Global Policy Forum

NGOs and UN Main Bodies


According to the UN Charter, the participation of NGOs in the UN is limited to ECOSOC, which is the governing body that also establishes procedures of accreditation and suspension for NGOs.

Notes On The Discussion Held April 28 With Members of The ECOSOC Committee On NGOs (April 28, 2000)

Several points from the Committee's previous January 26th meeting were rehashed and new concerns were voiced. These included the issue of the UN's managing of funds for Southern NGOs and NGO access concerns. Additionally, the question of "what can NGOs contribute to the work of ECOSOC?" was addressed.

ECOSOC Concludes NGO Review (November 1996)

The NGLS Roundup covers the ECOSOC review of arrangments for consultation with NGOs from 1993 to June 1996. An article by the UN's Non-Governmental Liaison Service (NGLS) summarizing the ECOSOC decision on new rules for consultative status for NGOs.

NGO Arrangements for Consultation with ECOSOC

Posts press release issued upon completion of the negotiations for new consultation arrangements on 25 July 1996, as well as the two new documents that emerged, a list of organizations in consultation, and more.

ECOSOC Review (E\1993\80)

Review of the Arrangements for Consultation with Non-Governmental Organizations

ECOSOC Resolution (E\1996\31)

This Resolution reviews arrangements for a consultative relationship between the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations and non-governmental organizations.

ECOSOC Decision on Non-Governmental Organizations (E\1996\297)

This Resolution calls on the General Assembly to examine, at its fifty-first session, the question of the participation of NGOs in all areas of the work of the United Nations.

NGOs and the General Assembly

Since NGOs gained wider consultative status in ECOSOC in 1996, they have pushed for consultative status in the General Assembly, its main committees and other subsidiary bodies. But governments balked, and many NGOs still do not have rights with the GA.

NGOs have worked with the UN General Assembly (GA) since the earliest days of the United Nations. They have attended meetings of GA committees and other subsidiary bodies, as well as meetings of the GA itself. Some NGO leaders have even addressed the GA (meeting as a committee of the whole). In 1996, after the conclusion of negotiations for broader NGO rights within ECOSOC, NGOs hoped that they would at last gain some kind of consultative status with the General Assembly. But though there have been many discussions and negotiations, progress has been very slow. This page provides links to various documents on the subject.

Key Documents | NGOs & the GA | The GA Resolution | Support Letters | Background | US Proposals at ECOSOC | The Kamal Sub-Group | Statement and Reports of Meetings | Reform Initiatives

Key Documents

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 conveys reservations about 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 participation with the General Assembly. After consultation with Member States and NGOs, the report recommends some possible avenues, but comes short of specific implementation plans and skirts important issues such as the establishment of a mechanism 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 General Assembly should formalize consultative arrangements with NGOs, which at present are primarily informal and ad hoc. "A formal role for NGOs should be arranged on a more permanent basis, in particular for the standing committees."

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.

Letter to the Secretary General on Civil Society Participation in the GA Summit (November 12, 2004)

The UN's Millennium Declaration called for "strong partnerships" with "civil society organizations," and an additional statement on the 2005 General Assembly plenary meeting stated that preparations for the meeting would be "open, inclusive and transparent." This letter's signatories, who include Global Policy Forum Europe Director Jens Martens, say other measures in the report actually restrict NGO participation. The letter argues that NGO engagement would promote action on the Millennium Development Goals and includes several already-tested suggestions for involvement in the summit.

Proposed General Assembly NGO Resolution on NGO participation in the UN General Assembly (May, 2000)

NGOs and the General Assembly

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)

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 incorporation of NGO contributions into the General Assembly's 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)

Working Group on UN Conference Follow-Up Fails to Include NGOs (December 17, 2002)

The General Assembly adopted a draft resolution that established a working group to follow-up on UN conferences in the economic and social fields. The final resolution does not include any provisions for NGOs, but NGOs still hope that the President and Chairs will allow them monitoring rights. (International NGO Task Group on Legal and Institutional Matters)

UN Civil Society Outreach Symposium (June 1, 2001)

This paper emphasizes the need to allow greater NGO participation in UN policy development. It addresses issues such as extending NGO consultative status to the General Assembly and increasing the ability of Southern NGOs operating at a grass-roots level to be heard at the UN. (Stanley Foundation)

The GA Resolution

CONGO's Version of a GA NGO Resolution

Support the NGO GA Resolution!

