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H.E. Mr. Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, President of the 66th session of the General Assembly of the United Nations
met representatives of NGOs in consultative status with ECOSOC or associated with DPI.

"There is no dialogue without civil society". Neither progress!

Amb. Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser met with the reps of the NGOs at the UN on Oct. 4, 2011

With the UN's biblical concept of time, this is a very limited timeframe,
but the attempt will mark an irreversible path that the following
Presidents will find difficult to overthrow.

by Alberto TURLON

The meeting focused on the issues before the 66th session of the General Assembly, particularly the priority areas that the President mentioned in his opening speech, UN Reform and revitalisation, improving disaster responses, sustainable development and global prosperity as well as the theme of the High-level debate "The role of mediation in the settlement of disputes by peaceful means", followed by a substantive exchange with the NGOs on the key challenges before the United Nations and the role and contribution of civil society in addressing them.

General Assembly, Ambassador Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser,
met yesterday (as of October 4, 2011) with the representatives of the non-governmental organizations and civil society at the United Nations. The meeting took the form of an interactive dialogue at the Dag Hammarskjold auditorium, which was packed by people of all ages, all races and religions. And, many of them standing at the back or seated on the left and right side of the stairs of the auditorium.

Non-Governmental Organizations have a very complex relationship with the UN. Still today, the interaction between civil society, member states and staff is loomed by several restrictions. No univocal standards of the relationships UN-NGOs exist with the effect that relations are often developed at the discretion of the single member states. The voice of the civil society for some states represent a pillar of the decision-making and for others does not have a proper value. Despite being of one of the three key components of the UN is the NGOs in conjunction to the General Assembly and Security Council in order to help to the UN to implement and fulfill its visions. Approaching the 63rd anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, NGOs, vivid expression of the freedom and of the commitment of individuals across the world, are struggling to get greater acknowledgement in the midst of further and further restrictions and limited access or attendance including the annual gathering of the General Debate.

Without active involvement and absent of the voices of the NGOs in the decision making mechanism on some important issues at the UN as well as on the ground and regional level, how could UN itself be more democratic and respect to its ever needed fundamental mission and role in the world? And, except a few rare occasions in the last 6-7 years, not all of the top UN officials are used to talk openly to the civil society, so this conference was something new and very welcome.

The fact that President Al-Nasser, a Qatari diplomat with a long experience at the UN, appointed a coordinator for the relations with NGOs opens a new channel of interaction. Al-Nasser started his remarks by saying that "There is no dialogue without civil society". The President wishes to strengthen the role of his office as facilitator and mediator between the member states and the NGOs and identified 4 different themes where a closer interaction is possible:

H.E.Mr. Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, President of the 66th session of the General Assembly of the United Nations
The Role of the General Assembly in Conflict Management and Mediation;
UN Reform;
Disaster Response;
Al-Nasser suggested to convey retreats especially on the theme of peace and mediation.

H.E. Mr. Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, President of the 66th session of the General Assembly of the United Nations

From the floor, a lot of questions and proposal were raised about the involvement of the youth in the work of the General Assembly especially ahead of the Conference of Rio+20. Next year, the United Nations will convey a summit on sustainable development after 20 years from the Conference on Environment and Development. The role of the civil society will mark a milestone in the upcoming summit and youth organizations will represent the new generation who will face the challenges and the opportunities of the upcoming scenario.

UNGA 66th President met with the NGOs
(Left to right) Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury, Senior Special Advisor to the President; Mrs. Hanifa Mezoui, Special Coordinator on Third Committee and Civil Society; H. E. Mr. Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, President of the 66th session of the General Assembly of the United Nations; H. E. Mr. Mutlaq Al-Qahtani, Chef de Cabinet and HE Mr. Tariq Al-Ansari Deputy Chef de Cabinet.

During the dialogue, youth organizations have expressed their dissatisfaction of feeling under-represented and not always listened at the UN. Youth is a crucial topic. Maybe for the first time in the UN history, the Organization faces an issue, or a cluster of issues, which goes beyond the old divisions between the North and the South of the world. Young people from the most developed economies are threatened by economic decline, uncertainty and high unemployment, while the youth of the developing countries, as it has been seen in cases like in the Arab Spring, demand democratic reform, transparency and a better use of the wealth. Contact points might be many. Another hot topic raised at the meeting was the Advancement of Women and the preparation for the next Commission on Status of Women. A young woman made the proposal of a new Beijing Conference. Many questions were raised on the access of NGOs to the work of the General Assembly.

There was also a proposal to be held a High Level meeting on "freedom of expression", which is also part of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 19. In contrary to that "freedom of religion" and "interfaith dialogues" have been greatly promoting on a regular bases and reached its peak through annual programs and several conferences and briefings. Yet, this is not the case for "freedom of expression", which with everything, starts, will start once "freedom of expression" is granted and protected equally worldwide each and every corner of the world.

UNGA President met witht the NGOs - Attendees
Photo Credits: Lightmillennium.Org

Overall, the dialogue between the UN and the civil society faces several issues. On one hand, the UN is still facing the new concept of direct accountability of its decision-making process, which raises a problem of publicly displaying that process and be ready to interact with advocates and activists. Most member states have still a limited, if not negative, concept of civil society as an actor separated from the Government. On the other hand, there has been a proliferation of NGOs. Some of them bring worldwide structures and global concerns, while others have limited capacities and are linked to limited issues, if not local. Both sides are aware of those problems, and are willing to come together and intensify the mutual understanding. 

In the view of creating a common strategy on how to shape the dialogue UN-civil society, Al-Nasser and his office commit themselves to tailor a role of facilitation, which will definitely help bridge the gap especially with those members who have been traditionally reluctant to engage with the non-governmental sector. As the NGO coordinator said at the end, there is less than a year left to the end of Al-Nasser's mandate. With the UN's biblical concept of time, this is a very limited timeframe, but the attempt will mark an irreversible path that the following Presidents will find difficult to overthrow.

Also by Alberto TURLON: In the Balkans, Turkey is ready to take the lead.

-Posted and updated on October 6, 2011.

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