Strengthening NGO access and participation at the UN


It is vital to the functioning of the UN human rights system that NGOs can obtain accreditation and access through a fair, transparent and expeditious process, writes the Presidency of the Human Rights Council.

By the Presidency of the UN Human Rights Council

It cannot be stressed enough that for the efficiency and functionality of the Human Rights Council it is absolutely vital that we focus on our core competencies and unique features, which includes working in close cooperation with civil society. Civil society is at the core of human rights, at the core of our work in the Human Rights Council.

To further strengthen this core, we need to have a dynamic and interconnected civil society that can contribute to change on the ground by translating State commitments into laws, policies and actions. And for this to happen, the effective and active participation of NGOs in the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms is instrumental. We simply cannot fulfil the Council’s mandate without them.

It is, therefore, important to ensure that the established avenues for their engagement with the Council are open and accessible. The main avenue made available to civil society is via applying for accreditation to the UN to obtain Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) ‘consultative status’. As outlined in resolution 1996/31, this status grants NGOs, among other privileges, the opportunity to deliver oral and written statements at the Council sessions and to organise side events.

The United Nations Committee on Non-Governmental Organisations (the 'UN Committee on NGOs') is the body responsible for the consideration of NGO applications for ECOSOC accreditation with the UN human rights system. Yet, what is worrisome is the fact that according to the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders in his report to the HRC’s 27th session, several stakeholders have voiced concerns about the large number of deferrals and perceived lack of transparency in decisions on consultative status of NGOs.

With regards to NGO participation in our Council specifically, the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association highlights that most accreditation difficulties are faced by NGOs working on human rights, with applications to the Committee pending for as long as 7 years.

Applying the criteria for assessing NGOs in a transparent and fair manner is of critical significance when it comes to determining which members of civil society are given the right to engage with our Council. This is because the effectiveness of our work is crucially underpinned by the participation of civil society actors. At this point, let me warmly congratulate ISHR on the launch of their new Handbook on the UN Committee on NGOs, which I sincerely hope will help to further broaden civil society participation in the work of our Council.

In this context, let me also underline that my Bureau and I are particularly worried about recurring cases of reprisals and intimidation against members of civil society who cooperate or have cooperated with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights. As the Presidency of the Council, we have called and will continue to call upon States to prevent and ensure adequate protection against such acts. It is our strong belief that NGO participation is invaluable to the work of our Council, and, as such, we have to do our utmost to protect it – a cause the Presidency, in close cooperation with OHCHR, is committedly pursuing.

NGO participation means having a window to the 'reality on the ground'. It means receiving knowledge from a unique source of information about the local implementation of our international commitments and indications of where human rights challenges lie.

NGO participation also means having a more frank and open discussion on human rights- a necessary condition for fulfilling our mandate.

Furthermore, participation of civil society in the Human Rights Council means creating more awareness about human rights violations globally and holding States accountable for their actions vis-à-vis their constituencies and for their commitments voiced during the Universal Periodic Review. A fully active civil society can help bridge the 'protection gap' between the rights of individuals and the responsibilities of us, as States.

Therefore, strengthening and supporting civil society’s role in the Council, means strengthening the Council itself, ensuring its continued relevance, effectiveness and impact.

None of us on our own, Governments included, have all the facts, best ideas, or know all the reasons underlying the problems we are trying to address. We can only benefit from collective wisdom. With this in mind, it is vital for us, States, to hear from all stakeholders, especially marginalised voices, in order to take practical steps for effectively implementing our human rights commitments.

Still today, many people around the world are not guaranteed their basic rights and they look to our Council to defend them, their freedoms and their dignity. It is my conviction that civil society is and always will be indispensable to better addressing this call, which is why NGO participation in the Council is invaluable and must be protected. We cannot do this work alone. And we should not underestimate the impact we can have if we work collectively.

This is an edited version of a statement delivered by Vice-President of the Human Rights Council, Ambassador Filloreta Kodra, at an event hosted by the Permanent Mission of Australia to the UN in Geneva on 22 April 2015.


  • Freedom of expression, association and assembly
  • NGOs
  • ECOSOC Committee on NGOs