The World Federalist Movement is chair of the International NGO Task Group on Legal and Institutional Matters (INTGLIM) leading the campaign for NGO consultative status in the GA. Click here for more information supporting the GA NGO Resolution.

Partial List of NGO Supporters of the GA NGO Resolution

Support Letters From NGOs

Open letters to Member States of the UN supporting the proposed General Assembly NGO Resolution to advance the crucial relationship between the UN and civil society

Letter From Amnesty International (March 23, 2001)

Letter From the Basel Action Network (February 1, 2001)

Letter from the Institute for Agriculture and Trace Policy (November 21, 2000)

Letter from Greenpeace (August 31, 2000)


UN Legislative History of the GA Resolution on NGOs

GA President Calls For New Relationship Between UN and Civil Society (November 6, 2000)

The GA President declared that one of his priorities is to enhance the participation of Civil Society in the UN. Will this declaration actually lead to concrete improvements? (UN Press Release)

William R. Pace, Chair of INTGLIM, on NGO participation in the General Assembly (May 3, 1999)

Canada-Netherlands Initiative at the General Assembly

Final Text of General Assembly Decision (A/53/L.68)


General Assembly Adopts Canadian Resolution on the Role of NGOs (December 17, 1998)


General Assembly Adopts Decision for SG Study on NGO Access (December 19, 1997)

Canada Draft Decision (December 17, 1997)


Informal Consultations on NGOs Conclude (December 17, 1997)


Report on 15 December Meeting of Governments on NGO Access (December 15, 1997)


Report on 11 December Informal Government Consultations on NGO Access (December 11, 1997)

Report on 9 December Meeting of Governments on NGO Access (December 9, 1997)

Report on 8 December Meeting of Governments on NGO Access (December 8, 1997)

Update on NGO Access (October 27, 1997)

Draft Canadian Text on the Secretary General's Report on NGOs (December 3, 1998)

US Proposals at ECOSOC

INTGLIM Memo Analyzing the US Resolution (July 15, 1997)

Draft US Resolution at ECOSOC on NGO Accreditation (July 1997)

The Kamal Sub-Group

Speaking Notes of Amb. Kamal for Sub-Group Meeting (May 5, 1997)

NGO Statement to the Sub-Group (February 4, 1997)

Speaking Notes of Amb. Kamal for Sub-Group Meeting with NGOs (February 4, 1997)

"Essy Group" Sets up Sub-Group on NGO Consultation,(January 23, 1997)

Statements and Reports of Meetings

Statement of President of the GA (December 17, 1996)

Report on Soundings Meeting (December 11, 1996)

Speaking Notes of Amb. Kamal for "Soundings" with Governments (December 11, 1996)

Report on Soundings Meeting (December 9, 1996)

Statement on NGOs and the General Assembly by the World Federalist Movement Delivered at the Kamal NGO "Sounding" (December 9, 1996)

Speaking Notes of Amb. Kamal for "Soundings" with NGOs (December 9, 1996)

Speaking Notes of Amb. Kamal for "Soundings" with Governments (December 2, 1996)

Reform Initiatives

"NGOs and the UN: an evolving partnership" by the World Federalists of Canada (November 1996)

"NGOs and the Democratization of the UN" by the World Federalist Movement (October 1996)

Enlarging the Contribution of NGOs to the UN's Disarmament Work (October 1996)

NGOs Call for Greater Transparency in Reform Process (January 18, 1996)

NGOs and the Human Rights Council

After participating in its creation, NGOs remain unclear about the role they will play in the Human Rights Council. They hope to retain at least the same level of active participation they enjoyed with its predecessor, the Human Rights Commission, and ensure NGO involvement at the various steps of the newly-created Universal Periodic Review process. As the Council now holds no less than three sessions a year, NGOs with smaller budgets, particularly those from developing countries, will encounter problems with maintaining a presence in Geneva.

