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“I am… even more impressed by the strong participation of non-governmental activists – within national delegations, at a wide range of parallel events, in the roundtables, and as observers in the plenary sessions. You can feel their presence… everywhere, and they really have transformed the atmosphere of the building, as they d at all the best United Nations events. I am more than ever convinced that such partnerships are essential to our success in the new century.”
-Kofi Annan, UN Secretary-General, 2001,
at the close of the UN General Assembly’s Special Session
on HIV/AIDS in 2001
According to the book "Intergovernmental Negotiations and Decision Making at the United Nations", the 1945 UN Charter itself calls for the cooperation with Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) in their work. In the 90’s, NGO involvement increased considerably during large-scale conferences on development issues: sustainable development, population, and women, among other subjects. This exposure to the process of actual intergovernmental decision-making paved the way for NGOs to see the UN “as an arena for policy dialogue and advocacy.”
And indeed NGO participation has been growing since then. So much so that a guide for NGOs was published in 2003 by the UN-NGLS.
The UN Non-Governmental Liaison Service (UN-NGLS), as an interagency program, is “mandated to support the organizations of the UN in developing their relations with NGOs and wider civil society,” and “the constructive engagement of NGOs and CSOs in the work and governance of the UN system.” They authored this book for the purpose of providing “basic, practical information to individuals and organizations that are interested in understanding the nature and dynamics of intergovernmental decision making at the United Nations.” And I believe this 106+ page book managed to do so. It’s a quick read that’s packed with good theoretical explanations balanced with some practical advice, and topped off with resourced for further information and study.
Let’s walk through the three basic parts of the book.
Part 1: Intergovernmental Negotiations and Decision Making at the United Nations: How it Works.
This section walks you through the structure of the UN, pointing out who makes what decisions and who gets to vote. Then it goes into how decisions are made, explaining the differences between the types of documents – resolutions, declarations, programmes of action and conventions & treaties. It also explains how members can get their points of view on the record – explanatory notes, reservations after adoption or interpretative statements.
Once they are done with the theoretical explanation of the structures and definitions, then they get down and dirty – a run through of the “blocs of power”, their “tactics and trade offs”, and how to track negotiations by tracking the documents and understanding the document symbols.
Part 2: A Guide to NGO Participation
The second part of the book was written by Gretchen Sidhu, a journalist and NGO activist who has covered the UN and an array of intergovernmental negotiations since 1994. She covers practical things needed by any NGO – accreditation, getting consultative status, preparing for meetings, where to find information, how to partner with the UN all the way to follow-up and implementation.
Part 3: Annexes
About a quarter of the book is composed of the annex – the first part a comprehensive listing of different UN departments, and the latter a list of institutional resources and even a map of the UN system.
All in all, a great read to prep you if you find yourself on your way to a UN conference! It’ll help you understand the bigger context, your place in that big picture as well as some basics on how to move within that system – all under 110-pages. Download the latest edition here.