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    For information only - not an official document.
    Press Release No: UNIS/PI/211
    Release Date: 29 August 2000
    DPI/NGO Conference Hears Panel Discusssion on Implementation 
    Of Action Plans Of Major 1990s United Nations and NGO Conferences
     
     

    NEW YORK, 28 August (UN Headquarters) -- Perhaps one of the most important things to happen in the 1990s had been the tremendous increase in involvement by non-governmental organizations (NGOs), not only in the United Nations, but also in international affairs, Nitin Desai, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, said this afternoon at the first panel discussion of the Fifty-third Annual Department of Public Information (DPI)/NGO Conference.

    The Panel discussion, entitled "The 1990s:  Action Not Promises", focused on the implementation of the action plans of the major United Nations and NGO conferences of the 1990s.

    Mr. Desai went on to say that the 1990s had been qualitatively and quantitatively different from anything that had been experienced in the past.  A new dimension had been brought into international relations:  that of groups examining problems not from the perspective of national interest but from issue-based perspectives.  That new element had had a profound effect on the conference process and was clearly one of the most important outcomes of the 1990s.  The subsequent changes had modified the ways in which international politics functioned.

    Anwarul Karim Chowdhury (Bangladesh), Moderator of the Panel, said that the Organization realized that the skills of NGOs were needed to ensure that all could live in greater freedom.  The Conferences held during the last decade had been indicative of that realization, and their fulfillment could begin with a coordinated and integrated approach in which NGOs played a part as both partners and advocates.  The question was how that partnership could be institutionalized at the international level. 

    Ann Pettifor, Director, Jubilee 2000 Coalition United Kingdom, said that at the moment, there was a grievous gap in relations between international creditors and national debtors.  To close that gap, a new process incorporating justice and forgiveness was needed.  The authorities of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) must play a major role in that process.  That organization currently played the role of witness, plaintiff, judge and jury in the court of international finance, leading to reckless lending and borrowing.

    Eimi Watanabe, Assistant Administrator and Director of the Bureau for Development Policy at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), said NGO involvement in monitoring was important.   Such involvement not only ensured that progress was made in achieving goals, but also helped ascertain whether national policies were being applied at the national level.  The NGOs made sure that national laws were being formulated in line with international commitments and verified whether national budgets were being revised to reflect commitments made by Governments. 

    A statement was also made by Anne Walker, Executive Director, International Women's Tribune Centre.

    The Conference will meet again at 10 a.m. tomorrow, 29 August, to hold a panel discussion entitled "The New Democratic Diplomacy:  Civil Society as Partner with the United Nations and Governments".

    Conference Work Programme

    The Department of Public Information/Non Governmental Organization Conference met this afternoon to hold a panel discussion entitled “The 1990s:  Action Not Promise”.  The panel will focus on the implementation of the action plans of the major United Nations and NGO conferences of the 1990s, and will concentrate on how NGOs can work in cross-sectoral civil society campaigns to mobilize the necessary political will and financial resources.  The main objective will be to discuss how to set priorities for those campaigns and how to carry them out.

    Panelists will include:  Jacques Bugnicourt, Executive Secretary, Environmental Development in the Third World; Nitin Desai, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, United Nations; Koichiro Matsuura, Director–General, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); Ann Pettifor, Director, Jubilee 2000 Coalition, United Kingdom; Eimi Watanabe, Assistant Administrator and Director, Bureau for Development Policy, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP); and Anne Walker, Executive Director, International Women’s Tribune Centre.  Anwarul Karim Chowdhury, Permanent Representative of Bangladesh, will moderate the Panel.

    For background details of the Fifty-third Annual DPI/NGO Conference and the opening session this morning see press releases NGO/372 of 24 August and NGO/373 of 28 August.

    Statements

    ANWARUL KARIM CHOWDHURY (Bangladesh) said that the United Nations Charter reflected the spirit of NGOs through the use of the words “we the peoples”.  The NGOs were becoming a stronger force through the spread of democracy, advances of technology and the inter-connective forces of globalization.  The role of States as actors had changed, and their usefulness had become more marked in the global world in the role of provider.  Currently, there was a need for stronger States, so that effective partnerships with civil society could be built.  

