12th Crime Congress

Can NGOs and civil society really have an impact through UN conferences?

Posted in Uncategorized by 12thcrimecongress on 9 April 2010

It’s a question I’ve often asked myself. Sometimes the answer seems, unequivocally, “yes!”, but other times I am less sure. While there is no doubt that civil society (NGOs, think tanks, loose groups of citizens) make valuable contributions, I wonder whether they are really able to shake up the discourse between governments. The meetings of the G8 and the World Trade Organization, for example, are so often accompanied by violent protests that the distance between “ordinary” citizens and Governments seems insurmountable.

At the two crime congresses organized by the United Nations that I’ve been involved in, I have been surprised by the degree to which NGOs are integrated in conference events. This seems particularly true at this edition of the Congress, as civil society but also the United Nations and certain Government organizations are all involved in the ancillary meetings.

To explore the issue of NGO influence, I e-mailed Gary Hill, who has played a key role in organizing the involvement of non-governmental entities in the Congress, and Mirella Dummar-Frahi, UNODC Civil Affairs Officer.

When I asked Gary whether NGOs can really influence the discussion, he wrote: “YES! Official UN resolutions, conventions and standards for the transfer of sanctions, victims and restorative justice are just a few of the issues which originated in the NGO community and have become part of official UN documents and policies”. And Mirella stresses that civil society’s participation in the international debate “is crucial to bring reality and experience to policymakers and to report what actually happens on the ground”.

As Gary reminds us, “the United Nations General Assembly and the Crime Commission have made it very clear that input from NGOs and civil society is critical if the UN crime prevention and criminal justice programme is to have an impact in making our world safer and more humane”.

Let’s see what happens at the Congress next week.