United Nations

Role of NGOs upheld at the Millennium Summit

UNITED NATIONS - Although security concerns meant limited access for representatives of non-governmental organizations at the Millennium Summit, their role in world affairs was not forgotten.

In their speeches and in the Millennium Declaration, world leaders recognized the importance of partnership with civil society in meeting global challenges.

"The work of civil society is important to us, and to the United Nations," said Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister of Bangladesh. "The strength of the partnership we forge with them will enable us to realize our objectives."

In the Declaration, world leaders resolved to "give greater opportunities to the private sector, non-governmental organizations and civil society, in general, to contribute to the realization of the Organization's goals and programs." They also resolved to "develop strong partnerships with the private sector and with civil society organizations in pursuit of development and poverty eradication."

Representatives of civil society were among the few individuals who were not heads of state or government that were allowed to address the Summit. Specifically, representatives of two NGOs with observer status - the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Sovereign Military Order of Malta - spoke to the Summit.

Addressing the Summit on behalf of civil society at large, and representing a wide range of issues and organizations, was Techeste Ahderom, in his role as the co-chair of the Millennium Forum, a civil society gathering held at the United Nations in May as a parallel NGO conference to the Summit.

In his remarks, Mr. Ahderom reminded world leaders of the significant role that worldwide civil society has had in shaping global institutions and global policy and he reported on the outcome of the Forum, which brought together some 1,350 representatives of NGOs for five days and addressed six themes: peace, poverty eradication, human rights, sustainable development, globalization and "strengthening and democratizing the United Nations."

"This historic Summit may well be remembered as having opened the door to a long-awaited era of peace, justice and prosperity for all humanity," said Mr. Ahderom, who is the principal representative of the Bahá'í International Community to the United Nations. "This new era will, of course, require concrete deeds and not just words. We in civil society stand ready to work with you and your governments, side by side, in a strong new partnership to create this new world."

Mr. Ahderom asked Summit leaders to carefully review the Millennium Forum Declaration and Agenda for Action, a document that was drafted and adopted at the Forum last May by NGOs and civil society organizations from more than 100 countries. The full Declaration can be read at http://www.millenniumforum.org

The Forum's Declaration, he said, "offers a bold vision for humanity's future and outlines a series of concrete steps that the United Nations, governments, and members of civil society themselves can take to address the global problems facing humanity today."

Mr. Ahderom emphasized the important role civil society has played in promoting positive social change. "Throughout history, from the abolition of slavery to the recognition of the equality of women and men, most great social movements have begun not with governments but with ordinary people," Mr. Ahderom said. "In 1945, civil society again played an important role in shaping many of the key articles found in the Charter of the United Nations, especially in the area of human rights."

"More recently," Mr. Ahderom said, "NGOs have played a leading role in shaping and supporting an International Criminal Court, in the movement for debt cancellation, and in the International Campaign to Ban Landmines."

Link to complete text of Mr. Ahderom's speech

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