Asian Civil Society Forum (ACSF) 2002
UNCC, Bangkok / December 9 to 13, 2002
UN/NGO Partnerships for Democratic Governance:
Building Capacities and Networks for Human Rights and
Table of Contents1. Introduction2. Main
Characteristics 3. Theme and Terminology 4. Background of the Theme5. Basic
Perspectives & Approaches6. Ten Guideline Questions Appendices
Conference of NGOs in consultative relationship
with the United Nations (CONGO)
Working Group on Outreach to Asia (WGOA)
Palais des Nations, Room E2-B, 1211 Geneva 20, Switzerland
Tel: (41-22) 917-1881 / Fax: (41-22) 917-0373
Websites: www.acsf.net / www.ngocongo.org
“We the People…
even though the United Nations is an organization of States,
the Charter is written in the name of “We the Peoples”.
Ultimately, then, the United Nations exists for, and must serve,
the needs and hopes of people everywhere.”
From “The Role of the United Nations in the Twenty-First Century”,
the Report of Kofi Annan, UN Secretary General to
the Millennium Assembly of the United Nations (September 2000)
1. Asian Civil Society Forum (ACSF) 2002 is a key component of the Conference of NGOs in
consultative status with the UN (CONGO) outreach program which was recently drawn up by
the CONGO Board. The CONGO General Assembly held in Vienna from November 6 to 8, 2000
resolved to “seek to increase its outreach to NGOs in developing countries whose
contributions are essential to our vision of a truly inclusive global community” in order
to implement the spirit of “UN/NGO Dynamics in the 21st Century: Together for Social
Justice, Equality and Peace”. The Assembly also further “recognizes that this requires
both commitment of resources and an openness to partnership and to mutual
2. In an effort to implement its new vision and mission on the ground, CONGO has
developed the following strategic goals for phase 2002- 2005:
· Enhance dialogue between NGOs and the UN
· Outreach to the NGO Community, particularly in the Global South
· Empowerment and Capacity building for NGOs
· Improve Global Communication
· Expand Services for members
3. The Assembly’s resolutions were made following the realization of the rapid
quantitative growth and proliferation of NGOs in consultative relationship with the UN
over the last several years. As a result, there has been an increasingly-felt need to
urgently address the issues and challenges in relation to UN/NGO cooperation as well as
the coordination/cooperation and training of NGOs, particularly, in the South.
4. Soon after the General Assembly 2000, a Working Group on Outreach to Asia (WGOA) was
formed with the following mandates;
· Facilitate participation of NGOs in Asia in the UN system
· Provide space of learning for those NGOs who are in need of practical training
about UN mechanisms,
· Promote dialogue and cooperation among NGOs in Asia involved in advocacy,
particularly among NGOs in consultative relationship with the UN,
· Promote dialogue and cooperation between UN and NGOs in Asia and
· To increase CONGO membership among NGOs in Asia,
5. WGOA then began to explore concrete possibilities of implementing such a strategic
vision in the Asian context. Consequently, since then, a series of informal consultation
meetings with those interested and concerned within and outside CONGO have been held.
As a result, the theme and issues for discussion were chosen and programme has been drawn
up. The UN Conference Centre (UNCC) in the compound of UN Economic and Social Council
for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) in Bangkok was selected to facilitate a more interactive
dialogue between NGOs and UN, and the dates of December 9 to 13, 2002 were chosen to
commemorate December 10th Human Rights Day during ACSF 2002.
6. The main strategic objectives and goals of ACSF 2002 are as follows;
· To promote cooperation and solidarity among NGOs in Asia who are engaged in
advocacy activities in the UN.
· To facilitate proactive dialogue and debate among NGOs on issues concerning
UN/NGO partnerships for democratic governance at all levels.
· To provide NGOs with practical training about advocacy in the UN.
· To assess the impact and implementation of UN global Summits and conferences in
· To develop NGOs’ strategies in ensuring that governments’ pledges made at the
UN conferences are fully implemented,
· To help prepare NGOs in Asia for the forthcoming UN meetings,
· To develop input of NGOs in Asia into the ongoing process of UN democratisation
and reform, and
· To develop possible regional mechanisms for more systematic and effective
cooperation between UN and NGOs in Asia.
