Opening Remarks at a UN General Assembly Meeting for the UN Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations

Courtney Nemroff
Acting U.S. Representative to ECOSOC
New York, New York
January 20, 2020


Thank you, Mr. Chair.

We welcome our fellow Committee members, states that are non-members of the Committee, and civil society representatives to this regular session. The United States reiterates its call on NGO Committee members to recommit ourselves to making this Committee and the UN more transparent and accessible for civil society organizations. We also take this opportunity to recall the important civil society consultations held in June 2018 and we look forward to working with our colleagues on the Committee and in the NGO Branch to hold the next consultation as soon as possible.

Members of this Committee, like in all UN bodies, have committed to uphold the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, including the right to freedom of expression and freedom of association for everyone, including members of NGOs. These freedoms underpin a diverse and thriving civil society, which helps to solve problems, mitigate conflicts, and otherwise contribute to our rich social fabric. By protecting these freedoms for members of NGOs, we foster the open exchange of ideas that is essential to innovation and creative solutions in multilateral bodies.

The United States therefore has serious concerns with any member of this Committee insisting that NGOs use so-called “correct UN terminology” in their applications, websites, and documents as a condition for receiving ECOSOC consultative status.

NGOs, like member states, can reference Taiwan, as well as autonomous or special administrative regions such as Hong Kong, Macau, or Tibet, as they choose according to their official position on their applications, websites, or documents. NGOs are not required to refer to Taiwan as a “Province of China,” nor are they required to refer to Hong Kong, Macau, or Tibet as a “Special Administrative Region of China” or an “Autonomous Region of China,” on any of their materials as a condition for receiving ECOSOC consultative status.

Insisting that NGOs use certain terminology in support of particular political positions, especially as a condition for receiving ECOSOC consultative status, would have the effect of censoring organizations’ online presence, unduly restricting freedom of expression, and stifling civil society voices in the UN.

ECOSOC Resolution 96/31 provides this Committee with the principles to be applied in establishing consultative relations with NGOs. None of those principles require NGOs to alter their preferred terminology as a pre-condition for consultative status. As with all actions taken by this Committee, it is crucial that we follow the principles established in ECOSOC resolution 96/31.

Furthermore, in 2010, the UN’s Office of Legal Affairs made it clear that the UN may not alter the nomenclature in documents submitted by UN member states.

The Office of Legal Affairs stated as follows:
“[…] the practice of the United Nations when circulating a document from a Member State has been to reproduce the document as it has been received and not to alter the terminology employed. The United Nations cannot change its contents as this would be tantamount to interfering in the official/national position of a Member State. Full responsibility for the substance of a communication remains with the Member State requesting its circulation.”

This principle, based on non-interference in official positions, equally applies to submissions by NGOs.

We note that we do not accept other aspects of OLA’s opinion, namely that General Assembly resolution 2758 means that the UN must consider Taiwan to be a province of China. But even if one were to accept OLA’s opinion in its entirety, it is clear that a member state can include references to Taiwan in its documents and not insert the phrase “Province of China.” For similar reasons, an NGO can do the same. The same principle applies to references to autonomous or special administrative regions such as Hong Kong, Macau, or Tibet.

We also reject the notion that NGOs who fail to remove or alter references to Taiwan, or to autonomous or special administrative regions such as Hong Kong, Macau, or Tibet are not upholding the spirit, purposes, and principles of the UN Charter. Under the Charter, NGOs, like member states, can use the terminology they choose according to their official position without their commitment to the UN Charter being impugned.

As affirmed in ECOSOC Resolution 96/31, civil society’s participation is vital to the work of the UN. Recommendations to grant consultative status should be made with the purpose of ensuring that NGOs expressing important elements of public opinion have a voice at the UN.

We request that this statement be reflected in the report of the Committee.

Thank you, Chairperson.