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UN: Soros Promotes Use Of NGOs In Weak Or Repressive States

  • Robert McMahon

Financier and philanthropist George Soros says his foundation's use of civil society links to channel aid shows there are effective, non-traditional ways of helping people living under weak or bad governments. Soros told a news conference on the sidelines of a UN development conference in Monterrey, Mexico, this week that such links have started to have an impact in the Balkans.

Monterrey, Mexico; 20 March 2002 (RFE/RL) -- George Soros has recommended increased ties between non-governmental organizations (NGOs) as one way of assisting countries foundering under poor or repressive governments.

Soros told a news conference on the sidelines of the UN development conference in Monterrey, Mexico, yesterday that outside assistance does not need to go through governments to be effective.

"In some countries, we can work with the government, and in other countries we can't," Soros said. "Where you have bad government, you can use non-governmental channels."

His comments came in response to questions about how to help citizens whose governments have proved unable or unwilling to use development aid properly.

Soros runs a network of philanthropic organizations based primarily in Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union that aim to build the institutions of an open society. He gave nearly $500 million in 2001 through his foundation to foster development.

He did not name countries where governments have been uncooperative. But in Belarus, for example, Soros' foundation was forced to close down in 1997 because of a government crackdown on civil society. It continued to provide aid directly to Belarusian non-governmental organizations in areas such as Internet and media training and other education initiatives.

Soros said that in the case of Yugoslavia, his foundation has offered training in democratic institution-building that was not available as the country emerged from the rule of former President Slobodan Milosevic.

"There, we have a joint program to provide supplemental grants for people trained abroad who returned to work in the government, and I think that has made a significant contribution to enhance the capacity of the new democratic government to cope with its problems," Soros said.

The administrator of the UN Development Program (UNDP), Mark Malloch Brown, told the same news conference that his agency has found it can assist civil society organizations directly, even under the harshest regimes.

"In Afghanistan during the Taliban regime, we had a major program, but we worked entirely through communities, not through government, because we couldn't work through government. They blocked our every effort to assist the people of the country," Brown said.

Increasingly, Brown said, he has witnessed the ability of the international community to help struggling people in this way: "We have to have a strategy for the poor people living under bad governments, and I think we're developing that [at the] UNDP but also [at] the [Soros] foundation and [through] the civil society movement in the world."

Nearly 700 non-governmental organizations are registered participants in this week's UN development conference. About 170 countries are represented at the conference.