7. In a nutshell, ACSF 2002 is a pilot project of the CONGO outreach program. While
continuing this type of outreach work in Asia, CONGO is also planning to develop outreach
work in other continents in the forthcoming years.
2. Main Characteristics of ACSF 2002
ACSF 2002 is a multi-dimensional, multi-sectoral and multi-facet process and event where
multi-stake holders have been involved. Therefore, it has many faces depending on one’
s perspective and expectations. ACSF 2002 is being organized in a form of forum as it is
believed to accommodate more diverse views, orientation and cultures in NGO community in
Asia. ACSF 2002 is an open space where people freely and voluntarily express their
views, share their experiences and act together.
The followings are the main characteristics which have been identified and perceived by
In terms of partnership within NGOs community,
1) ACSF 2002 is a regional follow-up action to the NGO Millennium Forum.
The NGO Millennium Forum (New York, May 22-26, 2000) was organized as part of the civil
society input to the UN Millennium Summit (New York, Sept. 6-8, 2000). CONGO was part of
the organizing body and ACSF 2002 is a regional follow-up to Millennium Forum
Declaration and Agenda for Action, in particular, a response to a call for the creation
of a Global Civil Society Forum.
2) ACSF 2002 is a part of ongoing efforts/initiatives to strengthen the advocacy capacity
of Asian civil society.
The number of NGOs involved in advocacy work at UN – regional and global bodies – has
dramatically increased over the last several years. However, the effectiveness of their
advocacy work still needs to be improved through better strategic planning, cooperation
and coordination. ACSF 2002 is an opportunity for mutual learning and sharing of
experiences and resources between more experienced and ‘new’ NGOs in advocacy at UN.
3) ACSF 2002 is a space for inter and cross-sectoral dialogue among NGOs in Asia.
ACSF 2002 aims to be a bridge in promoting proactive dialogue between human rights,
sustainable development and environment community in emerging civil society in Asia.
Many key leaders and actors in these fields or sectors are expected to contribute to
developing more holistic and integral perspective and approach on issues which are cross-
cutting and interconnected in nature.
4) ACSF 2002 is a space for multi-dimensional dialogue by civil society actors at all
ACSF 2002 aims to provide a space for mutual learning and cross-fertilization by actors
working at different levels – local, national, regional and global. Asians working in
international NGOs in Geneva and New York as well as regional NGOs in Asia are expected
to play a catalytic role in bridging the gap between different global levels.
5) ACSF 2002 is part of an ongoing global reflection on the role of civil society for
ACSF 2002 is part of ongoing civil society initiatives to democratise emerging global
governance mechanisms. ACSF 2002 is in line with other ongoing global initiatives on
democratic governance in terms of ideas and perspectives such as the World Commission on
Global Governance, World Social Forum (WSF) and Asian Social Forum (ASF), Montreal
International Forum (FIM), etc.
In terms of partnership with the UN,
6) ACSF 2002 is a concrete action in partnership with the UN towards empowerment and
capacity building of civil society actors in advocacy.
ACSF 2002 is a collectively concerted initiative in partnership with the UN-related
bodies such as the Department of Economic Social Affairs (DESA) NGO Section, Department
of Public Information (DPI) NGO Section and the Non-Governmental Liaison Service (NGLS)
with support of UN Economic and Social Commission in Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and
other UN bodies in the region to bring the UN closer to people in Asia.
7) ACSF 2002 is a regional platform to develop strategies in implementing Millennium
Development Goals (MDGs) in Asia
MDGs is another global challenge and opportunity for civil society in Asia. It provides
civil society advocates with a useful tool to hold Asian governments accountable to the
pledges they have made at the UN summits and conferences. ACSF 2002 will discuss its
advantages and limitations, and how to make full use of it in promoting human rights and
sustainable development in Asia.
8) ACSF 2002 is a regional space and mechanism where critically assessment of the outcome
and impact of UN meetings can be made.
There have been a series of global meetings initiated by UN from Rio 1992 to Johannesburg
2002. There have been annual meetings of UN on human rights and sustainable
development. New agendas, standards and goals were set in the process but no effective
regional mechanism for their full implementation is in place. Their impact in Asia is
still minimal despite their importance and relevance. There is an urgent need to review
these processes more systematically and regularly in civil society in Asia.
