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BILL PACE: We have in a way a bottom-up globalization process that is emerging through the Internet, through the voluntary associations, through our coming together at the world conferences that the United Nations and other bodies are convening. And the question of course is, “Will that bottom-up globalization be able to ameliorate the terrible and dangerous aspects of the top-down globalization that is occurring?”
KEITH PORTER: This week on Common Ground, the changing role of nongovernmental organizations in international affairs.
MIA ADJALI: But I think it’s how NGOs might impact the UN, bring ideas, work with the UN. But it’s also how the standards and the work of the UN must and should impact the organizations that work with them. That is extremely important.
KRISTIN MC HUGH: Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape events. It is produced by the Stanley Foundation. I’m Kristin McHugh.
PORTER: And I’m Keith Porter. Today we’re going to explore the term “nongovernmental organization.” It’s certainly a bland, bureaucratic-sounding term but it encompasses some of the most exciting and innovative work being done on the international stage. We’ll hear from a handful of experts on these so-called NGOs. First up is Bill Pace. He’s Executive Director of the World Federalist Movement and the Institute for Global Policy.
PACE: In, the way we make international law and policy, by its definition, “international,” between nation-states, you have the representatives of the nations of the world who do the negotiating and the voting. Then you have representatives of the international organizations, whether it’s the United Nations or a treaty body, World Health Organization, UNICEF—you have international organization representatives. And then the third contributor to this process is the nongovernmental organizations. And it means this giant array of groups. Groups that are working on children’s issues, women’s issues, human rights, disarmament, peace, humanitarian; almost the most unimaginable length of issues. And they’re mostly organized as nonprofit organizations, as associations, as membership groups, or as research and special interest organizations, etc. And this is what the term NGO means.
AFAF MAHFOUZ: For me an NGO, an NGO it’s an entity of a group of people, whether they are from the same country, whether they are from the region, or international, who gathered around a specific topic of concern or interest. Like for example human rights, women’s rights, reproductive health.
PORTER: Afaf Mahfouz, is President of the Conference of Nongovernmental Organizations in Consultative Status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council.
MAHFOUZ: Grass roots level, an NGO can implement a program, can also provide services; can do both. Can promote advocacy for, with a specific goal. Or can lobby with governments or with inter-government agencies. There are all kinds of roles and all kinds of NGOs. But basically it’s a group of people which are not linked with a government. Which is independent or well, let me put it that way—autonomous. Because we all are interdependent. But they’re autonomy is clear and accepted by the members of this group.
ADJALI: I think I would add one ingredient to that. Because there are thousands of organizations all around the world and they’re not necessarily called NGOs.
PORTER: This is Mia Adjali. She is Executive Secretary for Global Concerns at the United Methodist Church.
ADJALI: The ingredient that makes you an NGO is that you’ve actually become accredited through the two processes through which you can become accredited—at the UN, either at headquarters, or with different agencies of the United Nations. There are many organizations that are only accredited to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, for example, in Paris. But in any case, to be an NGO you actually are accredited to a, to some part of the UN family, if not several parts. And you are either accredited as a nongovernmental organization which relates with the Department of Public Information of the United Nations, or you are accredited as a consultative nongovernmental organization with the Economic and Social Council. And I think that’s an important ingredient. I also think there are number of organizations that are working with the United Nations in relationship to disasters, especially. And they are, have an NGO status as well.
MAHFOUZ: Except that I think really that if we speak about NGOs in general we can, we know that there are NGOs all over the world which are not necessarily accredited with the United Nations, and they are NGOs. They appear at any time—a UN conference for instance like the one in Beijing or in Nairobi or in Cairo, in Vienna. They came from their grass roots, or their country, or their towns together around this, and they were not accredited necessarily through the United Nations. They were accredited to a specific UN conference.
ADJALI: A specific event.
MAHFOUZ: Yes. And some are not even, they don’t come. But they know what is happening. And they implement it at the level of their village or town or their nation or region. Then I think accreditation with the United Nations, this is when we speak about the UN and the NGO relationship.
ADJALI: Well, you see in Washington you don’t talk about nongovernmental organizations relating to the Washington legislative process. Or in any country you don’t usually talk about organizations with that name. It usually is found within the UN family, whether it is in relationship to global conferences, where a number of nongovernmental organizations that are not usually in the day-to-day process.
MAHFOUZ: The name started….
ADJALI: Exactly. Yes.
