In a joint letter sent last week, a number of civil society groups request UN chief Antiónio Guterres “to take immediate action” to improve civil society access and participation at the United Nations. Ongoing difficulties underscore the need of establishing a UN Civil Society Envoy, they argue.
The letter expresses concern that the UN Secretary-General’s commitment to support active civil society participation is “not being put fully into practice, as civil society representatives continue to encounter a number of challenges in accessing the UN’s headquarters.”
Ongoing restrictions underscore need of a UN Civil Society Envoy
According to the document, the situation “is particularly acute during and immediately following the UN General Assembly’s High-Level Week” which is held each year in September. At this time, the letter notes, “accredited Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) are subjected to routine suspension of their annual and temporary grounds passes”.
“The disparity in access for civil society delegates viz. UN staff and members of government delegations who face no such restrictions stand as a critical reminder of the hurdles faced by accredited civil society representatives who travel great distances to contribute their perspectives at the UN”, the letter notes further. It adds that “it is also a missed opportunity for civil society delegates to engage in key negotiations inside the UN headquarters and for policymakers to benefit from their critical and expert voices buttressed by lived experience in advancing the principles enshrined in the UN Charter.”
Mandeep Tiwana, UN representative at CIVICUS, told IPS that civil society representatives have long complained about asymmetries across UN agencies and offices in engaging civil society. According to the letter, this “once again” underscores the “necessity for civil society to have a dedicated champion within the UN system, in the form of a Civil Society Envoy, who can help promote best practices in civil society participation across the UN and foster outreach by the UN to civil society groups worldwide, particularly those facing challenges in accessing the UN.”
The letter was signed by Access Now, Action for Sustainable Development, Amnesty International, CIVICUS, Civil Society in Development (CISU), Democracy Without Borders, Forus, Global Focus, Greenpeace International, Human Rights Watch, Oxfam International, TAP Network and UNA-UK.