9) ACSF 2002 is a channel where civil society can contribute to the ongoing
democratisation and reform of the UN.
Strengthening of the UN through its democratisation and reform is a key to success in
creating a more participatory and effective global governance mechanism. Civil society
has a great role to play in this effort and ACSF 2002 is expected to be a space where the
key leaders and actors of civil society in Asia articulate their positions and bring
their inputs into the process of UN democratisation and reform.
10) ACSF 2002 is a regional platform to mobilize civil society on the global agenda and
Proactive responses towards the global agenda and standard setting has been a constant
challenge to civil society in Asia due to the geographical distance from the places of
global decision-making bodies and lack of human and financial resources. The forthcoming
UN World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) to be held in Geneva in early December
2003 will be another challenge and opportunity for NGOs in Asia.
In conclusion, ACSF 2002 is a forum to provide the most updated ‘state of art’ view
regarding UN/NGO partnerships for democratic governance in the fields of human rights and
3. Theme and Terminology
The theme of ACSF 2002 is “UN/NGO Partnership for Democratic Governance – Building
Capacities and Networks for Human Rights and Sustainable Development”. The key message
contained in the theme is that “Building Capacities and Networks for Human Rights and
Sustainable Development”, which is essential for “UN/NGO Partnerships” and crucial for
the development of “Democratic Governance”.
– 박선영씨 할 부분
The meaning of the terms used in ACSF 2002 are as follows;
The term UN includes various organizations in the UN system including UN agencies,
programs and funds and UN-related inter-governmental organizations operating in Asia such
as International Labor Organization (ILO). The International Financial Institutions
(IFIs) such as International Monetary Fund(IMF), World Bank and Asian Development Bank
(ADB) and World Trade Organization are not technically considered as part of the UN
system although they work closely with the UN.
The term NGOs literally mean non-governmental organizations, involved in advocacy work at
the various UN bodies. It particularly refers to NGOs with consultative relationship
granted by the ECOSOC. It also includes NGOs working with the UN agencies and inter-
governmental organizations and UN regional bodies and/or national branches. It can also
indicates the various types of civil society organizations (CSOs) including community-
based organizations (CBO), social movement organizations (SMOs) and religious-based and
inter-religious organizations which work for public goods or interests. They are usually
non-profitable, non-partisan and non-violent in nature. However it does not include
business or the private sector which represents private interests or profits.
The term Partnerships refers to a mode of cooperation among stakeholders for common
purposes. It covers all stages from agenda-setting, planning, decision-making and
implementation to evaluation. The theme “UN/NGO partnerships” means NGOs participation
in the work of the UN in cooperation with the member States and other stake-holders.
The term Democratic Governance means a democratic system of global governance which
requires full participation of all stake-holders including human rights defenders and
victims, in the decision-making and implementation processes. It also implies the
importance of democratising the emerging global governance mechanisms.
The term Human Rights refers to internationally recognized and accepted standards such as
the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and various Human Rights conventions and
treaties which have an inclusive approach of “All human rights for all” based on basic
principles of universality, interdependence and indivisibility.
The term Sustainable Development refers to “a form of development that meets the needs
of the present without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their
own needs” as defined by the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) in
its report Our Common Future in 1987. It is to mean socially ecologically sound and
4. Background of the Theme
The theme “UN/NGO Partnerships for Democratic Governance – Building Capacities and
Networks for Human Rights and Sustainable Development” provides a conceptual and
practical framework for civil society actors in developing their advocacy strategies.
Today there are hardly any social issues which are not addressed by NGOs. There are a
great number of NGOs working on numerous issues at different stages – agenda-setting,
standard-setting, policy-making and implementation – at all levels – local, national,
regional and global. Therefore, one can find, without difficulty, a network or coalition
among NGOs on virtually any issue in Asia. Networking and coalition- building are
important means of capacity-building, in fact, networking itself is capacity-building.
Among many other issues and sectors , human rights and sustainable development has been
chosen for the following strategic reasons:
1) Human rights and sustainable development are two main pillars and overarching
themes which bring together the UN and NGOs in Asia involved in advocacy in UN.
