evolve during the present conference.  At the beginning of his Presidency, he had highlighted a number of issues he believed the international community needed to address urgently.  Yet globalization, armed conflicts, gender equality, children affected by wars, the refugee crisis and the HIV/AIDS pandemic, were more pressing today than they were a year ago.  All of them posed tremendous challenges for Governments and civil society alike.  They required collaboration and resources in finding concrete solutions.

     In closing, he said the United Nations belonged to all its Member States and to “We the peoples”, including the NGOs.  “There is no escaping the fact that we are linked together on this ship of life”, he said.  “As such we will sink or swim together”.

     KOFI ANNAN, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said the beginning of the new millennium was the time to give real meaning to the concept of political will.  The globalizing age of today was also the age when there was a need for global partnerships.  When NGOs gathered last May for the Millennium Forum, they gave an example of the kind of leadership that was needed.  The result of that meeting was a Declaration and a Plan of Action which spoke eloquently and movingly about the biggest challenges of the time.  

     He said the Declaration was not only a resounding expression of support for the United Nations from the peoples of the world; it also spelled out an agenda very close to the set of objectives he had put to world leaders for consideration at the upcoming Summit.  The NGOs had raised serious concerns about some of the negative aspects of globalization. It had been said that arguing about globalization was like arguing against the law of gravity.  “But that does not mean that we should accept a law which allows only heavyweights to survive”, he said.  

    Globalization must be made into an engine that lifted people out of hardship and misery, and not a force that held them down.  Partnerships must be forged strong enough to ensure that the global market was embedded in broadly shared values and practices that reflected global needs, so that globalization could benefit all the world’s people.  That meant private corporations must be engaged in a search for something beyond short-term profit.

    He went on to say that it also meant bringing on board the entities that existed to help manage the world economy in the global mission to reduce poverty.  It also meant asking “our partners to be transparent, so the world can see that they are playing their part in full”.  The NGOs were “our best defence against complacency, our bravest campaigners for honesty and our boldest crusaders for change”.  The international community looked to the NGOs to continue the leadership displayed during the world conferences of the 1990s, when they set the pace on so many issues.  “We look to your skills in advocacy and in action.  We look to your experience in lobbying Governments to adopt policies, and in working with Governments as partners to ensure that policies are implemented”, he said.

    The United Nations had worked in the past few years to give NGOs more information and support -- especially through information technology.  “We shall continue trying to improve your access, though I know we shall sometimes fall short of your expectations”.  Ultimately, decisions about the level of NGO participation would be up to Member States.  He believed that, in time, Members would agree that the Organization’s door must be open.  He would personally keep doing all that he could to make that happen.

    He said he also knew that the relationship between the United Nations and civil society could never be measured merely by the numbers of NGOs attending global conferences of participating in meetings at Headquarters.  What mattered even more was what happened out there in the world and on the ground.  Whatever their main activity, NGOs had shown time and again a courage, a character and a vision that should be the envy of all nations.  When the NGOs joined together in alliances of the like-minded, coalitions of common causes, and “speak to us” in a united voice, it “helps us to help you”.  “Your voices will be heard, I promise you that.  We in the Secretariat will be listening attentively”, he said.

     HANNA SUCHOCKA, Member of Parliament of Poland, outlining the societal and political transformation of that country, said its emerging civil society was determined to function in the situation that existed within the State.  During the period of partitions, independent social ties had served to offset the greatest hardships of the system and to restrict State authority over society and the individual.  At that time, it was believed that one must organize against the State.  Meanwhile, in the countries of the West, the essence of a civic society had not been opposition to the State, but independence from it.  At its political transformation earlier in the last decade, that difference had influenced the genesis of NGOs in Poland.

     She said that a number of activists in the non-governmental sector were dissatisfied with the current legal system, especially the system of contracting public services.  That system gave priority to the principles of economic calculus rather than preference for NGOs.  Consequently, the continuing discussion in Poland on the role of NGOs had concentrated on concrete organizational problems and legislative proposals.  That dialogue did not have an ideological or philosophical character; it was taking place in an atmosphere of wholehearted acceptance of NGOs as instruments to expand democracy.  For example, the conferences held in the 1990s -- such as the recent World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting in Seattle -- had gone unnoticed by the NGOs in Poland.  However, the condition of the Polish non-governmental community did not reflect the popularity of liberal conceptions as a strong backlash to communism.  