MAHFOUZ: …started with the United Nations system.
ADJALI: Exactly. Yes.
MAHFOUZ: because of…
ADJALI: …because we try very hard in our constituency education to help people understand that organizations that are NGOs, that call themselves NGOs, have actually made a commitment to the United Nations standards and vision. And that’s how they got the name.
CLARENCE DIAS: An NGO is a nongovernmental entity consisting of people who are linked together by common values, common visions, of where they would like to see their own society go. It is different in that sense of having this shared vision.
PORTER: Clarence Dias is President of the International Center for Law in Development. I asked him to comment on another term that seems to get confused with NGOs at times, civil society.
DIAS: Civil society too, once again in my subjective view, is just the flavor of the year of the last three or four years. I’m not sure that it really is a concept that has much rooting in culture, in philosophy and literature. It’s become the kind of catch-all kind of concept for a lot of I think, wishful thinking, about what, groups in society, some of which in fact in some societies are behaving in an extremely uncivil manner.
PACE: I agree with Clarence. It’s kind of the flavor of the month and exactly what it means is unknown. It is a, pushed forward by groups who didn’t want to be defined in the negative, as nongovernmental and want to be defined in the positive. But, I guess the best answer right now is that civil society does not include governments, representatives—in particular the administrations of governments or the executives of governments—and it does not, for most of us, mean the for-profit sector, the private enterprise sector. And so then it’s everything else almost. The parliamentarians, research institutes, universities, and this whole vast array of voluntary membership organizations that together comprise civil society.
PORTER: If there’s an NGO that has an international goal, and let’s, whether you’re using the broad term for NGO or the very specific UN-related term for NGO, if an organization has goals that are inherently international, is the United Nations an appropriate and an effective venue for carrying out those NGO goals?
ADJALI: That’s a great question. In my office, and in fact in my job description, the United Nations is part of my job.
PORTER: Again, Mia Adjali, from the United Methodist Church.
ADJALI: Oh, I think it tends to be a larger part. But it actually also, and my job description also involves me in other arenas of international relationships. Which includes a relationship to regional organizations like the Organization on Security and European Cooperation—OSCE. And that’s a very important organization if you know, if you are part of an organization that has a relationship to European countries as well as North American countries. And for the United Methodist Church that exists in both Europe and in North America, it’s a very important organization. So I monitor that organization.
And internationally you also have such organizations, especially among the ecumenical movement, as the World Council of Churches and also the World Association of Christian Communicators. All of those organizations do incredible work in their specific focus but are places where I would find myself in a number of instances. And at least in the ecumenical world. And then there are some secular international organizations.
PORTER: So you do have a number of international venues available to you to pursue the goals. Why the United Nations? Which particular goals are best suited, at least in your instance, in your organization’s instance, which particular goals are best suited for review at the United Nations? Or for lobbying or for UN-related efforts?
ADJALI: I must admit at the United Nations you get a greater variety than you might get in the World Association of Christian Communicators, which actually deals with media and communications. And so at the UN, I was reviewing not long ago the arenas in which we have worked. Our church has worked in decolonization; we’ve worked in human rights; we’ve worked on development issues; we’ve worked on humanitarian aid. And when I say we’ve worked on these areas, it isn’t simply going there to monitor it, but actually had interaction with the governments and with the United Nations’ Secretariat and with inter-governmental agencies that are part of the UN family. And also done a lot of work in the development of the Law of the Sea Treaty, which was something very important to us. There is no organization in the world other than the United Nations, in which you can find these extraordinary varieties. Our relationship to the Commission on the Status of Women and with UNICEF, the organization that works on, as we would say in the church, ministry with women—with children—but, which actually around the world has been so important to children, and to their mothers. Those have been very close to our heart.
PORTER: Bill, for an NGO that has an international goal or an international agenda, is the United Nations first of all an appropriate venue for carrying forward that goal, for advancing that goal—and is it also an effective venue? I mean, is it a good place where an NGO gets sort of its biggest bang for its buck, if it spends money working with the UN?
PACE: Well, if you want to improve your child’s education you go to your school board, you go to your city council, you go to your state government to do the work. If you want to deal with international issues you go to the national governments, to your national parliaments, to the international organizations; the agencies like World Health or the Labor organization, or UNICEF or the United Nations, etc.
PORTER: This again is Bill Pace from the World Federalists.
