Global Policy Forum

NGO Access at the UN

Given the diverse nature and large number of NGOs, relations between NGOs and the UN have at times been stormy. NGOs face a constant battle to be heard at the UN, and often must compete with businesses and other private sector organizations toward which the UN is increasingly friendly. While some NGOs enjoy excellent access to meetings and good relations with UN officials and delegations, governments sometimes react negatively to NGO advocacy and seek to restrict NGO opportunities.  Access has long been at the forefront of NGOs' struggle at the UN, especially in attempts to gain consultative status in UN bodies or the right to view UN documents through the Official Document System.

2013 | 2011 |2010| 2009| 2006| 2005| 2004| 2001 | 1999


In a report commissioned by UN DESA/DSD Major Groups Programme in response to the Rio+20 outcome document, Barbara Adams and Lou Pingeot (Policy Advisors at GPF but acting in their personal capacities) take stock of the reviews of the history of Major Groups' engagement with the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) and highlight examples of best practices that were deemed successful and efficient and those that did not work. Furthermore, they identify lessons learned from the experience and concerns raised by participants interviewed in the preparation of the report. Although the study finds support for the Major Groups framework, it also denotes serious issues and concerns - not all specific to the Major Groups framework - that should be addressed in a future interface with the high level political forum that will be replacing the CSD from September 2013 onwards. Finally, the study highlights best practices emerging from the CSD experience and other UN processes that should be replicated. Options and recommendations for consideration by Member States, the UN, Major Groups and other stakeholders are identified throughout and highlighted in the conclusion. (UN DESA/DSD Major Groups Programme)


Remarks to Non-Governmental Organizations (October 26, 2011)

On October 26, 2011, Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon addressed a group of UN based NGOs on his vision and priorities for his second term. Several NGOs felt the event was not well advertised, and that the Secretary General did not offer any concrete responses to ongoing NGO issues of access to the UN. (UN News Centre)

NGOs Political Outcasts at High-Level UN Meetings (September 12, 2011)

Thousands of NGOs are being denied access to high-level meetings during the UN General Assembly from September 20 to October 3, 2011, despite having UN issued passes. Though NGOs have consistently played an important role at the UN and were once described by a former UN Secretary-General as the world’s “third superpower,” the UN has barred NGOs from the GA for “security purposes.” The UN has long depended on the “advocacy skills, creative resources, and grassroots reach” of various NGOs. By blocking their access to these meetings—many on topics that NGOs specialize on— the UN is hindering its ability to effectively address global issues. (IPS Terraviva)

Record Number of NGOs seeking participation in the UN (January 31, 2011)

During the 2011 regular session of the Committee on NGOs, a committee of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) announced that a record number of NGOs are applying for ECOSOC consultative status. Though the number of applications has increased, the UN has continues to refuse to formally address the significance of NGO participation at the UN and has neglected to consult NGOs on issues of NGO access, participation, and accreditation. (DESA)

Letter from the NGO Working Group on UN Access to the Secretary General Ban Ki -moon (January 18, 2011)

The NGO Working Group on UN Access, of which Global Policy Forum is a co-convenor, sent a letter to the Secretary General on improving NGO access at the UN.  The letter highlighted a number of serious access problems. The Working Group is particularly concerned with ensuring NGO-UN consultation on matters that affect the NGO community – on the basis of the principle “Nothing about us without us!”


Letter from Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to the NGO Working Group on UN Access (March 30, 2010)

Global Policy Forum and partners have recently received a letter from Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on the topic of NGO access to the UN. The SG was responding to a letter from the NGO Working Group on UN Access - of which Global Policy Forum Director Jim Paul is co-convener - highlighting the erosion of NGO access and proposing solutions. Ban's letter was brief and very low in content.  It did nothing to dispel the NGO community's worries about being cold shouldered, at a time when the Capital Master Plan for UN renovation is reducing space for NGO activity and providing a handy excuse for exclusion.
(To read letter to the Secretary General, click here .)


UN Shuts Out NGO after China Objects (July 28, 2009)

The Dynamic Christian World Mission Foundation has been unsuccessful in its application for ECOSOC consultative status. Due to its refusal to disclose membership information, the organization faces strong opposition from the Chinese government. NGOs have criticized the Committee's decision by arguing that it obstructs freedom of religion, education, and human rights. US delegate John Sammis also describes the decision as "embarrassing." (CNSNews)


Response to Advisors' Report to the President of the 60th General Assembly on the Relationship between Member States and NGOs (September 1, 2006)

In this statement, a group of NGOs, including Global Policy Forum, responds to the recommendations of Ambassadors Johan Lovald of Norway and Rezlan Jenie of Indonesia for boosting NGO participation at the General Assembly (GA). The text reflects on past NGO contributions to the work of the UN, reiterates calls for regular status with the GA and also opposes the use of the Cardoso report as a "basis for policy." The NGOs request a formal and open process, instead of just hearings, to foster sustained dialogue between Member States and NGOs.

Report to the President of the 60th General Assembly on the Relationship between Member States and NGOs (July 5, 2006)

In a report to General Assembly President Jan Eliasson, Ambassadors Johan Lovald of Norway and Rezlan Jenie of Indonesia advise on how to enhance NGO relations with the General Assembly. After consultation with Member States and NGOs, the report recommends some possible avenues, but comes short of specific plans and skirts important issues such as means for regular consultations between NGOs and Member States.

