UN should open itself further to involve civil society, high-level panel says

21 June 2004

As the world's problems grow ever-more complex, the United Nations should stop limiting its decision-making processes exclusively to governments and instead open its deliberations to greater involvement by civil society groups and the private sector, a blue-ribbon panel recommends in a new report released today.

As the world's problems grow ever-more complex, the United Nations should stop limiting its decision-making processes exclusively to governments and instead open its deliberations to greater involvement by civil society groups and the private sector, a blue-ribbon panel recommends in a new report released today.

The Chairman of the Panel of Eminent Persons on UN-Civil Society Relations, former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil, said the growing participation and influence of non-State actors is enhancing democracy and reshaping multilateralism.

"Civil society organizations are the prime movers of some of the most innovative initiatives to deal with emerging global trends," he said at a press briefing on the launch of the report in New York. "Given how the world has changed, constructively engaging with civil society is a necessity for the United Nations."

The report, entitled "We the Peoples: Civil Society, the United Nations and Global Governance," refers to the sometimes-fraught relationship between civil society groups, such as non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and governments at the UN.

While this relationship has strengthened greatly and multiplied over the years, "difficulties and tensions have arisen, particularly in the deliberative process," the report notes.

"Governments do not always welcome sharing what has traditionally been their preserve," it says. "At the same time, many in civil society are becoming frustrated; they can speak in the UN but question whether anyone is listening, or whether their participation has any impact on outcomes."

The report argues for a paradigm shift in how the UN sees itself, saying the Organization should foster "multi-constituency" processes that incorporate the perspectives and abilities of citizen groups, policy advocates, businesses, local governments and parliamentarians.

"We see the dialogue and the collaboration with non-State actors not as a threat to governments but as a powerful way to reinvigorate the intergovernmental process," Mr. Cardoso told the briefing.

The Panel, appointed by Secretary-General Kofi Annan in February 2003, recommends that the General Assembly include civil society organizations more regularly in its affairs. It also calls for increased civil society dialogues with the Security Council and the appointment of a senior UN official to promote engagement with civil society.

In addition to Mr. Cardoso, Panel members are affiliated with governments, NGOs, academia and the private sector and include Bagher Asadi of Iran, Manuel Castells of Spain, Birgitta Dahl of Sweden, Peggy Dulany of the United States, André Erdös of Hungary, Asma Khader of Jordan, Juan Mayr of Colombia, Malini Mehra of India, Kumi Naidoo of South Africa, Mary Racelis of the Philippines, Prakash Ratilal of Mozambique and Aminata Traoré of Mali.