2) Geneva is a global focal point for human rights. CONGO, with its presence in
Geneva for more than 50 years, has long experience and expertise on human rights in
Geneva. Its Special Committee on Human Rights together with other committees has played
a leading role in facilitating NGOs inputs into UN human rights bodies and in
safeguarding NGOs’ right to participate.
3) Asia is one of the regions where human rights discourse and culture are still a
distant reality and where human rights institutions are least developed.
4) There have been few substantive dialogues and interactions between NGO
communities working on human rights and sustainable development in Asia both at the
national and regional level.
5) There is an urgent need to strengthen follow-up mechanisms within NGOs in Asia
implementing the outcome of recent UN meetings such as the Durban WCAR 2001 (human
rights) and the Johannesburg WSSD 2002 (sustainable development).
In pursuing the discourse on UN/NGO partnerships for democratic governance, there are
other stake-holders who need to be taken into account in terms of strategic engagement or
critical collaboration. States, the private sector and ‘uncivil society’ , among many
others, are key elements that need to be addressed in developing UN/NGO partnerships for
Despite the challenges of globalisation, States remain an important and central role-
player in today’s global governance and international relations. Their role in
developing public policies for global public goods in terms of universal values and norms
such as human rights and sustainable development become all the more important in today’
s neo-liberal economic globalisation. Critical yet constructive cooperation between
governments and civil society organizations is crucial in promoting participatory
democracy nationally and globally which can ensure promotion of human rights and
However, some States have been trying to oppose or reduce the space for civil society’s
involvement inside the UN. Some have even established quasi-NGOs called Government-
Organized NGOs (GONGO) which are controlled by the governments and which primarily serve
the vested interest of the States, not necessarily human rights victims or marginalized
people. This has impacted the NGO community negatively, creating an atmosphere of
confusion, division and mistrust among NGOs.
The influence of the private sector over governmental and UN policies has been increasing
to the extent that “global compact” or public-private partnership has become one of the
top priorities in the UN agenda. In particular, business-interested NGOs (BINGO),
created and/or controlled by transnational corporations have effectively advocated the
agenda and interest of the private sector in the UN. On the other hand, many NGOs have
been facing the reality of diminishing resources which affected their functions on the
ground, thus losing civil society’s independence and autonomy. More effective mechanism
of cooperation among the States, the private sector and NGOs needs to be developed on the
basis of universal values and public goods such as human rights and sustainable
development over profit or private interest.
Non-state actors such as terrorists groups, organizations involved in human and drug
trafficking and organized crimes are an emerging threat to the development of sound and
healthy society today. Civil society needs to get more involved in dealing with the
negative consequences or impact of their activities, and in addressing fundamental and
structural factors in terms of conflict prevention and transformation in the case of
terrorism. Groups of religious fundamentalism and religious sectors are also culturally
and politically challenging civil society which is open and diverse.
5. Basic Perspectives and Approaches
UN/NGO partnerships and democratic governance is a very complex issue which needs to be
addressed by various stake-holders and actors, and requires a multi-dimensional and multi-
sectoral approach. However, its importance and implication for emerging civil society
cannot be stressed too much particularly in today’s globalisation context because NGOs
are challenged to democratise the mechanisms of global governance.
The following will be the basic points of departure from which participants are expected
to build their own, commonly acceptable and shared perspectives and approaches during
ACSF 2002. They are a summary of the exchange and proposals made during a series of
formal and informal consultation meetings with many stake-holders concerned over years.
UN/NGOs partnerships for democratic governance
1) Global governance begins at home.
Any global initiative will bear little fruit without strong and effective democratic
governance mechanism at the national level. There should be more coherence and
consistency in policy-making by different ministries in the national government in terms
of human rights and sustainable development.
2) Democratic participation is a prerequisite for global governance.
Any debate on global governance, if it is to be relevant, needs to begin with the
question of participation. Democratic participation is crucial for transparency and
accountability as it will enhance effectiveness and efficiency in terms of policy-making
and implementation. There is no accountability without transparency, and transparency
need to be ensured by a check and balance system through democratic participation at all
3) Human Rights should not stop at Geneva.
