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Annual Civil Society Briefing

25 February 2015
Annual Civil Society Briefing

Opening remarks by Mr. Michael Møller
United Nations Under-Secretary-General
Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva

Annual Civil Society Briefing

Palais des Nations, Room XXI
Wednesday, 25 February 2015 at 11:00 a.m.

Chers collègues et amis :

Je suis content de perpétuer notre très utile tradition de réunion au début de chaque année afin de discuter des priorités et des plans pour l’année à venir. Et aussi d’avoir une conversation sur comment, nous - l’Office des Nations Unies à Genève et la société civile - pouvons continuer à travailler ensemble pour la promotion de la paix, des droits et du bien-être de tous.

Tout d’abord, c’est un immense plaisir de vous présenter notre nouvelle Chargée de Liaison avec les ONG – Lidiya Grigoreva – qui nous a rejoint depuis le Haut-Commissariat aux Droits de l’Homme et qui a aussi étroitement travaillé avec l’OSCE. Beaucoup d’entre vous la connaisse déjà de par son travail avec nos collègues des droits de l’hommes. Vous verrez que nous n’avons pas seulement recruté une collègue expérimentée et hautement qualifiée mais aussi une partisane très engagée dans le rôle de la société civile au sein des travaux des Nations Unies. Nous sommes très heureux de l’avoir parmi nous et je suis sûr que vous l’accueillerez aussi chaleureusement que moi.

Comme vous le savez, maintenir et promouvoir le Palais de Nations et la Genève Internationale comme centre multilatéral est une priorité majeure pour moi, tout comme renforcer nos partenariats avec les instituts de recherche, les communautés d’affaires, le secteur académique et la société civile. Je suis convaincu que la société civile tient une place centrale et croissante dans le travail des Nations Unies. Créer et structurer un espace pour leur engagement restera une de nos priorités dans les années à venir.

Je commencerai par quelques remarques concernant ce que je considère être le plus important pour l’année à venir et par mettre en lumière les opportunités perceptibles pour renforcer notre engagement. Ensuite, le plus important pour moi sera de m’entretenir avec vous et d’entendre, selon vous, où sont les défis les plus importants à relever.



2015 est une année décisive concernant l’établissement des structures politiques pour les décennies à venir : la Conférence sur la Réduction des Risques de Désastre au Japon dans deux semaines ; la troisième Conférence sur la Finance pour le Développement à Addis Ababa en juillet ; le Sommet Spécial sur le Développement Durable à New York en septembre et la Conférence sur le Changement Climatique à Paris en décembre.

Le processus post-2015 a bénéficié de consultations vastes et inclusives sans précédent par la communauté internationale au sujet des préoccupations planétaires. Et ceci avec tous les Etats membres, le système global des Nations Unies, les experts, les acteurs de la société civile, des affaires et les populations du monde entier donnant leurs opinions et leurs contributions sur la manière de mettre fin à la pauvreté et de développer nos sociétés.

Le processus de consultation n’a pas été des plus faciles. On m’a fait part des inquiétudes d’ONG au début du processus de consultation, concernant notamment le respect de l’inclusion des droits de l’homme dans l’agenda post-2015 pour le développement. Je reconnais également les progrès réalisés depuis l’intégration des problématiques clés liées aux droits de l’homme, dans l’ébauche du texte des Objectifs pour le Développement Durable, et j’ai l’espoir qu’une avancée plus importante sera faite dans cette direction entre aujourd’hui et le Sommet.

Alors que les préparations pour le Sommet du mois de septembre entreront dans la phase finale au printemps, je vous encouragerais déjà à regarder au-delà de l’année 2015 et explorer les potentielles contributions de la société civile dans la mise en place des Objectifs pour le Développement Durable. Comme vous le savez mieux que moi, les bonnes idées sur papier restent sur papier à moins qu’une volonté les accompagnent pour les mettre en œuvre. Je vois qu’ici le rôle de la société civile est celui de stimuler les gouvernements et la communauté internationale afin qu’ils fassent de leur mieux pour rendre réels les objectifs pour le développement. Ceci est une préoccupation journalière de la société civile à différents niveaux : prôner le changement, suivre de près le progrès, faire état des avancées, critiquer lorsque les choses tournent mal, habiliter les autres à prendre part, éduquer le public et faire avancer la protection des plus défavorisés. Voici votre contribution essentielle pour un futur durable, équitable et prospère. Et c’est une contribution que, selon moi, la société civile peut particulièrement faire, ici à Genève, compte tenu de son expérience directe sur l’ensemble des aspects du développement et sur les droits de l’homme. Et compte tenu de la densité des acteurs opérationnels qui se trouvent ici et avec qui il est donc plus facile d’interagir.

Nos collègues du Service de liaison des Nations Unies avec les organisations non gouvernementales ont été à la tête de ce projet et ont aussi travaillé afin de connecter la communauté genevoise à ce processus, ce que j’apprécie beaucoup. Nous avons aussi travaillé avec le bureau de la Conseillère Spéciale Madame Amina Mohammed en vue d’un briefing et d’une interaction avec la société civile, ici à Genève, et il serait possible d'organiser une telle réunion dans la soirée dans le cas où il y a un intérêt de la part des acteurs de la société civile à y participer.

As we finalize this unprecedented range of new policy frameworks, we are also celebrating the 70th anniversary of the United Nations. This is at the same time the anniversary of the United Nations and civil society actors working together. Over the past seven decades, the United Nations system’s engagement with non-governmental organizations and civil society actors has undergone profound change, both in terms of numbers and variety of actors as well as depth of substantive issues and priorities. Without the tireless efforts and advocacy of NGOs, some parts of the United Nations might not even be in existence – like the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, for example. The United Nations system relies on the expertise and active involvement of civil society actors -and our policies and processes are the stronger for it.

