This past March, I had the honor to participate at the 57th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) as a delegate of the Human Rights Advocates and as an Edith Coliver Intern of the Human Rights Clinic. While my colleagues focused on substantial issues regarding women’s rights, their protection and promotion, I had the opportunity to work on procedural issues and my main task was to discover the real rationale behind restricting the cooperation between civil society and the CSW.
The CSW platform used to be a place for the NGOs to thrive and to freely and with great success present their work and render support to the Commission. Although the work of NGOs has proved to be a vital element of the discussions and work at CSW, at the last two sessions, NGOs were not even allowed to observe the decision-making processes. Consultations on Agreed Conclusions were held as closed meetings and at the 56th CSW session no Agreed Conclusions were adopted.
While talking to governmental delegates and representatives of other NGOs, I realized that the issue was even more sensitive and serious than I expected. Therefore, I had to act in a very discreet way and present my views carefully. Fortunately, I had the chance to speak to several delegates who supported and cared greatly for cooperation with the civil society and provided me with invaluable information.
I found out that the Member States meet before each session and actually vote on the participation of NGOs in the deliberation on Agreed Conclusions. Although there are many states supporting the idea of closer cooperation, the counterforce coming from certain regional groups is too strong.
The involvement of NGOs into governmental work is based on the ideas of open governance and transparency of governmental actions facilitating the development and strengthening of democracy. As a political philosophy, the open governance principle advocates the participation of interested citizens in the democratic process in order to enable them to influence the creation of policies. Most national governments and legislative bodies honoring democracy have opened their procedures to the participation and observation of their citizens that bring the touch of reality and give the representatives a sense of needs and interests of the people. NGOs often represent those citizens who can influence these processes only with major difficulties. Therefore, they should be allowed to take their place and speak for them where needed.
Most delegates and representatives I approached were surprised to find out that the legal basis for participation of NGOs does actually allow for more intensive cooperation. In fact, it is identical to the one at the Human Rights Council. However, the CSW has developed exceedingly restrictive practices. The exclusion of NGOs raises a question whether the lack of transparency and accountability in the CSW procedures leads to the complication of the negotiations and weakens their efficiency.
After my return from New York, we decided to follow up my findings and to approach the Bureau of CSW directly. We sent out a letter addressing the main issues and requesting action. Moreover, the Human Rights Advocates has joined the initiative of several European NGOs to work on the restructuring of CSW.
Since there are no official channels for NGOs to speak up and raise the issue at the CSW directly, it is necessary to find a different, more discreet way to fight for the principles of democracy and transparency to be reintroduced into the CSW work. Be it talking to the governmental representatives in the couloirs or communicating with the Secretariat of CSW in an unofficial manner—it is essential that we raise our voice and let them know that honoring these principles will take our efforts even further; disregarding them will mean a step back.