     Polish reformers, and the architects of the country’s political transformation, acknowledged the role of the non-profit sector in the development and stabilization of democracy, she continued.  However, priority had been given to decentralization -- tasks had been transferred to local government and social care had been commercialized -- although local governments were reluctant to entrust tasks to non-profit organizations.  Furthermore, 10 years after its political transformation, Polish political elite still treated NGOs as significant but less important partners in public life.  Therefore, to achieve the position they deserved within the Polish State, NGOs would have to raise their level of professionalism and prove their integrity by increasing the transparency of their endeavours.

     JAIME LERNER, Governor of the State of Paraná of Brazil, stated that poverty, ignorance and the significant environmental problems affecting many people were unacceptable debts which could never be settled if a global, strategic effort was not put in place.  To achieve peace, ways to distribute wealth and knowledge more rapidly must be created through the participation of people of every nation.  Until now, solidarity had been just a remedial measure that failed to produce long lasting results.  Therefore, it was necessary to begin practicing solidarity as a preventive effort.  That would generate better opportunities for all persons.  The best solutions would grow from shared interests, such as the environment and market issues.

    The rich, he said, had contracted a large debt with the environment by depleting natural resources and producing pollution.  In the meantime, in poor countries, many people could only resort to nature for food.  The poor were also creditors of a greater social debt -- enormous financial debts that hindered their development.  In other words, everyone was a debtor -- which called for an all-encompassing settlement of accounts. 

    In that light, while compensation involving environmental currency was already being practiced, such action should be extended and implemented to be of greater social value, he continued.  The United Nations should create a solidarity bonus, whereby any country preserving the environment would issue an environmental bond to be exchanged for a social bond, which would be receivable either in the form of a financial debt rebate or as direct social investment.  That proposal could greatly reduce world poverty.  It was a fast relief formula to alleviate the suffering of the poor, and the rich would experience environmental gain and economic profit.  

     HANAN ASHRAWI, Secretary-General, Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy, said that during the intifada the decision to take risks and stand up to injustice had to be taken.  From a series of individual decisions there had been a move to a collective drive that challenged the status quo, changed it and upset the power equilibrium.  That was the result of self-confidence and self-respect from a people who demanded their rights and refused the role of perennial victims.  Equally, prevailing stereotypes and labels were destroyed and internal solidarity established.  That was the reality of Palestinians under occupation.  

    She said another experience was the peace process which was an even greater risk.  There, there had also been an individual willingness to take risks and explore an unorthodox course for peace rather then remain as passive victims of a war that was “not of your own making”.  The greatest global visions were generated by the most humble experiences and initiatives.  There had to be a willingness to step out of the safe havens of familiar relationships and beyond language characterized by platitudes and generalizations.  There must be an active will to pursue a new dynamic unhampered by complacency and static relationships, and in the process, to create fluidity and mobility.

     How could globalization be imbued with human values, she asked?  “How can we intervene in the process?  How can systems of accountability be set up and a moral code of ethics established to govern a globalization on the rampage and to address the human agenda?  The fact that there were now new definitions of power, authority and leadership meant that mobilization and intervention were possible.  The exploitation of the ignorance of people was no longer viable, because there was now access to information and technology. 

     She said the energy and power in the room today had to be mobilized, so that people were actively included in history rather than being just passive recipients of it.  The acceleration and compression of time, which were a constituent of globalization, could be used for "our benefit".  Speed, efficiency and timely intervention were now widely available and opened the door to effective integration and participation.  She also believed that all sorts of facile and simple definitions had been challenged by globalization, and concepts such as territory, geography and sovereignty had been laid wide open.  Issues like culpability and responsibility had to also be challenged, while the issue of "genuine responsibility" had to be examined.