In the context of the 70th anniversary, together with civil society partners, we plan to organize an event later this year to assess the relationship between United Nations and civil society, and to look ahead at how we can strengthen this partnership. This will be a good opportunity to exchange the experiences, practices and lessons learned of our engagement.

We will be holding an Open Day here at the Palais des Nations on 24 October where I hope we will see all of you, and a number of events during the year are placed in the context of the anniversary as well. The 70th anniversary belongs to all of us, just as the United Nations itself, and I encourage you all to be part of it, in whatever way that may be most appropriate for you. We have, as you know, very limited resources so the Secretariat cannot be involved in all events, but we are pleased to provide guidance and see where we can facilitate. If you have specific ideas where you could use advice or guidance, I encourage you to be in touch with the NGO Liaison Unit.

As many of you know, engaging civil society in support of disarmament is a particular priority for me. Not least in relation to the Conference on Disarmament, which currently has no formalized civil society engagement. For me, this is not only completely out of step with the way we do business in the 21st century in an area that is so critical to all of us, but it also deprives the Conference of useful input and ideas that can help take the work forward.

Against this background, some of you may know, I proposed last year to the Conference on Disarmament that I would host an Informal Civil Society Forum on the Conference, and I have decided to take this forward. The Forum, which is the first of its kind and a pilot to demonstrate the value of interaction with civil society in a very practical manner, will take place on 19 March here at the Palais des Nations. All CD Member States have welcomed the forum. We have consulted with a number of civil society actors in the process of compiling the programme and invitations have been sent to some 140 civil society organizations with a particular interest in disarmament matters. I hope for very active participation by civil society actors as it is an opportunity to present ideas and to engage directly with the CD members in an informal context. It is my hope that the event will prove so useful to the CD members that they will seriously reconsider their current posture vis-à-vis civil society participation in the work of the CD.

As you know, it is an important priority for me to change the perception and visibility of the work undertaken here in Geneva. The work of civil society is a particular asset here, and needs to be associated with this effort. We had a special briefing last year for civil society, with the Head of the Perception Change Project, Ms. Carolina Rodriguez, and I am pleased with the positive reception. She is with us today also so she can participate in this conversation and tap into any further ideas.

Over 60 partners have now come together in the Perception Change Project to collaborate on a series of projects and initiatives that showcase the extraordinary substance generated in Geneva and how it is relevant to people’s lives across this planet. We have created new ways of engaging with media, established partnerships with academia to map out existing research on the impact of our work, built a stronger online presence with meaningful content on social media and blogs, launched a number of new outreach projects such as TEDx Place des Nations, and the Escalade training day where the grounds of the Palais des Nations were opened to the public, and also produced a book with recipes for Peace, Rights and Well-being that showcases in an innovative format, the diversity and richness of the work of partners across international Geneva.

This project has tapped into a growing and common realization that “business as usual” is no longer a viable proposition. A broader and greater understanding of the relevance and impact of our work will ultimately translate into more informed decisions, increased efficiencies and greater support for what we collectively stand for: peace, rights and well-being. If we succeed, we will all benefit.

I would like to close with a few comments on the services that we provide specifically to facilitate the participation of civil society, within the realities of the diminishing resources that we have at our disposal.

Last year alone, sixty NGOs received guidance on how to apply for a consultative status with ECOCOS. More than 70 meetings were organized by NGOs in Palais des Nations with our support - not counting the side events NGOs held at the margins of various conferences. I am encouraged to see the increased participation of NGOs at the major events held at UNOG throughout 2014, and in particular the sessions of the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms. We heard you at the last meeting and have upgraded the NGO Resource Centre with significant additional computer capacity. This is your safe space to meet, read, research – use it.

Looking ahead, I am also pleased to let you know that in the first two months of 2015, already 2,300 NGO representatives have been accredited at UNOG, and the numbers are growing. We clearly have another active year ahead.

As many of you will know, we are working towards the implementation of the Strategic Heritage Plan for the Palais des Nations - a deep renovation and modernization of our common work space. We are now in the middle of the fact finding and design phase. Construction works are planned to start in 2017 and take place over eight years in a phased manner. This may affect conference activities, though the Palais des Nations will of course continue to be open for business. We will all benefit from a modernized conference centre once the works have been completed. The project will address a number of fire, health and safety code compliance issues as well as improving accessibility for persons with disabilities, which is a key priority for me. It will also provide for improved congress systems, as well as more flexible and functional interior spaces. Communications on the implementation of the Plan and its impact will be a key task for us, and we will continue keeping you posted.
Civil society is a key actor for the UN, and your inputs are essential to bring our work in Geneva closer to the situation on the ground and for the reality check that is sometimes missing in inter-governmental debates. It is of essence to ensure that the voices of minorities, indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities, youth, older persons, women and LGBT groups, to name a few, are represented. It is also of essence that an enabling environment be secured for the free, active, inclusive and meaningful engagement of civil society at all levels. I am committed to ensure that civil society space at the Palais des Nations is sustained and enlarged. This also means that we will continue working closely with the colleagues in the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and remain vigilant to situations of intimidation and reprisals against civil society participants.

I hope you consider our annual meetings useful. If you think that once a year is not enough, we can have another conversation, for example in September. The key is to have an exchange so I rely also on your input and your active engagement.

I also use this opportunity to let you know that 2014 UNOG Annual Report will be launched tomorrow in the first-ever tablet version. I invite you to consult this report to discover what we did together in 2014. I hope it will inspire even more collaboration and new ideas for 2015 and beyond.

As always, I encourage you to bring to my attention issues that you feel warrant closer attention by my Office. And as you know, the team will remain here for discussion of more practical issues, and I hope you take full advantage of that also.

I will close here and open for our discussion.

Thank you very much.