An NGO Assessment of the New Mechanisms of the UN Human Rights Council (March, 2009)

The UN member states transferred the Human Rights Commission into the UN Human Rights Council in 2006. This report looks at how NGOs have contributed to the decisions made in the new Universal Periodic Review (UPR) and the Advisory Committee, both inaugurated in 2008. In the UPR, NGOs experienced difficulties because of states' reluctance to consider their comments. On the contrary, the Advisory Committee expressed an openness to and appreciation of the NGOs' expert advice. (Human Rights Law Review)

Score One for the NGOs (July 5, 2008)

In early 2008, Egypt ran unopposed for the African turn in the rotating presidency of the UN Human Rights Council. NGOs opposed the candidacy because of Egypt's poor human rights record and its autocratic government. Forty-two African NGOs wrote letters of objection to all the African heads of state demanding Africa be represented by "a recognized human rights leader." On June 19, 2008, the Human Rights Council elected Nigeria to the presidency, satisfying the NGOs who believe Nigeria will be more open to NGO cooperation than Egypt. (Washington Post)

States Must Cooperate with Human Rights Council (September 29, 2006)

At the second session of the UN Human Rights Council, experts presented their findings on human rights violations to NGO and state representatives, noting the difficulties they encountered with some governments. Human Rights Watch urges Council members to "lead by example" and invite the independent UN monitors to assess their performance on issues such as torture and violence against women. Though the inspectors focus mainly on "notorious" human rights violators, blatant rights abuses prevail in countries like the US, which often hypocritically condemns other governments.

Human Rights Council: Time to Make the UN Matter to Human Rights Victims (June 19, 2006)

Human rights groups struggle to increase their involvement with the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council (HRC) and ensure that HRC decisions translate into action in their respective home countries. In this report, a coalition of Asian NGOs makes recommendations for strengthening international human rights so that victims can receive compensation despite "faulty" domestic processes. Focusing mainly on Asia, the group calls on the HRC to appoint an expert to each UN field office in the region who will work closely with NGOs to monitor their governments' performance on human rights. (FORUM-ASIA)

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.

The Human Rights Council: A Chance or a Threat for NGO Participation? (March 16, 2006)

NGOs welcomed the creation of the Human Rights Council but now fear that a failure by the new body to recognize the long fought-for "rights and privileges [they] acquired at the Commission" could potentially weaken NGO participation. In this article, the Conference of NGOs (CONGO) expresses hope that the newly created Council will retain active NGO involvement in its work.

160 NGOs Identify Essential Elements of a UN Human Rights Council (January 19, 2006)

In an open letter to foreign ministers and UN permanent representatives, 160 NGO's urge UN Member States to build the new Human Rights Council upon the Human Rights Commission's successes and go beyond, in ensuring that states engaged in gross, systematic human rights violations cannot be elected and that the council meet regularly throughout the year. Of central importance as well, NGOs call for a continuing established participation of NGOs. (Human Rights Watch)

Joint Letter on the UN Human Rights Council (November 1, 2005)

Over 40 major NGO leaders sent a joint letter to General Assembly (GA) President Jan Eliasson. The letter describes the NGOs' recommendations for the new Human Rights Council, which the GA is working to establish following the September 2005 Millennium+5 Summit. The NGOs voice strong support for a permanent Human Rights Council, and urge the GA to protect NGO access to the new body.

