NGO engagement

Legal assistance paper

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Date produced: 03/12/2010

1. Are there any examples of observer advisory or consultative panels, platforms, or other formal mechanisms in other UN Conventions that have been created to increase or facilitate government and observer dialogue? 

2. How do these panels or platforms engage with state Parties?

3. What mechanisms do the panels or platform contain to increase observer access and participation?

Summary:

We are not aware of any other UN Convention that gives observers/NGOs a right to participate in decision-making.

However, we are aware that there are several Conventions that have mechanisms to encourage Party-NGO dialogue. The mechanism used include discussion forums with representative of State parties and rights of participation at meetings of the Convention Parties.

One notable example is the participation of NGOs under the Convention on Biological Diversity, which had formal and informal mechanisms to encourage State Party-observer dialogue including participation in meetings, contribution to a virtual library resource and interactive discussion in a forum.

Advice:

We are aware that there are several Conventions and UN departments that have mechanisms to encourage Party-NGO dialogue. We set out below several examples which illustrate the different approaches that may be used.

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)

In the CBD the role of observer NGOs is prominent, although they do not have the right to vote.

In terms of formal rights, Article 23 (5) of the CBD states:

“Any other body or agency, whether governmental or nongovernmental, qualified in fields relating to conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, which has informed the Secretariat of its wish to be represented as an observer at a meeting of the Conference of the Parties, may be admitted unless at least one third of the Parties present object. The admission and participation of observers shall be subject to the rules of procedure adopted by the Conference of the Parties.”

The CBD Rules of Procedure for the Conference of Parties further provides:

“Observers

RULE 7

1. The Secretariat shall notify any body or agency, whether governmental or non-governmental, qualified in fields relating to the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, which has informed the Secretariat of its wish to be represented, of meetings of the Conference of the Parties so that they may be represented as observers unless at least one third of the Parties present at the meeting object.

2. Such observers may, upon invitation of the President, participate without the right to vote in the proceedings of any meeting in matters of direct concern to the body or agency they represent unless at least one third of the Parties present at the meeting object.”

Rule 7 only applies to ‘proceedings of any meeting’. However, ‘meeting’ is defined in Rule 2 as ‘any ordinary or extraordinary meeting of the Conference of the Parties…’ Rule 26, however, provides that the Rules apply to subsidiary bodies and working groups.

In practice however, NGOs are permitted to attend all meetings, formal and informal, including working groups and contact groups, and are only occasionally excluded when the item is particularly sensitive. The Rules do not apply to informal consultations, contact groups, etc, so NGOs have no right to attend those. They are, however, allowed to participate which reflects the general consensus that NGOs play a useful role.

In CBD, NGO observers can table proposals on their own initiative, but they are not discussed unless supported by a Party. This means that observers’ participation in practice is more extensive than provided for in the Rule of Procedure. Therefore, despite the fact that in formal terms observers have no right to participate in decision-making, in practice their participation in discussion gives them a lot of influence.

The CBD does not specifically create any observer advisory or consultative panels, platforms, or other formal mechanisms in order to increase or facilitate State Party-observer dialogue. However, the CBD’s ‘Clearing House Mechanism’ does aim to promote and facilitate technical and scientific cooperation, among Parties, other Governments and stakeholders by providing an interactive, virtual library resource.

In addition, the Global Biodiversity Forum meets prior to the Conference of the Parties of the CBD and provides NGOs with the opportunity to communicate with State Parties, members of the scientific community and industry.

Global Forum on Oceans, Coasts and Islands

The Global Forum on Oceans, Coasts and Islands is not treaty-based and does not have decision making powers. However, the Forum is composed of governmental actors, intergovernmental and international organisations and non-governmental sector (includes industry, educational institutions and foundations).

It has created three Roundtables for high-level officials, donors and private sector because it considers important to engage them in developing the agenda. These Roundtables are: Ministerial Roundtable, Ocean Donors Roundtable, and Business and Industry Leaders Roundtable. They meet on an annual or bi-annual basis. It is clear therefore that non-state participation is vital to the Forum. However, it has been difficult to find any information on the rules of the participation, how NGOs can become involved, or how active role they play. The Forum states on their website that organizations are invited “to collaborate with the Global Forum in the further development and implementation of the strategic plan to advance to global oceans agenda and associated activities.” Unfortunately, no more is stated on that topic.