The views and opinions of civil society can help shape the discussions under way for a world summit in September commemorating the sixtieth anniversary of the United Nations, the President of the General Assembly said today.
Briefing the press in New York, Assembly President Jean Ping of Gabon said that the 191-member body's first-ever consultations – or "hearings" – with non-governmental organizations (NGOs), civil society groups and the private sector marked a "new stage" in the relationship between civic actors and UN Member States. The informal hearings start tomorrow morning and end on 24 June.
He said that the talks come at a crucial time, when discussions among Member States on the Assembly's 2005 World Summit were gathering momentum. The three-day Summit kicks off on 14 September with a mid-term review of worldwide efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a set of targets designed to halve or eradicate poverty and other socio-economic ills by 2015.
World leaders gathering at the UN will also have what Secretary-General Kofi Annan says is "once-in-a generation" opportunity to make the world body more efficient at tackling global problems by adopting the reforms he proposed in his landmark report In Larger Freedom.
Mr. Ping said that civil society hearings, which will feature an opening plenary meeting and four informal interactive sessions, will focus on key elements of that report: freedom from want; freedom from fear; freedom to live in dignity, and strengthening the United Nations.
"There can be no doubt that today, these organizations are the partners of Member States," he said, "they have an important role and are now recognized as players on the international stage that cannot be ignored." He adding that he would produce a summary report of the hearings for the Assembly to consult during the run-up to the Summit.
Joining Mr. Ping at the press conference was Gemma Adaba, a representative of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions and head of the Task Force that helped him set up the hearings. The Press Conference was moderated by Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information Shashi Tharoor.
Ms. Adaba said that it was very important that the Assembly had recognized the important role played by NGOs and private sector groups. She hoped that the discussion would yield concrete proposals in areas such as official development assistance (ODA) and financing for development that would be seriously considered by UN Member States. "We are very optimistic and we hope the Governments will take our views into account during their deliberations," she added.
In a statement released by his spokesman, Mr. Annan welcomed the hearings as an important opportunity for civil society and the private sector to exchange views with Member States on how to build a more secure, just and prosperous world. He added that he has written to the permanent representatives of all Member States, hoping that they will accept the invitation of the Assembly President to participate personally in the hearings.
"Noting that civil society contributes to the legitimacy, transparency and accountability of the United Nations, the Secretary-General also hopes that the General Assembly will engage more actively with civil society on a regular basis, as he recommended in his report In Larger Freedom," the statement said.