    The United Nations had continued to build its partnerships with NGOs, he said.  The Organization realized that NGO skills were required so that all could live in greater freedom.  The Conferences that had been held during the last decade were indicative of that realization, and their fulfillment could now begin with a coordinated and integrated approach.  There was no merit in embarking on an exclusive approach. Economic and social factors must therefore be combined.  In addition, a coordinated approach to implementation was necessary, with NGOs functioning as partners and advocates.  The question was how that partnership could be institutionalized at the international level.  

    He said that there should be full and formal representation of NGOs within the United Nations.  The intergovernmental nature of the Organization did not exclude people’s organizations.  The NGOs had a wealth of information gathered from years of experience on the ground, and their advocacy and coalitions were also necessary for encouraging adherence to international and legal instruments and treaties, such as the Statute of the International Criminal Court.  Furthermore, four elements were critical for reflecting the aspirations of NGOs.  They needed to have recourse to better advocacy, more energy to build informed constituencies, and more networking skills and partnerships for effective implementation of action.  

    NITIN DESAI, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, said that perhaps one of the most important things to happen in the 1990s was the tremendous increase in involvement by NGOs, not only in the United Nations, but also in international affairs.  The 1990s were qualitatively and quantitatively different from what had been experienced in the past.  A new dimension had been brought into international relations that was missing from prior approaches:  that of groups examining problems not from national interest but from issue-based perspectives. 

    That new element, he continued, had had a profound effect on the conference process and was clearly one of the most important outcomes of the 1990s.  The subsequent changes had modified the ways in which international politics functioned.  The NGOs, for example, were responsible for the landmines treaty.  Today, the fact that debt relief was on the agenda of the highest forums was due to the efforts of coalitions of NGOs.  He also cited the coalitions behind the International Criminal Court and the issue of child soldiers.

    He said the fact was that in most cases, the conferences of the 1990s did succeed in raising the level at which certain key issues were examined.  The 1980s had had no real time for poverty eradication or debt relief.  The advancement of women was always treated as a subsidiary issue.  That had all changed enormously in the 1990s.  Those issues were now receiving attention at the level of Prime Ministers and Presidents.  Issues that were once on the periphery of policy making at global and national levels were now being brought into the central policy domain.  International organizations now had a clear programmatic agenda to pursue.  

    Those, however, were just some of the big picture gains.  Addressing the shortfalls, he said each conference was not just looking to place issues at the top of the policy agenda.  There was an additional purpose:  to link issues with the mainstream of development policy.  New ideas were expected to re-energize the mechanics of development assistance and other related areas.  He cautioned, however, against insisting on action and arguing that getting agreements in words was not enough.  He warned against underestimating verbal agreements of words.  Values were important, and so by extension were shared values articulated in words. 

    ANN PETTIFOR, Director, Jubilee 2000 Coalition UK, said the processes of globalization involved the flow of finance.  If limits were not set for the flow, catastrophe would be the result, particularly in the area of debt.  At the moment, there was a grievous gap in relations between international creditors and national debtors.  To close that gap, a new process incorporating justice and forgiveness was needed.  The authorities of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) must play a major role in that process.  That organization currently played the role of witness, plaintiff, judge and jury in the court of international finance, leading to reckless lending and borrowing. 

    In his Millennium report, the Secretary-General had proposed that a new approach could be considered in the future, in the form of a debt arbitration process to balance the role of sovereign creditors and national debtors.  However, a number of NGOs, including the one she represented, usually encountered extreme bureaucratic procedures in their relations with the United Nations.  For example, her organization found it difficult to acquire accreditation with the Economic and Social Council.  While the United Nations could play a pivotal role in implementing the Secretary-General’s proposal, there was no time for debate on the issue when countries were disintegrating in insolvency.  An independent person should be appointed to oversee the levels of indebtedness, determine priorities and impose and monitor conditions for debt cancellation.  The United Nations could provide the framework for the process with the involvement of NGOs. 

    EIMI WATANABE, Assistant Administrator and Director of the Bureau for Development Policy at UNDP, said it was in the context of the globalization process -– where actions and decisions taken outside of one’s borders had negative and positive impacts within the country -- that issue-oriented coalitions of NGOs became particularly important.

    She could not stress enough the importance of having targets and goals.  Specific goals that could be monitored would enable civil society to establish what goals were being achieved, identify goals and attribute responsibility for what was not being done.  Targets and goals were not only important in terms of national and international planning.  They were also important in indicating what was happening at the sub-national level in areas such as gender, for example.

