The United Nations System and NGOs


 Dr.Rao VBJ Chelikani

l. Precedents: Between the First and Second World Wars, the League of Nations, albeit in an informal manner, consulted regularly with non-governmental organizations working in the economic and social fields. During those consultations, a leading role was played by the International institute for Intellectual Cooperation, a precursor of UNESCO. The foundational vision of the United Nations was subscribed and drafted mostly by the elite thinkers and scientists of the civil society like Eleanor Roosevelt, Rene Cassin, Julian Huxley, etc. and not by the repentant sovereign states after causing the scourge of two world wars.

II. The Charter of the United Nations: The Charter, adopted in 1945 at the San Francisco Conference as the institutional frame work for the United Nations, includes a special provision which provides a general basis for relations between the United Nations and NGOs: Article 71, which authorizes the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) to “make suitable arrangements for consultation with non-governmental organizations which are concerned with matters within its competence.”

III. ECOSOC Provisions: At its earliest sessions, ECOSOC drew up a series of provisions to govern its relations with NGOs. Thus, in 1950 it defined the criteria that would guarantee the non-governmental nature of their organizations wishing to cooperate and the conditions under which they could enter into informal, consultative and associative relations with ECOSOC. This classification was officially revised in 1996, in response to the change in attitude and to the policy regarding voluntary organizations which were constantly evolving.

IV. Specialised Agencies: All the Specialised Inter-Governmental Agencies like the ILO, UNDP, UNEP, WHO, UNICEF, etc., including the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation maitain direct working relationships with NGOs and other private entities, independent of the member-states.

A. UNESCO and NGOs: The Constitution adopted in London on 15th November 1945 took into account the essential role that non-governmental organizations were intended to play, along with  government–sponsored action in international cooperation: “in the service of peoples for development, equality, international understanding and peace”. The provisions of Article XI.4 enabled UNESCO to construct with the representatives of civil society a close and multi disciplinary network of cooperative relations. UNESCO has inspired the formation of several international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) and many of them are housed in the headquarters, along with its secretariat and the Permanent Delegations of the States.

V. Recent Adaptations and Problems:

1. The last three decades of the twentieth century confirmed the increasingly important role played by NGOs on the international scene, in particular since the United Nations Conference on Human Development, held in Stockholm in1972. The United Nations system had therefore to take this new development into account and made a gradual effort to adjust to it, especially after the civil societies had asserted at the Rio- Summit (UNCED, 1992) their willingness to act as a key partner to the member-States at the international level.

2. Thus, NGOs are fully accredited at ECOSOC conferences and the United Nations considers them as fully-fledged participants in international life. They are invited to participate in all the inter-governmental conferences on various issues plaguing the world and are treated on pr with the member-States in discussions.

3. The growing recognition of NGOs as partners representing civil society is part of a movement towards greater democratization which seems all the more necessary in that they express various concerns and new aspirations of the people in the world. They are playing an increasingly powerful role, which, at times take the form of protest movements, which cannot fail to be perceived as challenges to be met. For example, the role and impact of NGOs was apparent during the demonstrations that interrupted the start of the World Trade Organisation negotiations in Seattle in 1999.

VI. The United Nations Civil Society Conference is the annual premier event in the civil society calendar at the United Nations.  It typically attracts more than 3,000 participants representing over 700 civil society organizations from over 100 countries. Each Conference focuses on a different UN topic of interest related to the work of civil society and NGOs. This international forum also brings together senior UN System officials, prominent international civil society organizations, academicians, public opinion makers and international media to discuss issues of global concern.                                                                                                          

Contact:  & UN Information Club web sites. www. 


 VII. INDIA’s Commitment:  though for the past fifty years, the Indian diplomats have not been very enthusiastic to let international agencies to work directly with Indian civil society organizations, nevertheless INGO activism in India has been very inspiring for Indian civil society organizations and many Indian non-official citizens could get into important jobs in the Un-related organizations and INGOs with their own efforts. There is a ray of hope now, since the GoI has issued its latest commitment, no later than on 15th July 2022 that both India and European Union have held the 10th round of talks on Human Rights and that they agreed to safeguard the freedom, independence and diversity of civil society actors, including human rights defenders and journalists.  (Times News Network, ToI, 16th July, page 11.)

VIII. United Nations Non-Governmental Liaison Service (NGLS): 

1.Ms. Susan Alzner Tel.: +1 212 963 3125 / Fax: +1 212 963 8712  Email: United Nations Plaza, DC1-1106 C, 10017 New York City  USA                                                      

2. UN-NGLS Palais des Nations, Geneva, Ch-1211 Switzerland.Tel:41-22/7985850.


Post a Comment