John Knox Center,Geneva Switzerland
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Dear CoNGO Members:
Why is the UN of particular relevance to the world of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs). Here are some considerations.
Thousands of NGOs/CSOs have a consultative, operational or other working relationship with one or more parts of the United Nations System worldwide. These are international/regional/national NGOs/CSOs of all shapes, natures and sizes, and spread throughout all continents.
It is manifest that the United Nations System (all 50+ agencies, secretariats, programs, departments, commissions, forums...) should be the prime location for intelligent, knowledge-based, rational and future-oriented intergovernmental debate and decision-making, to anticipate and respond to - and where possible resolve - the complex issues and needs of our ever-more interconnected planet. Competent and responsible NGO/CSO input to intergovernmental debate and decision-making is a major factor in enhancing competent and responsible government output.
The strength and relevance of NGOs/CSOs derive from their extraordinary diversity. They are "front-line soldiers" in both advocacy and grass-roots cooperation with the United Nations System. NGOs/CSOs cover innumerable concerns: sustainable development, migration, indigenous peoples, ageing, status of women, decent work, social protection, disarmament and peace, freedom of association and assembly, promotion of democracy, human rights, financing for development, mental health, the family, narcotic drugs, volunteerism, and more. Many NGOs/CSOs are currently deeply engaged in promoting the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the 2030 Development Agenda, generating expanded knowledge of, and access to, all levels of implementation of this complex, challenging and unifying process.
In society, NGOs/CSOs give voice to and advocate on behalf of citizens and their interests. NGOs and CSOs are, after all, nothing more - and nothing less - than groupings of citizens who have self-organized to promote a good cause (poverty eradication, access to justice, widening the information society, health for all, environmental security, humanitarian relief etc) or to combat a bad one (trafficking in human beings, pollution of the oceans, child soldiers, violence against women, nuclear proliferation etc).
NGOs and Civil Society work with and through United Nations Conferences, Summits, organs and legal instruments. The moral and ethical "power" of NGOs/CSOs knows no limits, so one must be gravely concerned at the increasing number of examples throughout the world of regressive government action to limit, constrain, cast a slur on, or even disband or "outlaw" legitimate NGOs and CSOs. NGOs/CSOs have an essential role in society as responsible actors for democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
As key elements of participatory democracy, NGOs/CSOs are complementary to institutions of representative democracy, notably parliaments. Cooperation with parliamentarians should be given greater emphasis by civil society, in the defence and promotion of citizens' interests. NGOs/CSOs are first and foremost representative of the long-term causes they promote; they need no authorization or condescension from transitory governments.
All these subjects call for developing synergies between the United Nations and NGOs/CSOs, based on shared ideals, shared values and shared opportunities. For 68 years CoNGO has been at the heart of these multiple and challenging relationships and synergies. CoNGO will persevere in serving, promoting and enhancing these shared ideals and values, in the interest of the worldwide CoNGO membership, of the 40 CoNGO Substantive Committees, and of the UN itself.
Cyril Ritchie, President of Congo 2011-2018