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Strengthening Procedures for Consultation
20 June 1994
Open-ended Working Group on the Review
Statement submitted by the International Synergy Institute,
(now Information Habitat: Where Information Lives)
a non-governmental organization accredited to the
Commission on Sustainable Development
A. Consistency of procedures for consultation
1. There is a clear need for a consistent approach in all consultations with non-governmental organizations. This need is underscored by the growing recognition of the inter-relatedness of many United Nations proceedings. This inter-relatedness means that issues in which an non-governmental organization has particular expertise, or in respect of which it represents an important constituency, are likely to appear on or be affected by the agendas of many different proceedings. It is essential that the arrangements for consultation take this reality into consideration.
2. Development and International Cooperation: An Agenda For Development (A/48/935), recently released by the Secretary-General, highlights the linkages between development, peace and security, social justice, democracy and economic issues. Likewise, Agenda 21 (A/CONF.151/26) and the related mandate of the Commission on Sustainable Development repeatedly calls attention to the interrelationship between a broad range of issues relating to environment, development and sustainability.
3. An Agenda For Development and Agenda 21 each involves substantial overlap with the issues of the International Conference on Population and Development, the Global Conference on the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States, the World Summit for Social Development, the World Conference of Women, the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee to Elaborate a Convention to Combat Desertification in those Countries Experiencing Serious Drought and/or Desertification, Particularly in Africa, and Habitat II -- to name just a few.
4. To do justice to the issues in which they have expertise, and/or to the constituencies and interests they represent, non- governmental organizations that play a consultative role in any United Nations proceedings need to have the right to participate in any other proceedings that address the principal agenda issues with which they are concerned.
5. The arrangements that had until recently been in effect for non-governmental organizations accredited to the Commission on Sustainable Development in treating these organizations as having Roster Status with the Economic and Social Council recognized the crucial significance of sustainable development, and its interdependence with other United Nations issues.
6. Unfortunately, those arrangements -- that were clearly intended by Economic and Social Council resolution 1993/215 -- are presently in suspension, and the reinstatement of the arrangements awaits consideration by the Economic and Social Council in response to the Commission on Sustainable Development's reaffirmation of 1993/215 in paragraph 10 of its draft decision on Major Groups (E/CN.17/1994/L.11). Reinstatement of the provisions of 1993/215 will be an important step towards strengthening the arrangements for consultations with non-governmental organizations.
B. Consultations with national non-governmental organizations
7. The guidelines established by the Commission on Sustainable Development for participation by non-governmental organization are important in that they recognize the value of the participation of national non-governmental organizations in United Nations deliberations concerning the transition to sustainable development. This recognition has been invaluable in strengthening the role of national non-governmental organizations in contributing to their national strategies and actions in support of sustainability as well as to the Commission's work.
8. Economic and Social Council Resolution 1296 (XLIV) also recognizes the potential value of consultations with national non-governmental organizations in its paragraph 9. This value needs to be recognized in any revision of Resolution 1296, and if the Resolution is left intact, the Economic and Social Council's Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations should be encouraged to be liberal in its application of that paragraph.
9. As recognized by Resolution 1296 and by the Commission on Sustainable Development, a sound case can be built for the needs for, and rights of, such national non-governmental organizations to have ready access, by virtue of Roster status, to all United Nations proceedings relating to their principal issues of interest. However, the reality is that, in many respects, economic and practical limitations present substantially greater barriers to meaningful participation than do procedural barriers.
10. The United Nations Non Government Liaison Service has done excellent work in seeking to facilitate the participation of non-governmental organizations from developing countries in a number of United Nations proceedings. However, it is clear that the resources available to support such participation have been far less than necessary to provide for a "balanced and effective representation of non-governmental organizations reflecting major interests of all regions and areas of the world." (Resolution 1296 (XLIV) para 9.)
11. This Working Group needs to give serious consideration to exploring how resources can be mobilized, and mechanisms established, on a regular basis to support and enable meaningful participation on an ongoing basis of non-governmental organizations from developing countries and countries in transition in consultations with the Economic and Social Council and other United Nations bodies.
12. As one of the mechanisms for strengthening arrangements for consultations with non-governmental organizations from developing countries, this Working Group may wish to explore practical procedures for consultations on a regional basis, especially in the context addressed below of exploring new modalities for consultations.