     The other side of globalization was the celebration of pluralism and cultural diversification, she said.  Globalization could exist only if there was genuine respect for unique identity.  "We must claim our own domain in the rarified atmosphere of cyberspace", she asserted.  Also, new systems of accountability and intervention had to be looked at.  The system of Government responsibilities, which was a throwback to the nineteenth century, had to be redefined.  

     The road to peace, she said, must always precede the outbreak of conflict and violence.  Peace was a state of being that must exist -- war was the aggravation.  There were always peaceful conditions to prevent the outbreak of negative conflicts and hostilities.  All the elements of injustice that contributed to conflict were there in the making.  No conflict should therefore take anyone by surprise.

    She said it was not enough to say what was wrong with the status quo.  It was necessary to have viable alternatives that worked.  In addition, a definitive stance was needed to combat discrimination and injustice.  There was also no such thing as genuine neutrality -- that was hypocritical.  There was however a commitment to justice, since that was an area in which one could be neutral.

     Civil society had been the first to talk of human rights -- not IBM or Ford.  Civil society could cut across traditional defining boundaries and even territorial ones.  Palestinians were now striving for the legitimization of two cultures:  one of democracy and one of peace.  Issues were the rule of law, democracy, human rights, institutions and peacemaking based on justice and parity. Even though Palestine was not a State it must be recognized as an equal among nations, she stressed. 

     ELAINE VALDOV, Chair, NGO/DPI Executive Committee, expressed concern about the level of communication to be maintained with NGOs that did not have a presence at Headquarters.  The Executive Committee was working to heighten partnerships between those NGOs and the United Nations in order to strengthen outreach to more people around the world.  The convening of the Conference could be considered a celebration, because it demonstrated a cooperative effort to create global solidarity through the creation of a new diplomacy between civil society, governments and the United Nations.

     She said it was wise to have significant scientific data in order to guide NGO efforts to create a new global role.  It was possible for mankind to learn from past centuries, despite the negative examples of the past 50 years.  One future vision pointed to a world of widespread prosperity, peace and stability resulting from economic reform, technological innovation and the integration of developing regions into the global economy to create a market world.  On the other hand, the future might be a fortress world in which the rich became richer, leaving a large number of people behind.  In addition, the environment could become irreversibly degraded, and conflict, violence and instability were widespread.  And yet again we might be heading for a transformed world in which social and political change could lead to widespread sharing of power and prosperity, and markets could serve social, environment and economic goals.

     She went on to say that while no one could predict the future of the world, it must be remembered that a major global trend that was tipping the balance was the rapidly growing movement of the people working to create a world they would want to live in.  Non-governmental and civil society organizations, as well as the United Nations and its Member States, could summon the will and creativity to establish a future that could be called the transformed world.

     DIANNE DILLON-RIDGLEY, Chair, NGO/DPI Planning Committee, said  that the Conference was intended to focus on the world community.  As the final bridge to the Millennium Summit, NGOs realized that international cooperation, the political focus of that event, was broader than the United Nations.  That cooperation should also actively incorporate NGOs and civil society, including religious and spiritual associations, in re-examining and restarting a new global vision.  To that end, a self-conscious society exemplified by the global meetings of the past decade should be created.  While the forces of globalization could be very rough in 2000, enough should be learned from them to embrace the importance of human nature.

     AFAZ MAHFOUZ, President, Conference of NGOs in Consultative Relationship with the United Nations (CONGO), stated that the work of NGOs was helping to change the face of societies, in particular the way the public and private sector entities functioned.  Another important indication of the change was that at least two important Heads of State were individuals with former NGO experience, individuals for whom such organizations had campaigned actively while they themselves were imprisoned.  In addition, academic institutions in North America and in Europe had included the work of NGOs in their curricula.  

     She said there was a need to help strengthen the solidarity of NGOs at the regional and subregional level.  That realization had emerged from an Africa-wide consultation of NGOs held in 1998.  Strong regional networks would facilitate communication all the way from local levels to global decision-making.  The NGOs themselves had a responsibility to strengthen their working relationship in order to ensure more effective solidarity nationally, regionally and internationally.  The discussions to be undertaken in the next few days would provide insight on future effective actions to reach an ultimate goal of true international peace.

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