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What It Means to Be an NGO

Regarding the opinion-page article ''Concerning NGOs, China Had a Point,'' Sept. 21: Contrary to the author's statement that ''the UN bureaucracy has the power to designate which private groups are to be assigned this [NGO] label and the specific privileges they can enjoy,'' a nongovernmental organization (NGO) is the term used to describe any voluntary citizens' group, operating on a not-for-profit basis. Thus, charitable organizations, humanitarian organizations, religious organizations or professional associations can all be referred to as NGOs.

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The article further states that the NGO forum, held in September in Beijing in conjunction with the Fourth World Conference on Women, was sponsored by the United Nations. Not so. The forum was organized and paid for by NGOs, the private sector, and individuals. NGOs help bring citizen concerns to ''the global spotlight'' and draw attention to such issues as human rights violations and the plight of refugees. Very often NGOs are there before government or international assistance arrives.

Leona S. Forman New York

Chief, NGO Section

Department of Public Information, United Nations

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