PACE: So if you’re working on international affairs you cannot avoid the United Nations. It is the one universal forum for discussion, for debate, and even for the development of international laws and policies. It’s the only universal mechanism. And because you’re dealing with 185-plus countries and international organizations, and the global civil society/nongovernmental sectors, of course it’s slow. It’s slow like all legislative and deliberative processes. But it is ultimately effective. We have seen tremendous progress in this century in international cooperation, in setting global standards and human rights standards and humanitarian standards and creating organizations to deal with problems that nation-states cannot solve alone. But we have a tremendous ways to go. And of course the problems, as always, multiply faster than the solutions and so there is unfortunately in the post-Cold War period a growing faint-heartedness towards the United Nations. But I think that is going to turn around again in the early part of this next century.
MC HUGH: Printed transcripts and audiocassettes of this program are available. Listen at the end of the broadcast for details. Common Ground is a service of the Stanley Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that conducts a wide a range of programs designed to provoke thought and encourage dialogue on world affairs.
DIAS: I think the UN family provides a very interesting international forum for nongovernmental organizations to bring their issues.
PORTER: Again, Clarence Dias from the International Center for Law in Development.
DIAS: Now I want to stress, bring both national and international issues. Because international can be viewed in two different senses. One, international standards that apply in various countries—like worker health and safety standards, etc. As Bill was saying the UN has been very good in, for 50 years, setting these international standards which are really standards that are going to be applied at national level. But are universal standards. And so this is a forum in which one can raise issues coming from one’s own country about progress or lack of progress made in terms of achieving these common standards of humanity.
The international is also a word that can be increasingly looked to deal with the international relations and for example, the global environment. Not just the national environment, to give an example. And it’s the only forum for that basically. NGOs I think are using the international level in a very creative kind of way. Cause you have this anomaly at the moment, you have an almost overabundance of standards at the international level, no real enforcement mechanisms at the international level. You have an overabundance of enforcement mechanisms at national level but often an inadequacy of the international standards. And I think the NGOs, especially developing country NGOs, are working in a creative way. They are trying to use these two forums to complement one another.
PACE: Nongovernmental organizations, like the global problems, reach across national borders.
PORTER: Again, Bill Pace.
PACE: If you are interested in preventing genocide or mass rapes or assaults or trying to eradicate poverty and deal with hunger and deal with the growing division of economics where the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, you have to go across national borders to solve those problems, just as you do if you’re gonna try and deal with air pollution or global warming or what have you. And NGOs can do this now. And we have in a way a bottom-up globalization process that is emerging through the Internet, through the voluntary associations, through our coming together at the world conferences that the United Nations and other bodies are convening. And the question of course is, “Will that bottom-up globalization be able to ameliorate the terrible and dangerous aspects of the top-down globalization that is occurring?”
PORTER: Afaf, do you have a comment on this? About the UN and its effectiveness?
MAHFOUZ: Oh, absolutely, yeah. The United Nations is really the best way and the best institution which happens to all of us whether we are in the world of development nationally, regionally, or internationally, whether we are speaking about human rights, or any—fight against violence or slavery, etc. And I represent among other organization an NGO, an international NGO, which is the Society for International Development. And then we have believed for many, many decades into the international development and then also the human development, individual development. And what we did, we had had chapters all over the world, which were, we sensitized. We are the link between the United Nations and those national chapters. This is one.
In addition to advocacy, to provide thinking, we also provided membership to, on the personal capacity, to many people who worked in the United Nations system. Which makes it a little bit more, you know, creative and also effective. Gene Grant was one of our great members, Mohammed Haku??, and Eugene Grant, with his role in UNICEF. I daresay that he learned from the interaction and the thinking provided in this kind of international NGO. Mohammed Haku??, who was behind, who was the architect of the UNDP Report on Human Development also learned a great deal. Barbara Ward??, and all, you know, just to name to those who are not with us now.
And I think the strengths of the endeavor stems from the fact that there are links with the United Nations and this multi-national approach. And I’m not saying globalization. I’m saying multi-national approach. It brings strengths. If we have a problem, and I give you example: I’m an activist, I come from Egypt. When we had problems against, for example, thinkers, human rights problem, it makes a great difference that we had links with other NGOs linked with the United Nations system, where we get to know each other, to interact collectively or in part. And it makes a difference to publicize, to inform, and to have a collective approach against abuse of power or against violence. Etc.
PORTER: We would be remiss if we didn’t point out the fact that the UN relies on NGOs to carry out many of its goals.