Letter from President of General Assembly to Member States on UN-NGO Relations (May 18, 2006)

In this letter distributed to Member States, President of the 60th General Assembly Jan Eliasson announces his intention to explore ways to enhance NGO participation at the UN, and the General Assembly in particular. Eliasson has appointed Ambassadors Johan Lovald of Norway and Rezlan Jenie of Indonesia as his personal advisers.

Paper on NGO Participation at the United Nations (March 28, 2006)

A group of NGOs, including Global Policy Forum, has submitted a letter to the General Assembly President calling for improved NGO access and participation at the UN. The list of ten recommendations includes access to the new Human Rights Council, Peacebuilding Commission and the General Assembly, as well as better support for NGLS and the appointment of a high-level person on NGO affairs in the Executive Office of the Secretary General. The text emphasizes that while NGO hearings by UN bodies may have a value, they should not be used "as a fig leaf to conceal the lack of more extensive forms of NGO participation."

Civil Society Wonders What Role it Will Play in New UN Council (March 24, 2006)

NGOs remain unclear about the role they will play in the new Human Rights Council. Only one NGO representative has been permitted to speak at the Human Rights Commission's closing ceremonies, but the speaker will affirm NGOs commitment to the Council and speak out against exclusion of civil society from the new Council. (Inter Press Service)

Geneva NGOs Brace for New UN Rights Body (March 23, 2006)

Swiss Info writes that NGOs face an increased challenge in playing an active role in the new Human Rights Council. NGOs with smaller budgets, particularly those from developing countries will encounter problems with ensuring a presence in Geneva at the more frequent Council sittings. The article argues NGOs also face "certain regimes hostile to human rights" that aim to suppress NGO activities in the Council.

Charting New Ways of Participation: Is it Time for a Parliamentary Assembly at the UN (February 22, 2006)

CIVICUS recommends the creation of a UN Parliamentary Assembly to make the UN more democratic and increase the participation of civil society. In the initial stages the body could hold consultative status with the UN in co-operative agreement with the General Assembly, progressing to an assembly elected by "the peoples of the world." Although an ambitious proposal, the article believes such a body would provide a "vital link" between the UN, system, parliaments and civil society in a way that has not so far been possible.


UN: NGOs Seek Louder Voice in New Rights Body (July 29, 2005)

Because UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has left most details on the forthcoming Human Rights Council for member states to decide after the High-Level September summit, many NGOs are worried that they will be excluded from the deliberations leading to the Council's formation. (Inter Press Service)

Civil Society in Chile Sceptical about Reforms (July 26, 2005)

NGOs in Chile are dissatisfied with the slow progress made towards implementing the Millennium Development Goals, and disapprove of the apparent shift in focus of the September 2005 UN Summit from development to UN reform and terrorism. Exponents of civil society also express resentment about the limited role the UN concedes to NGOs, explaining that "it is not possible to have an orderly world" without civil society's cooperation. (Inter Press Service)

NGOs Hope First Date Wasn't Just a One-Night Stand (June 24, 2005)

Following unprecedented UN General Assembly civil society hearings, NGOs express the need for more regular interaction with the United Nations. Many organizations are disappointed about their current degree of participation in UN decision-making, and stress that they would play an essential role in addressing the "lack of connectivity between documents and action on the ground." (Inter Press Service)

UN Hosts Historic Session with Civil Society (June 22, 2005)

The UN General Assembly hosts landmark hearings with civil society organizations to discuss the themes in Secretary General Kofi Annan's report "In Larger Freedom." While the sessions are a great achievement for NGOs, many doubt the impact they will have on the September summit outcome document, and some organizations question the UN's selection criteria of participants. (Inter Press Service)

Brazilian Draft Resolution on UN-Civil Society Relations (February 16, 2005)

In this draft resolution on UN-civil society relations following up on the Cardoso report, the Brazilian delegation invites NGOs to participate in General Assembly (GA) main committee meetings and offers informal, interactive hearings before major events, but stops short of calling for NGO participation in the GA's annual plenary meeting. The resolution also welcomes the trust fund for NGOs particularly of developing countries, and decides to establish a working group to analyze a single NGO accreditation system at the UN.



UN Should Forge Stronger Ties with Civil Society, Deputy Secretary-General Says (October 4, 2004)

In a General Assembly debate on the Cardoso Panel report, Deputy Secretary General Louise Fréchette reiterated the Secretary General's call for the GA to incorporate NGOs into its regular business. She also supported increased NGO access to documents and information. Better NGO-UN relations, said Fréchette, could "help improve the services we provide to the world's people." (UN News)

NGOs are Side-Lined from Top UN Human Rights Meeting (March 16, 2004)

The United Nations has marginalized NGO interaction with delegates during the Commission on Human Rights under the pretext of security concerns. NGOs which were blocked from accessing the plenary floor, charge that the restriction risks destroying the credibility of the Commission and prevents NGO advocacy possibilities. (Franciscans International)


NGOs and Global Conferences (May 18, 2001)

Beginning with the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, this report provides detailed information on formal rules for NGO involvement in UN conferences, focusing on the issues of NGO accreditation, modalities of participation, and relations with Member States. (Office of the President of the General Assembly of the UN)


"NGO Access at the UN" (July 1999)

A narrative account of NGO access covering the period from 1996 to 1999 with many links to further information.

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