The Proposed Human Rights Council: Prospects and Obstacles (September 22, 2005)

In a panel event at the 58th annual DPI/NGO Conference, experts from many sides of the Human Rights Council reform debate presented their views on the best future for the body. The transcript of this discussion juxtaposes these views, and illustrates the overlaps and discords between NGOs, the US, other member states, the High Commissioner on Human Rights, and academia. (Center for UN Reform Education)

UN Reform and Rights Council (August 21, 2005)

NGOs have pushed for years for reform of the Commission on Human Rights. Now that this reform is almost a reality, NGOs must remain vigilant during the establishment of the new Human Rights Council (HRC). This eKantipur editorial proposes several ways to make the HRC successful, and alerts NGOs about the potential warning signs of regressive reform, which would make the HRC less accountable to civil society than its predecessor.

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)

NGO Joint Statement on the Secretary General's proposed Human Rights Council (April 18, 2005)

This NGO joint statement at the 2005 session of the Commission on Human Rights expresses concern over the Secretary General's proposed Human Rights Council. Specifically, the organizations believe the declining credibility of the UN and its human rights mechanisms results from an "absence of will of the parties concerned" rather than any inherent flaws in the institutions' structures, and that reform efforts should address this problem first. The statement also stresses the importance of representation and NGO participation.

Amnesty International's Views on the Proposals for Human Rights Machinery Reform (April 11, 2005)

Amnesty International (AI) commends UN Secretary General Kofi Annan for his bold proposal to replace the UN Human Rights Commission with a Human Rights Council. However, AI stresses the need for transparency and objectivity under the new Council and says it must "discourage bloc solidarity and political factionalism." Moreover, the organization warns against abandoning the system of Special Procedures established by the current Human Rights Commission and insists that NGOs retain their consultative status at the proposed Council.

United Nations Human Rights Council – Explanatory Note (April 2005)

In his report "In Larger Freedom," Secretary General Kofi Annan devoted just three paragraphs to his proposal on replacing the Human Rights Commission. This explanatory note develops the concept of a Human Rights Council further, and addresses some of the concerns of NGOs by assuring that the new Council will include civil society participation and retain the Commission's special procedures. (United Nations)

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 the Security Council

NGOs do not have formal consultative status with the Security Council, as governments consider peace and security issues a matter for states only. However, NGOs have won unprecedented informal access to the Security Council and its ambassadors notably through the NGO Working Group on the Security Council, of which GPF is the principle organizer. Security Council members now have close contact with leading Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). The NGO Working Group on the Security Council holds meetings nearly every week with Council ambassadors. Council delegates meet with NGOs in a variety of settings to discuss policy questions, including ad hoc consultations and Arria Formula briefings.

NGOs and the Security Council

This page is updated in the Security Council Portfolio.

NGOs and the Security Council (2004)

This article details the growing engagement of NGOs with the UN Security Council in the period after 1990. As the Council grew more active, NGOs began to seek out Council members and argue for better policies. GPF took the lead in setting up the NGO Working Group on the Security Council in 1997 with the help of forward-looking ambassadors. Some positive results have followed, but great power interests set firm limits to what NGOs can achieve.

Arria Formula and Other Special Meetings between NGOs and Security Council Members

In addition to the NGO Working Group series, Council members meet with NGOs in other setting to discuss policy questions. Also, the International Peace Academy organizes briefings for Council members on a regular basis.

Briefings and Formulas

The Council meets with outside parties to get information and advice, including meetings with NGOs. An important forum for such meetings is the Arria Formula, named after Venezuelan ambassador Diego Arria who invented this important meeting method.

Archived Documents

NGOs and the Secretary General

This section includes reports by the Secretary General on NGOs and speeches made by past and present Secretary Generals.

 Reports | Speeches


1999 Report of the Secretary General on NGOs (September 8, 1999)

Kofi Annan's Report to the 54th session of the General Assembly on NGO interaction and participation in the UN system. Includes views of Member States, members of the specialized agencies, observers, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations from all regions.

UN Requests NGO Input on the Secretary General's 1998 Report (May 7, 1999)

At the request of the General Assembly, the Secretary General asks for comments on his July 1998 report so that a further report to the GA, at its fifty-fourth session, will take into account the views of NGOs.

