The UN and the NGO

The original intention in founding the United Nations was for it to be exclusively a voluntary organization of sovereign states in which they agreed to work together and cooperate for the good of all. In its charter we read, “We the peoples of the United Nations determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind….,” clearly setting forth its original vision and purpose.

But, from its beginnings, the understanding was already forming that governments alone could not achieve the lofty goals of a safer, more peaceful and prosperous world. So, in Article 71 of the Charter of the United Nations we find a point of entry offered to ‘civil society’ – those who are not governments, but who have an interest in the future harmony of the world. In fact the term Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) was invented by the United Nations. This provision marked a major departure from the structure of its predeessor (the League of Nations) that failed to provide a hearing to ourside affiliates. Article 71 led to the ongoing collaborative relationship between the UN and the NGOs that endures to this day.

What I observed, from my internship at the UN this year, suggest that a love/hate relationship exists between the member states and the NGOs. The UN, and many of the member states, recognize they need the NGOs in order to fulfill the implementation of mandates such as the Mellinneum Development Goals (MDGs). So much is this the case that while I was there I attended a 2 day hearing in the General Assembly hall where the NGOs were given the opportunity to address the UN on how they observed the Nation States achieving, or failing to achieve, the MDGs. Yet, it was interesting to note that of the 192 countries that make up the member states, only 27 were represented at these hearings.

The other side of the equation is this: Member States, like Australia, send financial support to developing counties. Australia, through AusAID, sends financial support to Papua New Guinea (PNG), but rather than give the money to the government of PNG, they give it to the Community of Christian Churches to provide basic social services. This is because the level of corruption in the government is such that the best guarantee of getting the money to the people who need it is to give it to an NGO. Australia is not unique in this respect. The UN more and more recognizes that it needs to rely on the NGOs to get aid to those in need. Yet the member states, while they recognize this important partnership with the NGOs, are not enamoured of it because the NGOs keep them honest and point out their corruption and exploitative practices that violate human rights.

Officially the nature of the consultative relationship between the UN and the NGOs is meant to be reciprocal. NGOs are granted the privilege of participating in a wide variety of UN-sponsored meetings and activities. In return, they are expected to contribute, each in their own way, to support the Economic and Social developmental aims of the UN. The UN department by which NGOs are connected to the UN is ECOSOC – The Economic and Social Council.

When we, the Passionist Congregation, made our application to be recognized as an NGO within the UN framework, we were asked what contribution we would expect to make to the goals of the United Nations if granted consultative status. So the relationship is understood in terms of a partnership with the member States of the UN for global development.

A religious congregation such as ours brings a certain richness to the wider NGO community and to the UN system because of the expertise that its members have developed over hundreds of years. This expertise grows out of living in situations of diversity with the skills that this calls for; it comes from a familiarity with the struggles of people forced to lived in poverty or who experience social exclusion; It comes from long experience with the use of such strategies as social analysis and theological reflection; use of the see/judge/act as a way of discerning and reaching decisions.

As an international community of religious, we Passionists already live a multicultural experience. Because of the countries in which we find ourselves, we are used to working close to people, especially those who are forced to live in poverty.

This knowledge of the real challenges facing people as they struggle with poverty and injustice helps us to be able to understand and articulate some of the root causes of the issues that lie at the core of the UN agenda of development, human rights and peace. This capacity for analysis means that we do not come empty handed to the debate, decision making and formulation of policy in the inter-governmental forum that constitutes the United Nations.

The best way the membership of an NGO, such as ours, can help strengthen their presence and influence at the UN is by raising their profile on the ground. By increasing our efforts for advocacy in the countries where we are present, making governments take notice of us by our work with the poor and disadvantaged as well as lobbying when we observe them act in ways that fall short of respect for human rights, we give a louder voice to our representatives working at the UN headquarters. This raised voice, of course, is not our own. Our task, like that of most NGOs, is to give a voice to the voiceless, including the voiceless environment, so that these are heard in the General Assembly hall and the Member States. This is critical because the Member states, actively operating in a world dominated by the philosophy of the ‘Free Market Economy,’ often see the poor at best as comodities, and at worst as colatoral damage. The poor need us to give them a human face and a human voice that challenges a philosophy that often reduces them to a statistic.


About Passionist JPIC Australia

I am a priest with the Passionist Congregation and a part of our Australian Province which includes Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Vietnam. I have been ordained since December of 1992. I was born in the Philippines, though am from Spanish decent. I came to Australia in 1972 with my family when I was 11 years old, and we settled in Brisbane. That is where I did the rest of my growing up. On completing high school, I went to Queensland University where I studied for 4 years, completing a B.Sc. with a major in Microbiology. The following year I decided to enter into the Passionist Congregation to study for the priesthood. I trained for 9 years, and have been a priest for 25 years. In my time as a priest I have been Director of the Passionist Family Group Movement in Victoria, Tasmania and Queensland; conducted over 400 Parish Missions all around Australia and New Zealand, but particularly in Victoria and Western Australia; worked in adult faith education, Sacramental preparation for children and parents; Hospital chaplaincy; High school chaplaincy, in-services and retreats. In the year 200 I became engaged in developing young adult retreat teams and training them to carry on our high school retreat programs. I am also chair of our Province’s committee for Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation (JPIC). I am also a member of ACRATH (Australian Catholic Religious Against Trafficking in Humans).
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One Response to The UN and the NGO

  1. Jubin says:

    Toby, Great list. I can add the following: In order to help cempanios find NGO s that fit their type of business you can also use the following segmentation:Peace and conflict resolution NGO’s : Work in areas relating to the reduction and elimination of destructive conflict , or, in another definition promote peace, reconciliation, and coexistence Youth NGO’s: Major issues most popular among youth NGO’s include HIV/aids, human rights, diversity, the environment, education, and social entrepreneurship.Children’s NGO’s: These NGO’s are essential to uphold the standards articulated by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). They contribute to the global movement for children by advocating for youth, monitoring compliance with the CRC and coordinating aid and development programs. Examples could be: UNICEF, CRIN and Delhi Education Initiative.Women NGO s: Devoted to causes and issues critical to women, these NGOs are the Legacy of human rights activism in times of historical crisis and are rooted in the fundamental principles of equality. Global Fund for Women, Womankind Worldwide and institute of Social Studies Trust.Environmental NGO’s: The environmental NGO seeks directly to impact and influence environmental issues on the international, national and local levels. Examples could be: Green Peace, International Society for Environmental Epidemiology and People and Planet.Educational NGOs: Addressing the lack of education in a region or country is the focus of educational NGOs. Such organisations could have goals to improve the educational level of the children from orphanages, special schools, homeless children or children with physical and mental disabilities. Examples could be: Unesco, Youth for Achievements and orphanages.Human Rights NGO’s: Devote their resources to the promotion and protection of universal human rights. Unlike governments, who tend to seek human rights for their own citizens, human rights NGOs fight for the security of human rights for all people. Examples could be: Amnesty International, Center of Concern and International Society for Human rights.Humanitarian NGO’s: Are an integral component of international affairs and security, and integral to the functioning of aid in all types of humanitarian disasters. Examples could be: The International Red Cross, Salvation Army, CARE International and Oxfam.Learn more about me and my approach to Responsible Procurement Management at can learn more about NGO s in the NGO Handbook where the above inspiration comes from.

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