    Turning to actions at the local level, she said the conferences of the 1990s pointed to the fact that the old adage “think globally, act locally” must change to “think globally -- act locally, nationally and globally”.  The 1992 Rio Conference was the first where development, the environment and poverty eradication came together and resulted in Agenda 21.  That agenda was not only a global-level programme of action, but also encouraged countries to develop local-level programmes of action.  Two-thousand and two would bring in the 10-year review of the Rio Conference.  It was important that the local-level process be put on the agenda.

    She said NGO involvement in monitoring was important. It not only ensured that progress was made in achieving goals, but also ascertained whether national policies were being applied at the national level.  The NGOs made sure that national laws were being formulated in line with international commitments and verified whether national budgets were being revised to reflect commitments made by Governments.  That was a key role for the NGO sector.

    Addressing the partnership between UNDP and NGOs, she said her organization saw itself as uniquely positioned because it had a global, regional and country-level presence and role.  The regional and global presence made the organization a very useful partner for NGOs.

    ANNE WALKER, Executive Director, International Women’s Tribune Centre, addressing attempts by women’s groups to provide information through the use of modern technology, made brief comments on an Internet project that had its origins during “Beijing + 5”.  She said that at that event, it became clear that many women needed a voice as well as more information on what was being done by NGOs regarding gender issues.  Although it was realized that most women had no access to the Internet, a group of women had decided to use that medium with the hope that a system could be established to incorporate global and regional Web sites to continue the Beijing + 5 discussion.

    She noted that the Web sites, which addressed 12 issues, were also used as a clearing-house for information on United Nations plans and to discuss NGO access to the Organization’s meetings.  To enable women’s access to the Internet, about 42 workshops and training courses had already been conducted around the world. 

    Questions and Answers

    What could the Millennium Summit do to strengthen international democratic accountability?

    MS. WATANABE said that was exactly the sort of area where partnerships and networks were needed, not just with NGOs but with like-minded international organizations such as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).  That organization, for example, was currently working on the transparency and corruption of governments.

    MS. PETTIFOR said one had to go back to looking at what could be done at both the nation-State and the regional level.  The issue of corruption was important in the latter regard.  Washington could not monitor events in Harare or Kampala.  Monitoring had to be done locally.  Societies therefore had to be strengthened to do that.

    The greatest recent step for peace was the meeting between the leaders of the Republic of Korea and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea --  what part did the United Nations play in bringing that about?

    MR. CHOWDHURY said the leadership of the two States took a really bold step in that conviction that it was high time to come together to talk about peace.  The conditions in both countries were so hard that they felt such a step was needed. 

    In terms of Jubilee Justice, did the role played by Pope John Paul III and other spiritual leaders have a salutary effect on the cancellation of debts by financial institutions?

    MS. PETTIFOR said yes, the leaders of the Catholic, Protestant and other faiths had contributed to that.  The religious leaders, she said had reasserted the primacy of moral obligations.

    How are priorities set for campaigns and how are they carried out?  

    Ms. WALKER said every campaign that she had been part of had been a pressing concern -– that was not unusual.  

    According to the 2000 Poverty Report, one of the reasons for poverty was lack of empowerment.  Therefore, how could NGOs work to help empower the poor?

    Ms. WATANABE said the role of the UNDP was to strengthen NGOs that worked at the country level.  For instance, the organization supported the development of national laws and the creation of umbrella organizations.  The job of empowerment should be the responsibility of national NGOs.  

    How successful was the concept and practice of “debt swaps”?

    Ms. PETTIFOR said debt swaps were very marginal, and represented a very small proportion of overall debt.  It also introduced unfair conditions.  They were a very small solution to a part of the problem.

    How could debt cancellation avoid the derailing of capital investments to developing countries?

    Ms. PETTIFOR said that debt restructuring was a healthier alternative. Restructuring had to take place when a country lost its capacity to pay.  It would also contribute to the development of the global economy.

    Was it not time to establish a mechanism for the United Nations to support national-level NGOs?

    Ms. WATANABE said partnership with those organizations were critical to the work of the United Nations.  Internal procedures had already established collaborative ways to channel resources to NGOs.  Recently, an advisory body to the Administrator had been formed to advise on areas which could be strengthened, and to provide information on what was already being done.  

    Some NGOs felt crippled by isolation from other such organizations.  What could be done to achieve concerted action?

    Ms. PETTIFOR said the problem was a major challenge for her organization.  Many organizations felt that if they joined a coalition it would diminish their visibility.  There was also antipathy among NGO activists, as if they felt that everything should be run from the grassroots.  Forming coalitions for major concerns was the way forward, but they required strong leadership and vision.

