The United Nations Non-Governmental Liaison Service (UN-NGLS) is an inter-agency programme of the United Nations mandated to promote and develop constructive relations between the United Nations and civil society organizations.
On 26 November, a civil society dialogue with the recently-installed President of the 67th Session of the General Assembly, Vuk Jeremić of Serbia, was organized by NGLS, the NGO Branch of the Department for Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), and the NGO Section of the Department of Public Information, at UN Headquarters in New York. This candid, introductory meeting provided an opportunity for civil society participants to raise concerns and ask questions to the President of the General Assembly (PGA), who provided an overview of the priorities of his term and its objectives, including in relation to civil society engagement at the UN.
Joined by two senior advisers, Ambassador Dejan Šahović and Damjan Krnjević-Mišković, Mr. Jeremić expressed his appreciation for the work of civil society at and around the UN and for the opportunity to exchange views. The PGA focused his remarks on the acceleration of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs); the importance of the post-2015 development agenda especially in the context of the outcomes of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (“Rio+20”), including the establishment of the high-level political forum for sustainable development, and the open working group (OWG) on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) currently under discussion at the General Assembly; the resolution of disputes through peaceful means; and global economic governance and the improvement of cooperation between the General Assembly and the G20 agenda.
Mr. Jeremić mentioned the special event to be held in September 2013 during the 68th session of the General Assembly (GA 68) on efforts towards achieving the MDGs as a potential important entry point for civil society and other stakeholders, and encouraged NGOs present to continue their work in support of the MDGs’ targets. Working together is essential to ensure that the work of civil society and the UN on the post-2015 development agenda will be mutually reinforcing and beneficial, the PGA stressed, especially in the context of the precedent set by Rio+20 in terms of civil society engagement and inclusive consultations. In terms of Rio+20 outcomes, he also expressed his hope that this special event during GA 68 will serve as an opportunity to unite the SDGs and post-2015 processes into one “common track.” In addition, he informed the audience that he will soon appoint facilitators to begin the organization of work towards the high-level political forum for sustainable development. Mr. Jeremić encouraged civil society to work with them and to continue to contribute dialogue, including constructive criticism, to related UN conversations.
The PGA expressed his disappointment that the OWG on SDGs, called for by the outcomes of the Rio conference, is not yet up and running. He shared that he had recently addressed the regional groups of the General Assembly and reminded them that by the end of 2012 the group must be formed and prepared to begin work in January 2013. In response to a question from Aine O’Connor, Sisters of Mercy and Mercy International Association, the PGA stated that the issue of multi-stakeholder engagement in the OWG is not yet on the table, but he will encourage the group to address modalities of multi-stakeholder engagement as it outlines its Terms of Reference.
Mr. Jeremić raised the issue of global economic governance as a high priority for his term and as an important potential entry point for civil society engagement. In the context of the increasingly important role of the G20 and resultant questions about its transparency and inclusivity, the PGA shared his intentions to improve relations between the G20 and the General Assembly, as the sole multilateral body operating on the principle of sovereign equality. Creating a consultation framework between the GA and G20, therefore, and simultaneously engaging the Bretton Woods Institutions where appropriate, is a central aim of the PGA. This will revitalize the General Assembly, and thereby contribute to the revitalization of the United Nations.
An informal, high-level debate will be held in the GA on global governance, in accordance with Resolution 66/256, the PGA shared. In addition to this event, the PGA intends to hold a number of other thematic debates: on climate change and green energy, in partnership with Jeffrey Sachs’s Earth Institute; on social inequality, working with the Organization of American States and with special focus on Latin America; on development as a tool of peaceful resolution of disputes, particularly in Africa and through partnering with the African Union; on culture and development, with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); and on the role of international criminal justice in reconciliation. During the Question and Answer session, Mr. Jeremić stated his intention to support broad, visible civil society participation in these debates.
Questions from civil society participants focused on the annual DPI-NGO conference, which did not take place in 2012 due to the inability to secure a willing host country; the urgent need to address climate change and potential modalities to ensure Member States’ accountability therein; how to include “voiceless” or marginalized groups in intergovernmental discussions; the inclusion of women and a gender perspective, particularly in the peaceful resolution of disputes; the role of the UN in global economic governance given the centralization of power in only a few financial institutions; and the need to focus on fragile and post-conflict States especially within a post-2015 sustainable development agenda.
The webcast of this event is available here.Archive of this section