MAHFOUZ: Indeed. The UN couldn’t do its job without NGOs. The UN decisions are the product of the work of NGOs as well as the vote of the delegates, or the government delegates. And as far as the implementation of UN decisions, it’s at the local level, which starts. And the, it has to rely on the work and the dedication of those beautiful men and women, young men and young women, or older men and older women, who are carrying the task, who are harassing literally their government or they are sacrificing their lives for common ends and common goals, at the local level, at the regional level, and the international level. And it’s a condition sine qua non.
DIAS: Well, whether consciously or not I think a lot of the achievements, I’d even go further to say almost, almost all of the UN’s achievements over the last 50-odd years have been achievements that have relied on nongovernmental inputs. The UN in the kind of background papers and documents it prepares has to work very diplomatically. Those documents have paragraphs after paragraphs that often don’t even begin to outline the issues. NGO documentation doesn’t have to have those kind of diplomatic niceties. It can call a spade a spade, or for that matter if it deserves to be called a shovel it will be called a shovel in the NGO document.
But more importantly I think the NGO documents bring the human person into what gets in the rarefied corridors of the United Nations. Very abstract kinds of issues. So I think NGOs have a major contribution in that sense. But also NGOs have had, played a major role in holding the United Nations’ global conferences, and others, to the core principles set out in the United Nations Charter. When political expediency would have led to either turning away from a principle or letting something go by default and silence.
PACE: The great challenge for the next century for the United Nations is, Will the great democracies or self-proclaimed democracies—and they are great democracies; the United States, United Kingdom, France, India, others—will these countries who are now the primary countries blocking the development of international democracy, yield? And let the forces of democracy that is the great movement of the last half-century of this world, develop so that regional and international democracy cannot tell you the solutions but provide a process for finding those solutions.
PORTER: Bill Pace served as coordinator for hundreds of NGOs last summer at a treaty conference in Rome on the creation of the International Criminal Court.
PACE: The new diplomacy, this ability to create new international laws, new international mechanisms, institutions to deal with global problems and establishing a permanent International Criminal Court is one of those tools of peace that we need for the next century—but it is the creation of the three groups: nation states, international organizations, and the nongovernmental organizations. And what you saw in Rome was an extraordinary partnership, a so-called New Diplomacy, in the phrase of the Canadian Foreign Minister, in which progressive countries North and South, progressive civil society organizations North and South, and progressive international organizations, combined and created a much higher standard treaty than anyone expected that we could secure.
PORTER: Mia, I’ll give you the final word. What is that the UN needs from NGOs?
ADJALI: It’s a two-way street. And I’ll use as an example the Decade for Women that was held at the United Nations starting in 1975, through ’85, and then it was followed up by this fantastic conference on women in Beijing in 1995. What that did for the churches, because in 1985 we were in a World Council of Churches delegation in Nairobi for the end-of-the-decade conference. And we said, “you know, we keep demanding of governments what they must do to enable equality between men and women in societies, but what are we doing about equality in the churches between men and women?” So we wrote to the World Council of Churches and said, “do something.” And they set up the “Decade of the Churches in Solidarity with Women,” that actually ended last, at the end of last year. And I’m sad to say that the UN may have done much more on equality of men and women than the churches have. And so, the, it’s very clear the World Council of Churches in its assembly in Harare, realized that it had much further to go to get equality of men and women.
It’s how NGOs might impact the UN, bring ideas, work with the UN. But it’s also how the standards and the work of the UN must and should impact the organizations that work with them. That is extremely important.
PORTER: That is Mia Adjali, Executive Secretary for Global Concerns at the United Methodist Church. Our other guests have been Clarence Dias, President of the International Center for Law in Development, Afaf Mahfouz, is President of the Conference of Nongovernmental Organizations in Consultative Status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council, and Bill Pace, Executive Director of the World Federalist Movement and the Institute for Global Policy. For Common Ground, I’m Keith Porter.
MC HUGH: And I’m Kristin McHugh. Cassettes and transcripts of this program are available. The transcripts are free. Cassettes cost $5.00. To place an order or to share your thoughts about the program, please write to us at: The Stanley Foundation, 209 Iowa Avenue, Muscatine, Iowa 52761. Please refer to program No. 9922. To order by credit card you can call us at 319·264·1500. Transcripts are also available on our web site, commongroundradio.org. Our e-mail address is [email protected].
PORTER: B.J. Leiderman created our theme music. Common Ground is produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.