UN: Can Civil Society really engage?

As we saw last week there is a real opportunity for civil society to engage with an international organisation soecifically the World Bank Group but what about the United Nations which the New York City part of the trip focused on. During my time I had the great opportunity of meeting all those involved from accredited Civil Society Organisations, member states and those involved with the process. 

The most important piece of shared learning which is how I want to start this off for working with the United Nations is to be strategic and smart in the way that as an organisation you go about it. This can range from choosing a soft topic, making sure that UN language is used on websites and in publications to tailoring the message to individual states to show why you are relevant to the UN and to give them less concerns. Furthermore, the idea is to foster relationships with member states as the individual relations are what allows their to be full understanding of the aim and objectives. 

While there is opportunities for NGO to participate in the UNs work through receiving ad hoc accreditation to certain meetings, conferences or events this does in itself provide a number of challenges as it gives member states the ability to restrict the civil society that participates and at what level which is why it is seen as important to receive formal accreditation from the body in order to have the direct access and to be able to further the organisations agenda. 

As what has already been started to discuss the topic matters to the level of civil society engagement at meetings but also through the application process. This is because there is both soft topics where states do not have many issues with engagement, these are the less contraversial topics and then there is the more controversial topics where states do not support engagement as they could bring focus or criticism on a state. Knowing this civil society can be strategic in their applications by showing a thematic focus on a topic rather than a regional one as it just shows an importance of the topic compared to the view that the organisation is going to particularly target an individual state. 

A major topic of civil society engagement within the UN is focused around the NGO Committee which is the committee which accrediates NGOs to allow them access to ECOSOC and due to the history also accrediates access to the Human Rights Council. So while much of what discussed in this already is learning on how to engage with the committee, there has been calls to reform it. So while this is not specifically fellowship focused it lead to interesting conversations about improvements or reform to the system. These ranged from the need to improve communication systems, increase the level of research avaliable, increase the membership of the committee to include a more equal balance of supportive states and those less so to having greater guidance to both states and civil society on the process. 

It was quite clear during my time in New York City that many of the challenges involved in working in the UN were identified by both States and Civil Society just each identifying some level of responsibility for it on the other. Even though civil society space is closing internationally across states and that receiving accreditation is difficult in some areas, the actual access has improved to the variety of civil society. The reason I say this is because the UN system 10 years ago used to be exclusive to international based NGOs but then reforms came into place so that national NGO’s have the ability to receive accreditation. So there has been overeat but as the quote goes – ‘Two steps forward, one step back’ which is how many groups feel.

As I now travel to Canada to start the next part of the trip beginning in Toronto, I will try and post more about what I find out! 


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