NGO advisory panels

Legal assistance paper

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Date produced: 01/12/2010

Are there any examples of NGO advisory panels in other UN Conventions? How do these NGO panels engage with the Parties? In particular, what are the examples, if any, of observer participation in the decision-making of convention bodies?


NGO participation in meetings of parties under conventions is normally provided for only in the rules of procedure, not in the convention itself. If the rules of procedure provide any role for NGOs, it is normally to observe, to speak if invited by the chair, and (sometimes) to table information papers at the discretion of the chair. We are not aware of any convention that gives NGOs a right to participate in decision-making.


As far as we are aware, there is no convention that provides NGOs with a right to participate in decision-making (ie by casting votes, as opposed to making interventions) under the convention.

As far as we are aware, there is one convention that provides (in the text of the convention itself) a right for NGOs to participate as an observer: the 1998 UNECE Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (Aarhus Convention). Article 10(5) of the Aarhus Convention provides that:

“5. Any non-governmental organization, qualified in the fields to which this Convention relates, which has informed the Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Europe of its wish to be represented at a meeting of the Parties shall be entitled to participate as an observer unless at least one third of the Parties present in the meeting raise objections.”

Article 10(5) provides for the participation of NGOs. This means that they would have the right to make interventions during meetings of the Parties to the Aarhus Conventions. This can be contrasted with the right of representation which is given to NGOs in many environmental treaties. This right of representation allows NGOs to be present at the meetings of the Parties but does not, by itself, give NGOs a right to make interventions. These treaties do not expressly deal with the rights of NGOs to participate and instead leave this issue to be resolved by the rules of procedure of the relevant COP.

The draft rules of procedure for the UNFCCC COP provide for the participation of NGOs only upon the invitation of the President of the COP. The same applies for the tabling of non-papers. This is similar to the rights of NGO participation in other environmental treaties.

In practice, NGOs tend to be given a lower status than other observers – the highest status is given to non-State parties, then international organisations, then NGOs.

NGOs have been influential in decision-making but, so far as we are aware, this has happened ‘behind the scenes’. For example, anecdotal evidence suggests that NGOs often “behave like states” despite the fact that they operate only as observers, without the ‘right to participate’. Other ways in which NGOs often influence is by sitting on State delegations or by persuading delegations to table a particular paper in its own name.