The past few years have witnessed a sweeping change in the attitudes, approaches and policies of the United Nations system with regard to relations with NGOs and their participation in the work of the UN. While this has been most visible in the recent series of UN world summits and conferences1, measures to strengthen cooperation with NGOs are being taken across the entire UN system and in virtually all areas of its activity: policy research and analysis; policy dialogue and normative work; monitoring and advocacy; operational development activities; humanitarian work, particularly responding to emergencies and to the needs of refugees; promoting human rights, democratization, disarmament and peace; and information dissemination and raising public awareness of the issues and challenges on the UN's agenda.
Today, in a context of UN reform, virtually all UN system departments, agencies, programmes and funds are engaged in fundamental reviews of their relations with organizations of civil society. In some cases, the functions of NGO liaison offices are being recast from public relations and information to a role more integrated with the substantive programme of the agency concerned. Guidelines for working with NGOs are being developed or updated, and more enabling and pro-active approaches to cooperating with local and regional NGOs are being developed for the UN system's regional and country offices. Many UN agencies and bodies now hold periodic consultations with NGOs on substantive issues, policy questions and programme strategies.
New forms of management and governance of UN entities are also emerging that involve the participation of NGOs. For example, the programme coordinating board of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) has five seats for NGO representatives, and the Inter-Agency Standing Committee on Humanitarian Affairs has three places for NGOs. A number of UN agencies cooperate with standing NGO committees that have been established explicitly as permanent fora for ongoing policy dialogue between NGOs and the agency concerned. In addition, several UN agencies are currently exploring new approaches for the greater involvement of NGOs in their governance arrangements and are developing information disclosure policies with inputs from NGOs. The recent establishment of a focal point for NGO matters in the Office of the Secretary-General has given added authority and priority to UN cooperation with NGOs. At the same time the Inter-Departmental Working Group on NGOs has been reconvened in New York and Geneva to provide a forum for UN staff with responsibility for NGO relations to deal with a range of issues and challenges arising from intensified cooperation between the UN system and NGOs.
At the intergovernmental level, UN Member States are providing funding to assure the participation of NGOs from developing countries and countries with economies in transition in UN events and fora. Increasingly, Member States from all parts of the world are including representatives of NGOs in official delegations to the UN. Flexible procedures have been introduced to enable NGOs accredited to world conferences and summits to participate in the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) commissions charged with follow-up to the conferences. Occasionally, NGOs are now permitted to participate as observers in informal intergovernmental discussions and negotiations. New forms of dialogue and interaction between Members States and NGOs, such as joint panels, roundtables and stakeholder dialogues, have also been introduced.
These new approaches and practices are changing profoundly the way that the UN goes about its work. In particular, the recent review and updating of ECOSOC legislation dealing with NGO consultative status, the results of which are set out in ECOSOC resolution 1996/31, opens up new possibilities for national and regional NGOs to acquire consultative status with ECOSOC. It also enables the UN system to build upon the innovative and dynamic experience of the past few years and continue to strengthen its multiple and diverse relations and cooperation with NGOs. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has presented two reports concerning NGO access to all areas of the UN's work to the 1998 and 1999 sessions of the General Assembly.
As part of its ongoing programme activities, NGLS provides a wide range of information to the development NGO community on the programmes, policies and activities of those agencies and institutions of the UN system that work in the fields of economic and social development, human rights, and humanitarian and emergency relief. In recent years, and reflecting the upsurge of NGO interest in the UN and vice versa, NGLS has been inundated with requests for information on these UN agencies, programmes and funds. This handbook is NGLS's response to this demand. Drawing upon NGLS's interagency character, and in cooperation with its sponsoring agencies, the handbook seeks to provide a consolidated overview of the principal economic and social development institutions of the UN system. Each entry looks at the institutional origins and background, programme activities, and relations with and policies toward NGOs of the agency, programme or fund concerned.
The handbook's 31 entries cover the UN Organization and 18 agencies, programmes and funds directly related to the UN Organization (ITC, ODCCP, OHCHR, UNAIDS, UNCDF, UNCHS, UNCTAD, UNDP, UNEP, UNFPA, UNHCR, UNICEF, UNIFEM, UNITAR, UNRISD, UNU, UNV, WFP), eight specialized agencies (FAO, IAEA, IFAD, ILO, UNESCO, UNIDO, WHO, World Bank) and four environmental conventions (CBD, CITES, UNCCD, UNFCCC). These entries were provided by the organizations themselves. The handbook also contains an entry for the United Nations Non-Governmental Liaison Service (NGLS), an interagency unit within the UN system. With the exception of the UN Organization, which is the first entry, and NGLS, which is the last, the entries in this handbook are organized in alphabetical order for easy reference.
NGLS would like to take this opportunity to thank the UN Foundation and the UN agencies, programmes, funds and conventions represented in the handbook for their close collaboration in this project. As always, NGLS welcomes readers' comments and observations on how future editions of this handbook might be improved.
1. The 1990 World Summit for Children, the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), the 1993 International Conference on Human Rights, the 1994 Global Conference on the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States (SIDS), the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), the 1995 World Summit for Social Development (WSSD), the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women (FWCW), and the 1996 Second UN Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II).