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Intro: Institutional Racism
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  Web Editor:
  Vernellia R. Randall
Professor of Law
The University of Dayton
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  1. Lessons learned for NGOs
  1. Defining priorities and positions
  2. It was very clear in Santiago that those organizations and groups that had clearly identified their priorities, positions and proposals were the most effective in dialogues with governments. In contrast, those organizations which arrived in Santiago without a clear agenda or only with the intention of spreading information about the general situation of their community, country or region, did not have a significant impact on the final results of the Regional PrepCom. The dynamics of those two types of roles were also apparent in how groups located themselves. Those persons and organizations with clear points to propose for incorporation into the final documents were found in the rooms in which the Final Declaration and Plan of Action were debated. There, they continuously interacted with the governmental delegations and were able to influence the specific language that was discussed. Those persons and organizations without a precise objective were found, in contrast, in the plenary meeting room, where numerous NGOs made oral presentations although practically no government delegates were present.

    At many times it was clear that most of the organizations present at the PrepCom did not have clear language alternatives to propose to governments. While there was clarity as to the crucial issues that should be reflected in the final documents, many groups lacked concrete proposals about what they should specifically say.

    The example of the Roma delegates illustrates this point. Despite the fact that there were only two representatives, they had an exceedingly clear objective – to have the Final Declaration mention the discrimination that the Roma suffer. To that end, they prepared a specific text and spoke with various government representatives until one government delegation presented the text that the rest of the delegations supported. They also dialogued with NGOs that were active in the PrepCom to solicit their support and solidarity and in particular to facilitate their access to some governmental delegations with which they had not had contact. The Final Declaration contains the language proposed by the Roma, despite the fact that none of the original draft declarations contained a specific reference to the Roma.

  3. Having access to the documents

The efficacy of lobbying governments in Santiago was completely conditioned on the availability of the documents that were being discussed. Access to the documents allows one to know the issues that are being addressed, the specific language that is being used, the points on which there is no consensus, as well as the issues that have not yet been considered.

The document that was debated in Santiago was the product of previous work that began several months prior in Geneva. Many times, in particular when consensus is reached on complex issues in previous deliberations, governments are very reluctant to change the language during the conference, in order to not threaten the fragile consensus. Therefore, access to draft documents should not be limited to the time of the conference itself, but should begin with the first drafts, when there are greater possibilities for influencing the general tone, structure and themes of the document.

Contact with the Conference’s organizers as well as with friendly government delegations helped in obtaining the most recent versions of the documents, which allowed some organizations to immediately position themselves in relation to the issues that interested them.

Another issue which should not be overlooked is that the documents that were being debated and modified were prepared in only one language. This is the case in many United Nations conferences, the difference being that for the Americas Regional PrepCom, the documents were in Spanish and not in English. This meant that many organizations from the United States and Canada were not able to do their lobbying work effectively. While Latin American NGOs know that at United Nations events they should be prepared to encounter documents in other languages, not all of the English-speaking delegations were prepared for this.

c. Building relationships with Governments

The Americas Regional PrepCom demonstrated that the effectiveness of work with governments depends on establishing relationships prior to the actual Conference. The changes in the Brazilian and United States government’s positions on certain issues, and the role that the delegations from countries such as Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic and Uruguay played in certain debates, are reflections of previous lobbying with these governments by various organizations in the months leading up to Santiago.

As was indicated earlier, the governments started discussing the draft documents long before the PrepCom. The positions that they adopt in the Conference on key issues are generally previously decided. It is fundamental, therefore, that NGOs work with governments long before the Conference itself.

Personal knowledge of individual government delegates also facilitated the lobbying efforts of NGOs at the PrepCom. It is therefore important to know beforehand who will make up the government delegation and obtain meetings with those people. It is also important that governments instruct their delegates to be open to the suggestions of civil society organizations to the extent possible. Organizations took two different approaches in relating to the governments at the PrepCom. There were those that opted to utilize the forums to discuss with their governments internal or domestic problems which do not necessarily affect the documents of the PrepCom. In contrast, other organizations opted to focus on discussing with their governments the specific points of the Final Declaration and Plan of Action. As emphasized, a focused strategy, including clear objectives and priorities, inevitably led to more successful advocacy by NGOs.

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