Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Concerning NGOs, China Had a Point

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Concerning NGOs, China Had a Point

Article excerpt

IT is extremely unfashionable for a Westerner to sympathize with the People's Republic of China on any international controversy. Nevertheless, the concern about the lack of hospitality (and perhaps worse) extended to the UN World Conference on Women is not as simple a matter as most analysts of the subject assume. There is no need to defend the bureaucratic obstacles encountered by official delegates to the UN conference. Surely, the country hosting a United Nations meeting should not arbitrarily decide which delegates should be allowed to come to the sessions and which should not. That is the prerogative of the UN itself. But such questions were not at the heart of the problems that arose in connection with the meetings in China. That is so because, in recent years, the very notion of a United Nations conference has become rather complicated. As was the case of the UN-sponsored Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, most of the attendees were neither delegates to the conference nor media representatives nor other individuals who wished to witness the proceedings. The great bulk registered for a different meeting - a parallel private forum that started six days earlier than the official conference. The groups sponsoring this alternate forum were "nongovernmental organizations," often referred to as NGOs. In UN parlance, the very designation NGO has an extremely specialized meaning. Just because an organization is not a governmental agency does not automatically mean that it can call itself an NGO. The UN bureaucracy has the power to designate which private groups are to be assigned this label and the specific privileges they can enjoy. It is inaccurate to contend that the group must be a radical, activist organization to qualify. Over the years, the UN has designated a fortunate few conservative organizations as NGOs. But it is correct to state that the typical NGO is a radical activist outfit. …
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