1998 Report of the Secretary General on NGOs (July 10, 1998)

"Arrangements and practices for the interaction of non-governmental organizations in all activities of the United Nations system." A 17-page report considered by the General Assembly in the 53rd session.


Goal Must Be to Make Globalization an Equitable, Inclusive Process, Says Secretary-General (January 27, 2003)

In this statement to the World Social Forum, Kofi Annan emphasizes the vital role NGOs play in global policy development. NGOs must hold governments accountable while at the same time working with them to ensure that a more equitable world becomes a reality. (UN Press)

Secretary General Calls on NGOs to Create Worldwide Anti-Racism Movement (August 30, 2001)

In a speech at the NGO Forum parallel to the Racism Conference in Durban, Kofi Annan emphasizes the role civil society played in the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, taking it as a model for the global fight against racism.

Secretary-General Urges NGOs to Campaign For Genuinely Open Markets (May 15, 2001)

Secretary-General Kofi Annan left the Third United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries to deliver a speech at the Non-Governmental Forum in Brussels. He said that everyone in this conference should be listening to NGOs – so why isn't it so? (M2 Presswire)

Annan Says NGOs Essential to Work of UN (August 29, 2000)

Although our 'beloved' SG welcomed the NGO conference praising NGOs as "our best defence against complacency, our bravest campaigners for honesty and our boldest crusaders for change," that there is still no concrete commitment to NGO access by the UN and its member states. Hopefully this will be addressed at the upcoming Millennium Summit and Assembly. (Agence France Presse)

Kofi Annan: "Global People-Power" Best Thing for UN (December 8, 1999)

Text from the Secretary General's speech at the World Civil Society Conference in Montréal Canada.

Message from Kofi Annan at the 52nd Annual DPI/NGO Conference (September 15, 1999)

At the 1999 Conference: "Challenges of a Globalized World: Finding New Directions", the Secretary General discusses the difficult challenges posed by globalization and the need draw on many different fields of expertise to address the great problems of the coming century.

UN Press Release on Kofi Annan's Address to the DPI/NGO Conference

The Secretary-General's address to the Conference, entitled "The Meaning of International Community", given on September 15, 1999.

Quaker UN Office (June 6, 1999)

Letter by Jack T. Patterson, Quaker Representative to the UN, addressed to Hanifa Mezoui, Chief of the NGO Section, Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA).

CONGO (June 3, 1999)

Statement by the Congress of NGOs (CONGO).

Union of International Associations (May 21, 1999)

Statement by Anthony Judge, Director, Communications and Research Union of International Associations, Brussels, Belgium.

Kofi Annan: Greater Role for NGOs at the UN Welcomed (May 7, 1999)

Hague Appeal for Peace Press Release about Secretary General's speech in Berlin.

International NGO Task Group on Legal and Institutional Matters (May 3, 1999)

Written by William R. Pace, Chair of INTGLIM, discusses the background of a new draft resolution on NGO participation in the work of the General Assembly.

Kofi Annan: Speech at NGO Forum in Berlin (April 29, 1999)

Secretary General Calls Partnership of NGOs, Private Sector, International Organizations and Governments Powerful Partnership for Future.

International Information Service (November 11, 1998)

Statement by Rosalind W. Harris of the International Information Service, emphasizing NGO access to the General Assembly.

International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (Novermber 11, 1998)

Statement by Beatrice von Roemer of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions.

Kofi Annan: Growing Role for Civil Society (July 14, 1998)

Speech by the Secretary General in Sao Paulo, Brazil on the achievements of citizens' groups in a wide range of international activities.

Kofi Annan: Editorial on NGOs

Guest editorial in "Go Between" magazine (December 1997-January 1998) affirms the growing importance and influence of NGOs at the UN.

Razali Ismail: NGOs and the Future of the UN (September 15, 1997)

Extract from the address by General Assembly President to the session's closing meeting.

Boutros Boutros-Ghali to the DPI/NGO Conference (September 10, 1996)

Speech delivered by the Secretary General at the DPI/NGO Conference giving his view of NGOs and promising a better location for the NGO Resource Center.

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