June 21, 2024

Strengthening Civil Society with the United Nations

Carlos Kouami Akouegnonhou, Johanna Lena Zabel, Nadine Johanna Liddy and Rini Elizabath Babu

With a focus on OHCHR and UNFCCC


A new report by the Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung Geneva together with the Geneva Graduate Institute focuses on strengthening civil society engagement within the United Nations. The report, entitled “Strengthening Civil Society with the United Nations”, looks at the important role played by civil society organisations (CSOs) within the United Nations (UN). Special attention is given to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Context and Background

Civil society has historically been a cornerstone in shaping, monitoring, and evaluating policies that support the UN’s mission to maintain global peace and security. Despite this, there has been growing discontent among CSOs over their perceived exclusion from the UN system. The publication addresses this issue, noting that systemic barriers and logistical challenges have increasingly marginalized CSOs, particularly those from the Global South.

The project was initiated in response to calls for reform and inclusivity, echoed by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres through his “Pact of the Future” draft aimed at reinforcing civil society’s involvement in UN processes. The report presents an ambitious aim: to scrutinize the extent of civil society engagement and provide actionable recommendations to enhance this participation, ensuring that the voices of civil society, especially from the Global South, are integral to international governance.

Key Findings and Insights

Based on a thorough literature review and 39 stakeholder interviews, the report highlights several
critical findings:

  • Diverse Interpretations: The terms “engagement” and “participation” are understood
    differently across various stakeholders, necessitating a unified approach to foster cohesive
    inclusion.
  • Enablers of Participation: Effective participation is facilitated by open communication with UN
    secretariats, transparent processes, hybrid meeting formats, and capacity-building initiatives.
  • Barriers to Participation: Logistical issues, security concerns, financial constraints, and unclear
    definitions of civil society hamper effective engagement, disproportionately affecting smaller,
    less funded organizations from the Global South.
  • Summit of the Future: The upcoming summit has elicited mixed reactions, with scepticism
    about its ability to bring substantial changes and optimism about its potential to foster more
    accessible platforms for civil society engagement.

Recommendations

To overcome these challenges and barriers, the report proposes several recommendations:

  • Institutional Reforms: Implement structural changes within UN institutions to facilitate more
    inclusive participation mechanisms.
  • Resource Allocation: Increase financial and logistical support for CSOs, especially from the Global South, to ensure their active involvement in UN processes.
  • Hybrid Modalities: Maintain and expand hybrid meeting formats to allow broader participation.
  • Clear Definitions: Establish consistent definitions of civil society to avoid ambiguities and ensure all relevant actors are included.

Conclusion

This publication is a pivotal step towards understanding and addressing the challenges faced by civil society in engaging with the UN. By implementing the outlined recommendations, there is a potential to significantly improve the inclusivity and effectiveness of civil society participation, ultimately strengthening the UN’s mission of promoting global peace, security, and human rights. For a detailed exploration of the research findings and recommendations, access the full report below.