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THE WORLD NEEDS A MORE DEMOCRATIC UNITED NATIONS

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JOHANNESBURG, Jun 1 2006 (IPS) - In its present form the United Nations is ill-equipped to advance humanity\’s best interests, writes Kumi Naidoo, Secretary-General of Civicus: World Alliance For Citizen Participation. In this article the author writes that the democratisation of the UN cannot be limited to the current efforts at reform. Calls by the Secretary General for full, systemic, and meaningful civil society participation must be urgently implemented in order to make the UN system more transparent, accountable, and democratic. What is most urgently needed is a changed consciousness at the international level. This is an essential prerequisite for the UN to achieve a profound democratic transformation that will allow humanity to deal effectively with the new challenges of the 21st century. Civil society traditionally has helped bring about great societal changes. It shall continue to do so in the years ahead.

Since the end of the Second World War the world has seen breathtaking geopolitical changes and technological breakthroughs, but our system of international governance has failed to keep pace with the times.

Now, sixty years later, as humanity faces increasingly intractable global challenges in a profoundly interdependent world, the urgent need for coordinated, collective responses is obvious. Quite simply, the global challenges of the 21st century require global institutions of governance capable of dealing with them in a democratic and effective manner.

In its present form the United Nations (UN) is ill-equipped to advance humanity’s best interests. As an inter-governmental institution, the UN provides a forum for global issues, but only to member states through their representative governments. It was designed for a time when crises on one side of the world did not necessarily affect national interests on another, but globalisation has changed that once and for all. Nowadays, a crisis anywhere is a crisis everywhere.

A change in consciousness is required at the national level, where, in the words of British prime minister Tony Blair, ”national self-interest becomes delivered through effective communal action”.

The veto power in the Security Council of the permanent members (P5) is the most glaring example of the nationalistic foundation on which the UN was built. With it a single member can block any initiative, for any or no reason.

The P5 veto privileges are blatantly anachronistic and, if not eliminated entirely, they should at the very least be reserved for truly exceptional circumstances. Veto power certainly should not be extended to potential new permanent members; on the contrary, its exercise should be strongly discouraged by all member states and eventually phased out.

In relation to the selection of the Secretary General, it can be argued that the veto was never intended for use in this context. Furthermore, the selection process should be open to the General Assembly and civil society. It should include steps to insure the selection of the best qualified woman or man for the position.

The democratisation of the UN cannot be limited to the current efforts at reform, however welcome these may be. Calls by the Secretary General for full, systemic, and meaningful civil society participation must be urgently implemented in order to make the UN system more transparent, accountable, and democratic.

Some member states see NGOs as anti-government and not as necessary partners providing expertise and legitimacy to UN processes. This perception must change. While some governments will reject any level of civil society participation out of fear for their own legitimacy, others are honestly concerned by the large increase in the number of ECOSOC-accredited (UN Economic and Social Council) NGOs. Thus the current trend at the General Assembly away from the large conferences of the 90s toward informal meetings and other ”NGO-free spaces”.

This trend is troubling to civil society, but it also provides new opportunities for more effective and focused NGO participation at the General Assembly (GA) level. We at CIVICUS welcome GA President Jan Eliasson’s current consultations to explore concrete and pragmatic new forms of collaboration between the General Assembly and civil society.

However, while this is a positive development, it is no substitute for participation in agenda setting, preparatory processes, and the events themselves.

For its part, civil society must recognise its own transparency and accountability deficits and adopt new international codes of conduct. An ”Accountability Charter” developed by CIVICUS and a group of leading international NGOs has just been announced.

The economic and social objectives of ECOSOC are regularly thwarted by the de facto independent policies and decisions of the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade Organisation (WTO). While ECOSOC is powerless to enforce its rules, these organisations are not, which allows the seven powerful countries that control these bodies to dictate economic models at odds with ECOSOC goals.

The private sector needs to be persuaded to enter into a sincere collaboration with governments, international institutions, and civil society in the understanding that such collaboration will benefit all. Some of the most pressing issues of common interest include human rights, the eradication of poverty (including but not limited to the MDGs), climate change, responsible production and consumption, and migration. The market can no longer be allowed to dictate economic and social policy. New rules are needed to govern international capital flows, trade, markets, and multinational corporations. The Global Compact must undergo a radical transformation, including the adoption of basic rules of corporate responsibility and accountability which are internationally binding and enforceable.

Gender equality and the empowerment of women must figure prominently in all aspects of UN reform. The current widespread exclusion of women from the international institutions’ rosters of high-level officials is disgraceful and counter-productive.

But first and foremost, what is needed is a change in consciousness at the international level. This is essential for the UN to achieve a profound democratic transformation that will allow humanity to deal effectively with the new challenges of the 21st century. Civil society traditionally has helped bring about great societal changes. It shall continue to do so in the years ahead. (END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

 
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