How to Engage with the UN
The United Nations is both a participant in and a witness to an increasingly global civil society. More and more, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other civil society organizations (CSOs) are UN system partners and valuable UN links to civil society. CSOs play a key role at major United Nations Conferences and are indispensable partners for UN efforts at the country level. NGOs are consulted on UN policy and programme matters. The UN organizes and hosts, on a regular basis, briefings, meetings and conferences for NGO representatives who are accredited to UN offices, programmes and agencies.
There are formal and informal ways that NGOs can become involved with the UN System. NGOs can interact with UN main bodies (Security Council, General Assembly and ECOSOC), with the Secretariat and with UN agencies, funds and programmes.
NGOs can engage with the UN in different ways and at different levels. ECOSOC accreditation is a process that, as of 2013, can take three or more years. The annual UN pass allows NGOs access to the UN premises, to attend public events, to register oral/written statements and organise side-events.
DPI accreditation allows access to events, but involvement will be less
NGOs have areas allocated to them and there are precise rules all have to abide by in order to allow equitable participation of all.
NGOs have the responsibility to inform themselves and linking up with other NGOs is a good way to do this. It will also allow for networking and collaborative action.
Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC)
From the beginning, the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) has been the main entry point into the UN system for NGOs. ECOSOC remains the only main UN body with a formal framework for NGO participation. The detailed provisions for NGO involvement in ECOSOC’s work can be found in Resolution 1996/31 of 1996.
There are three different types of consultative status, depending on the level of participation:
General Status: applies to large international NGOs whose interests cover most of ECOSOC’s agenda. They may speak before delegates, circulate statements up to 2,000 words long, and place items on the agenda. They must provide a quadrennial report outlining their contributions to the UN.
Special Status: concerns NGOs with “special competence in some fields of activity of the Council.” They must provide a quadrennial report, but cannot place items on the agenda. Written statements are limited to 500 words.
Roster NGOs: concerns NGOs with one or more specific issues. They may attend meetings, but cannot speak or circulate statements.
In addition to access to all formal ECOSOC sessions, ECOSOC accreditation also gives NGOs the right to attend special UN meetings such as world conferences.
Today, there are more than 3,000 NGO in consultative status with ECOSOC. A complete listing of these NGOs is available on the website of the NGO section of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA).
ECOSOC: Criteria for Applying
Sub-regional, regional, national and international NGOs can apply for ECOSOC “consultative status.” Before 1996, only international NGOs were allowed to be accredited.
NGOs have to meet certain criteria to obtain the consultative status. The most important ones are:
1. NGO activities must be relevant to the work of ECOSOC
2. NGO must have at least two years of officially recognized existence
3. NGO must have a democratic decision making mechanism
4. NGO must be independent from government structures and public funds
The selection of NGOs is done by the ECOSOC Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations. The Committee is an intergovernmental body which is made up of 19 members. Applications for consultative status are reviewed twice a year.
General Assembly and Security Council
The General Assembly (GA) has increased its interactions with NGOs in the late 1990s and early years of the new century. In 2005, it started to organize informal interactive hearings with civil society and the private sector prior to high level meetings or dialogues held on various issues.
These hearings serve to present the experiences and views of civil society to governments and UN officials. So far they have proved very valuable to both the Member States and NGOs.
The first hearing was held in June 2005 prior to the World Summit of September 2005. This was an unprecedented event. More than 360 NGO representatives were able to attend as observers and 35 participants delivered a statement. In 2006, three informal interactive hearings with civil society were convened on HIV/AIDS, on Least Developed Countries and on international migration and development.
Besides these informal hearings, NGOs continue to work informally in some main General Assembly committees and subsidiary bodies, although never in plenary sessions.
As in the case of the General Assembly, the Security Council has greatly enhanced its informal relations with civil society in recent years. It has held informal meetings and briefings to get NGO contribution under the Arria formula. The Arria formula is an informal arrangement held outside the Council chambers that allows the Council to be briefed by one or several experts in a matter of concern to the Council.
It is quite an important development because before its introduction, only delegations and UN officials could speak at regular Council meetings. Recent examples of Arria formula meetings include briefings on small arms, on children and armed conflict and on women, peace and security.
UN Agencies, Funds, and Programmes
All UN agencies, funds and programmes engage with civil society in one way or another. Yet, the degree and form of interactions vary considerably from one entity to the other. Some organizations work very closely with civil society and have clear policy frameworks for their participation while others cooperate with NGOs only informally or on an ad-hoc basis.
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Other Ways to Get Involved
Department of Public Information
Another avenue for access to the UN is through the NGO Section of the Department of Public Information (DPI). The NGO Section of DPI conducts 30 briefings, three communications workshops, a two-day orientation programme for new NGO representatives, and the annual three-day DPI/NGO Conference, the premier NGO event at UN Headquarters in New York each year.
Criteria for applying
A central criteria for association is that the NGO possess an information and communications programme capable of providing and disseminating news and information about the UN in its thematic area of work.
* Up to three grounds passes per organization
* Access to the DPI/NGO Resource Centre at the UN Headquarters
* Access to official UN documents system-wide
* Regular monthly mailings
* Monthly calendar of events
* Option to participate in the 18 member Executive Committee that work closely on events and programmes with the DPI/NGO department
Temporary or Conference Accreditation
By applying for accreditation to a specific meeting or process – there are many different types of arrangements for NGO participation among the different UN meetings and processes. Each meeting or process generally has assigned a focal point for NGOs within its secretariat. Check the appropriate UN website. You can also contact NGLS with a specific inquiry.
By special occasional ad hoc arrangements with UN Security and Safety Services – these arrangements are made in connection with a specific meeting and will be announced in the invitation. Try contacting the organization holding the meeting to see if special arrangements have been made for people without UN grounds passes.
Civil Society Participation at the UN