C. Practical arrangements for consultation
13. At its organizational session, the Open-ended Working Group on the Review of Arrangements for Consultations with Non-Governmental Organizations paid only very brief attention to the issue of the practical arrangements for consultations with non-governmental organizations. However, strengthening of the practical arrangements for consultations may be at least as important as clarifying the principles on which the consultations are based. Stated in another way, the finest of principles may lead to little in the way of accomplishments in the absence of adequate practical provisions for their implementation.
14. The steady growth, particularly in the post-UNCED period, of involvement of non-governmental organizations in United Nations proceedings, has placed considerable stress on the existing Secretariat capacity to handle arrangements for consultations with non-governmental organization. This growth calls for a thorough examination of the practical arrangements, both in terms of the adequacy of the resources available, and of the extent of the coordination between the various departments.
15. Serious consideration needs to be given to proposals that have been developed for the consolidation of services to non-governmental organizations -- including those in consultative status and those affiliated with the Department of Public Information -- under an Under-Secretary-General for Non-Governmental Organization Relations.
D. Provisions for timely and effective access to documents
16. Particular attention needs to be paid to the adequacy of the procedures and resources for information and communication, including timely and effective access to all relevant documentation pertaining to the United Nations proceedings in which an non-governmental organization has an interest. Bearing in mind the inter-relatedness -- noted above -- of many proceedings it becomes important to conduct a system-wide review of the provisions for access to documentation.
17. It should be noted that while this statement is being presented here in relation to the needs of non-governmental organizations for timely and effective access to information, the observations and recommendations presented below are likely to be equally applicable to the needs of Member States and of agencies for information and effective access to documents. It should perhaps also be noted that there are likely to be other very substantial related benefits from a strategy that makes effective use of computer-based communications and information technology.
18. During the course of the preparations for the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, significant headway was made in increasing timely access to documents through the electronic dissemination of most key documents. In several subsequent proceedings, notably the final Preparatory Committee of the International Conference on Population and Development and the 1994 session of the Commission on Sustainable Development, there has been significant electronic dissemination of documents related to the proceedings.
19. Despite the good intentions, efforts and cooperation of many individuals within the United Nations, the present arrangements for electronic dissemination of relevant United Nations documents remain very much on an ad hoc basis. These arrangements fall far short of the systematic, comprehensive arrangements that are essential if non-governmental organization are to have consistent, dependable and timely access to all the documentation that is necessary for informed and effective participation in United Nations proceedings.
20. A number of specific recommendations for procedures that would facilitate more effective, comprehensive and systematic electronic dissemination of, and access to, United Nations documents have been made by the International Synergy Institute in other fora at the United Nations./1 The details of these recommendations will not be repeated in this statement, but a brief synopsis of the essence of the principal recommendations is presented:
21. In developing and supporting procedures for electronic dissemination of documents, priority should be given to the use of procedures that comply with prevailing international standards for computer communications. While there may be value in exploring unconventional approaches, such exploration should be secondary to approaches based on international standards.
22. To date, in the electronic dissemination of United Nations documents, there has been a distinct bias in favor of disseminating documents in English. This bias, which should be corrected at the earliest possible opportunity, reflects in part the fact that there is a disproportionate percentage of English speakers who have access to computers and computer communication resources, and in part that the prevailing character set for computer communications is "ASCII", the American Standard for Character Information Interchange, a standard that is not well suited to handling either accented characters or character sets other than the English alphabet.
23. In conjunction with the English language bias noted above, in addition to the need -- noted above -- to increase electronic communications access from developing countries by non- governmental organizations and by governments, there is a need for attention to be paid to emerging international standards for a far more comprehensive character set with the ability to incorporate complete character sets from all known written languages.
E. Modalities for consultations
24. The High Level Segment of the 1994 Session of the Commission on Sustainable Development, and the recent World Hearings on Development convened by the General Assembly President both featured new modalities of consultation. The Economic and Social Council, its functional Commissions, Conference Secretariats and other United Nations bodies should be encouraged to explore new modalities of consultations in order to increase the effectiveness of consultations and to facilitate more broad-based input into United Nations proceedings.
25. In particular, this Working Group is itself encouraged to be creative in exploring a variety of modalities of consultations with non-governmental organizations and with governments in order to do justice to its mandate.
26. Among particular modalities of consultations that could be explored, in addition to the previously noted provisions for regional consultations with non-governmental organizations, are:
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