    Countries recently freed from communism hardly tried to get into democracy.  The most difficult problem was raising funds to survive and organize necessary projects.  They needed hints on acquiring skills to raise money.

    Mr. CHOWDHURY said that a number of the United Nations operational bodies were working in those countries -– for example UNDP, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).  Resources were being diverted through NGO programmes.  The NGOs were being empowered to stand alone, advocate effectively, raise funds and create decision-making centres.

    Ms. WATANABE said bilateral donors, if there were any in a specific country, were also sources of funding since many of them had specific pockets of funds set aside for national NGOs.  There were also foundations, which were good sources of funding as well.

    One feature of the conferences of the 1990s was the inadequate presence and representation of youth.  How could those groups be more involved in United Nations proceedings?

    Mr. CHOWDHURY said that in many of the follow-up conferences, Cairo for example, there were special youth forums.  Reports from such group were finally incorporated into larger NGO reports.

    Ms. WALKER said informing young people with information that included them in agenda setting, and speaking to them in their own language would do a lot to get young people involved.  Their involvement could be tremendously energizing.

    What other ways could NGOs and other individuals assist Jubilee 2000?  Had Jubilee 2000 developed any critical criteria for debt relief?  What kind of debt-relief action was taking place in the poorer countries?  How did Jubilee 2000 manage to mobilize millions of dollars world wide?

    Ms. PETTIFOR said the year 2000 was Jubilee 2000’s deadline.  The focus was first on the Millennium Summit and then Prague.  Both the IMF and the World Bank were going there and so was Jubilee 2000.  For those who could not make it to those events, they could access them on the Web under the campaign “drop the debt”.

    She said at the beginning, Jubilee 2000 was against conditions being imposed by creditors in return for debt relief.  She cited open markets and liberalized economies as two such conditions.  Jubilee 2000, however, had been lobbied by countries from the South, who wanted tough conditions for debt relief.  

    They wanted the elite of their countries to come under tough controls, she continued.  They wanted those conditions, however, to be determined in the indebted nations by the indebted people.  They also wanted the conditions to become mechanisms for establishing democratic accountability.  Of course, it would not be done completely locally, since creditors and donors would want to be involved.  That was why the United Nations should be engaged in overseeing the process. 

    Several agencies in developing countries still ignored NGOs -- could you comment?  How could the United Nations be reformed to go beyond promises to action?

    Mr. DESAI said it was not policy for NGOs to be ignored by United Nations agencies.  As far as the Organization was concerned, tackling the areas of humanitarian work, advocacy, human rights and women’s issues would be impossible without close collaboration with those organizations.  The Organization needed to establish its credibility and it had been addressing that key issue during the 1990s by engaging civil society.  

    The work of the United Nations must also influence those in power, such as the Bretton Woods institutions and major corporations, he stressed.  Furthermore, the Bretton Woods institutions were already coming to the Organization.  The United Nations agenda for issues on the environment and social progress, among others, were included in the programmes of those large corporations, and they realized they needed the political process, which it would provide, for implementation.  While the Organization did not legislate, it shaped other legislative and executive forums.

    Could an email network be immediately established for collaboration on similar issues and interests?

    Yes, Ms. WALKER said.  But to do so would require that a process be put in place.  This had been done as a part of one of the training workshops in Seoul and she could facilitate such a process for anyone who was interested.

    Could a concrete example of local Agenda 21 be provided?

    Ms. WATANABE said the Department of Economic and Social Affairs had conducted a study on country actions in the implementation of local Agenda 21.  A Web site gave its findings.  Turkey was a prime example of its implementation, and it was noteworthy that women constituted more than half of the heads of civil society organizations.  Kenya too had a specific programme based on grassroots consultations and trust-building processes to address sustainable development issues for local communities.  

    What was being done for the thousands of indigenous women, particularly those belonging to the Chiapas tribe in Mexico?

    Mr. CHOWDHURY said that the Millennium Summit document, still to be completed, had not yet focused on indigenous women. 

    Mr. DESAI said the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women would establish a mechanism for individual complaints to the expert Committee dealing with such questions.  Indigenous women could resort to the instrument and claim that right.  

    Ms. WALKER said that indigenous women had become a powerful force, especially since Beijing, and the plight of the Chiapas women in Mexico occupied a portion of their agenda.

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