The realization of human rights is far from reality in most Asian countries. The
development in human rights discourse in Geneva takes too long to reach Asia. The basic
principles of human rights such as universality, interdependence and indivisibility need
to be constantly reaffirmed and implemented in public policy at all levels.
4) Partnerships needed to be developed simultaneously at different levels.
Any effort for UN/NGO partnerships needs to be accompanied with similar one for
collaboration within NGOs community and UN body. UN/NGO partnerships will not bear much
fruit unless there is a genuine cooperation within NGOs and UN community.
5) More relevant and practical regional mechanisms for standard-setting and its
implementation need to be developed as a matter of priority.
Given the fact that Asia is the least developed region in terms of its human rights
mechanism, there should be more proactive initiatives by the UN bringing the States, NGOs
and other stake-holders. Regional and inter-regional inter-governmental bodies such as
Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation
(APEC), Asia Europe Meeting (ASEM) need to create more space for civil society
participation, and their norms and standards need to be compatible with the global ones
set by the UN.
Partnership within NGOs community
6) Cross-sectoral dialogue in civil society needs to be promoted.
In today’s complex global society of accelerated globalisation processes, a holistic and
integral approach on issues becomes very important. Civil society actors need to make
more efforts to understand the issues in terms of interconnectivity of all actors and
factors to overcome fragmentation and disconnection in their vision and perspective. In
particular, there should be more dialogue for mutual learning among human rights, peace,
sustainable development and environment with a perspective of gender equality.
7) Qualitative growth in number does not necessarily correspond with the qualitative
Like-minded NGOs who share common values and objectives need to work more closely in a
spirit of solidarity and cooperation. A culture to appreciate diversity in unity and
unity in diversity needs to be consciously cultivated. An effort needs to be made to
avoid waste of resources and energy, and duplication through better coordination and
cooperation. It is cost-effective and synergy effect needs to be created.
8) More self-critical efforts need to be emphasized to examine the undemocratic practices
and cultures within civil society.
Means used by NGOs to achieve their goals need to be examined constantly in order to
maintain its high ethical standard and integrity. The human right victims and the poor,
the marginalized and excluded people should always be a central concern and on top of the
agenda for NGOs involved in advocacy. The principles of accountability, democratic
representation and transparency that has been claimed by NGOs towards the governments
and UN organizations should also be applied in NGOs.
9) NGOs in Asia are challenged to reach out beyond its boundary.
Solidarity with the people in the Global South (South-South cooperation) is as equally
important as solidarity within Asia. A two- way process of mutual reaching out between
International and Asian NGOs needs to be actively promoted through empowerment process of
NGOs in Asia.
10) Civil society should be central in promoting dialogue among civilizations.
Dialogue among civilizations dominated by the States get easily politicised while similar
initiatives by academics or institutionalised religions lack proactive agenda for
action. Open and diverse civil societies based on universal values such as human rights,
peace and sustainable development need to lead dialogue among civilizations.
6. Ten Guideline Questions
With the above-mentioned background in mind, the following questions will serve as a
basis for presentation, discussion and plan of action throughout the sessions.
Within NGOs community,
1) What are key issues at stake for NGOs in Asia in terms of UN/NGO partnerships
for democratic governance?
2) What are the key challenges for NGOs in Asia in the fields of human rights,
sustainable development and environment in developing UN/NGO partnerships?
3) How can UN/NGOs partnerships for democratic governance be more effectively
promoted in Asia at local, national and regional levels?
4) How can NGOs in Asia work together more effectively for partnership in building
capacities and networks for advocacy?
5) What are the main agenda and strategies of NGOs in Asia at the forthcoming UN
In relation to the UN and States,
6) What is the role of UN in developing democratic governance? How to strengthen
and democratise the UN for democratic governance?
7) What are the existing UN mechanisms and instruments – global and regional –
available for NGOs in Asia for democratic governance?
8) How can NGOs in Asia make use of UN mechanisms and instruments more effectively
at global, regional and national levels?
9) How can NGOs in Asia contribute to the full implementation of the outcome of
the UN summits/conferences at the national and regional level?
10) How can NGOs in Asia make their governments more accountable for their pledges
at the UN summits/conferences and in particular the MDGs?