Remarks at NGO Breakfast in honour of Kul C. Gautam, Deputy Executive Director, UNICEF at the World Fit for Children+5 event, Delegates Dining Room, United Nations
New York, 12 December 07
Of all the nice things that have been said about my contribution to the cause of child rights, I especially value the compliments coming from the NGO community.
We all know that historically, NGOs have been the true heroes of the child rights movement.
In moments of hubris, sometimes we at UNICEF and the UN tend to claim credit for actions of others, especially NGOs, even when we know that our own contribution was quite modest.
I know for sure that it is really the leadership and activism of NGOs, and their tenacity, that was instrumental in the crafting and steering the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Long before UNICEF was born, even before the United Nations and the League of Nations were established, it was Save the Children Fund, and its remarkable founder and leader Eglantyne Jebb, who had first articulated the vision of a Charter or a Convention on the rights of the child.
And Save the Children’s vision, in turn, was inspired by the pioneering work of the Red Cross movement that has been at the vanguard of the historic Geneva Conventions.
The founders and early leaders of UNICEF, like Ludwig Rajchman, Maurice Pate, Harry Labouisse and Jim Grant, were inspired by the principles of humanitarian neutrality and sanctity of childhood espoused by the Red Cross and Save the Children, and followed by many other organizations, including those present here today.
We at UNICEF owe a great debt of gratitude to the NGO community for their pioneering vision, courageous advocacy and grassroots activism that is so important for the wellbeing of children.
In my own work for UNICEF, I have experienced first hand how UNICEF and NGOs working together can achieve amazing results that neither UNICEF nor NGOs could accomplish working separately.
I recall when we were negotiating the outcome document of the World Summit for Children, and later the World Fit for Children, it was the constant vigilance and support of NGOs that helped us to make these documents ambitious and visionary.
The same can be said about the Conventions on the Rights of the Child, CEDAW, and People with Disabilities, and so many others which would have been timid and toothless without the perseverance of NGOs.
At the country and community levels too, NGOs are among our best allies in getting progressive legislations passed by municipalities and village councils; helping deliver services, empower people and help build local capacity that is so essential for sustainable development.
As an inter-governmental organization, UNICEF and the UN need to be extra careful not to offend sovereign Member States.
It takes the independence and courage of NGOs to put the spotlight on abuses of child rights and human rights sometimes glossed over by governments under the cover of sovereignty.
NGOs in turn benefit from the normative, statistical, fact-finding and analytical work done by organizations like UNICEF to buttress their advocacy arguments.
Organizations like UNICEF, with their access to government leadership can also be very helpful to NGOs in presenting their arguments to thoughtful leaders in governments.
Daring but essential ideas like the “responsibility to protect” could not have seen the light of day without the principled activism of NGOs.
But such ideas could never be made universally acceptable without the multilateral platform of the United Nations.
Together, and in a coordinated manner, UNICEF/the United Nations and NGOs can and have achieved great results for which we can all be proud.
Next year UNICEF will come out with a policy paper on partnerships. You can be sure that partnership with NGOs will be a key highlight of that paper, and UNICEF’s follow-up actions.
I am happy that in my long career with UNICEF, I have had the good fortune to partner with so many of you in the NGO community and civil society.
I will no longer be with UNICEF next year. But you can bet that in my retirement in Nepal, the NGO world will be my natural habitat.
Thank you, sincerely, again, for your kind gesture and compliments. I feel immensely honoured and inspired.
I wish you all tremendous success in your activism and advocacy.
And count on me now as one of your committed foot-soldiers in the epic battle for human development, human security and human rights – with the wellbeing of children always at its forefront.