|The Courier N° 128 July - August 1991 - Dossier : Human Rights- Democracy-Development Country Reports: Benin, Western Samoa (EC Courier, 1991, 96 p.)|
by Laure de Cenival
The 17th General Assembly of Europes development NGOs (non-governmental organizations - DNGOs) was held in Brussels on 9-11 April when representatives from the 700 organisations in the Liaison Committee of Development NGOs of the European Community and their partners in the Commission took stock of their cooperation and discussed prospects for NGO action in the coming years.
Since 1976, cooperation between the NGOs and the EEC has been practical proof that the Community shares the solidarity of the people of Europe with the poorest populations of the Third World. The focus has been on cofinancing development schemes (microprojects) in the developing countries, on campaigns to put public opinion in Europe in the picture, on food aid and emergency aid and on helping the NGOs coordinate to make them more effective. The NGOs and their local partners are highly motivated and committed and their independence relatively small size and autonomy and attendant flexible management all contribute to their success. These positive factors tend to combine to bring greater efficiency, speed and flexibility to the design and implementation of projects in the developing world, making NGO action a vital complement to intergovernmental and Community cooperation programmes.
Manuel Marin, Commission VicePresident, Nicole Pery, Vice-President of the European Parliament and member of its Development Committee as well as of the ACP-EEC Joint Assembly, and Devaki fain, the Head of the New Delhi Institute of Social Studies, spoke at the opening session of the meeting to a large number of representatives of Community institutions, ACP nations and NGOs.
Manuel Marins subject was human rights and development, an area in which he has taken the initiative of suggesting a new, innovatory Community policy tying development cooperation to the promotion of human rights and democracy. The Commission indeed intends going in for positive encouragement measures in the shape of large amounts of aid for countries - such as Haiti and Benin which are making a special effort. Although negative measures (sanctions) have not been ruled out, there is no question of imposing conditionality or, even less, a model for democracy. Proper development means respect for human rights and authentic democratic participation, and the development NGOs therefore see these areas as vitally important.
The opening session also saw the official prize-giving of the DNGO 2001, the annual award set up by Europes development NGOs in 1988 and given to a group or individual involved in an outstanding initiative to do with NorthSouth relations. This year it went to the International Collective in Support of Fish Workers (ICSFW), the North-South network of basic groups, NGOs, trade unions and fishermen from all over the world, which was founded in 1986 to improve the situation of people who depend on fishing and on the processing and distribution of fish and fish products for their livelihood. The original idea was to help artisanal fishermen in the Third World, but the organization now takes care of fisheries workers everywhere and is a fine example of an NGO in which North and South- are in partnership and adapting to the NGOs new role in a changing world the central theme of the 1991 meeting.
The world in which the NGOs work has changed over the past few years. There have been major upheavals on the international scene, bringing progress for democracy and an end to confrontation between East and West and taking Europes attention away from the problems of the developing world. The new international economic order currently emerging puts less emphasis on the poor and-focuses development on mankind. But the advance of democracy in many Third World countries is leading the populations of the South to want greater involvement and greater control over their own lives - which is why one of the essential aims of the General Assembly was to see how development agencies in the North and NGOs and grass roots groups in the South can cooperate more efficiently and achieve a democratic development model based on what the people need. Four workshops therefore looked at specific aspects of the main topic - NGOs from the South and their external relations, European development NGOs and their external relations, the influence of DNGOs and the challenges of a changing world and the techniques of lobbying and coordination.
So the DNGOs devoted most of the three days to themselves and the world they work in. The meeting was an opportunity to look at the various contexts in which development NGOs from North and South operate and to discuss the initiatives they hope to promote and t~w-.to--implement them. It also gave the Ebropean organizations a chance to redefine their relations with their partners in the South and, most important, when it comes to achieving greater solidarity in the world, their strategies vis-a-vis the authorities in North and South.