Civil Society, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Europe, Global, Global Geopolitics, Headlines, World Social Forum

Q&A: ‘We Have to be Good at Proposing, Not Just Opposing’

Miren Gutierrez interviews AYE AYE WIN of Dignity International

ROME, Jan 26 2009 (IPS) - NGOs like Dignity International are packing their bags to fly to Belem in Brazil where the World Social Forum (WSF) is taking place this year. The stakes are high.

Aye Aye Win Credit:

Aye Aye Win Credit:

“We are all gathering in Belem because we still firmly believe that another world is possible,” says Aye Aye Win, executive director of Dignity International, a Netherlands-based organisation supporting people and groups engaged in fighting for human rights. “I do believe that the current global economic crisis in many ways confirms the importance of the WSF as a forum that proposes viable alternatives, and it would be wise for the World Economic Forum at Davos (Switzerland) to lend its ears to ideas coming out of it.”

Aye Aye has worked for the Council of Europe, an organisation that seeks to develop common principles based on the European Convention on Human Rights. She has coordinated the Global Forum for Poverty Eradication, from which Dignity International originated. She has worked also for the Advocacy and Early Warning Department of the London-based NGO International Alert, the Sasakawa Peace Foundation in Japan, and the Development Centre of the Organisation For Economic Cooperation And Development (OECD, a grouping of 30 wealthy nations).

Aye Aye Win spoke with the IPS Editor-in-Chief about the role of the WSF today.

IPS: The WSF is a movement against the “kind of globalisation which is based only on the values of market and profit,” in the words of WSF international committee member Roberto Savio. Do you feel vindicated by the global financial crisis? Aye Aye Win: The financial crisis is a sad proof that globalisation based only on the values of the market is fundamentally flawed. You cannot endlessly go on speculating in the global casino. The bubble cannot endlessly grow. All of them eventually burst, leaving millions destitute, as is the case now. The reckless behaviour of the financiers, and the system that permits it, amount to a crime of unimaginable scale. What angers me in all this is that governments come galloping along to rescue the very financial institutions that have profiteered from the people and whose behaviour has led to the crisis! Having said this, it is also obvious that state intervention is necessary now that chaos has come.

IPS: Do you think this will lead to a different type of capitalism? AAW: After a bit of patchwork here and there through bailout plans and stimulus packages, there is a real risk that things will soon return to business as usual – capitalists return to market worship, start playing again in the global casino and again enter another cycle of speculation. We as social activists have an opportunity now to go back to the drawing board to reconstruct the global economic system to be one based not on greed but one that does reward hard work and innovation, a system built on solidarity and justice. We need to come up with viable alternatives – move beyond ideology and find solutions that work. This will indeed be a challenge. We are so good at ‘opposing’ but we need to become much better at ‘proposing’!

IPS: The WSF meets in January, when its ‘rival’, the WEF convenes in Davos. How far do you think the WSF has imposed issues on the WEF agenda? AAW: Whilst the WSF is really the Mecca for the social activist, very little about the WSF is known outside this circle. On the other hand, the WEF, that enjoys not only access to but also control of the global media, is much better known to the broader public. Whilst recognising the efforts made by charismatic civil society leaders from the WSF to influence our issues at the WEF, I feel that the impact so far has been marginal. Therefore we need to sharpen our ideas and develop viable proposals. If our leaders need good ideas, let them come to us at the WSF, and not go dancing to the corporate tune at the WEF circus in Davos.

IPS: The eighth WSF last year was truly global, with the Global Call for Action (GCAP) inviting organisations from all around the globe to mobilise on Jan. 26. How do you see this wandering meeting evolving? AAW: To get good coverage and make impact you need a combination of interventions acting in concert. So this global mobilisation was great to have; different groups ranging from the most well-known international NGOs all the way to community based organisations doing something on that same day. There are clear opportunities to go beyond your usual conference circuit goers and reach out to the people to organise something at national or local levels and yet have the feeling that you are part of a global initiative. Obviously it cannot work on its own. This needs to be combined with a clear central message that captures the spirit of the WSF.

IPS: Inside the WSF, there are different groups, some advocating a more centralised, coherent approach. Others have criticised it for its attempts to become a central decision-making venue for dissident groups. What is your position? AAW: The WSF is many things to many people including what you have just described. I personally don’t get involved in either the romanticising of the WSF or the politicking within it. I look to the WSF for what it is – a great global space for exchange and solidarity. I also look to the future – when WSF can be practical and effective, be a global leader and opinion shaper – to communicate our messages clearly, and to develop our proposals and to bring about change.

IPS: Dignity International strives to build new generation human rights NGOs aiming at lasting social transformation. What is your role at the WSF? AAW: Dignity’s role at this forum is to support our social movement partners from Africa, Asia, the Americas, to consolidate existing alliances and to make new ones, but above all to sharpen our strategies and work out joint concrete action for the future. We want to strengthen local-global linkages and develop innovative ways of doing local-global campaigning.

IPS: What do you expect from this edition of the WSF? With the conflict in Gaza and the financial crisis, the WSF seems to be the last thing on anyone’s mind… AAW: WSF will certainly come up with strong views on all the prevailing global issues – foremost being the situation in Gaza, and the financial crisis. I expect there will be clear solidarity statements with our brothers and sisters in Gaza, and renewed calls for peace in the Middle East and the realisation of the Palestinian statehood dream. On the financial crisis there will be very strong ‘I told you so’ statements. We need not be smug but now put our heads together to propose what the reformed global financial and economic architecture can actually look like.

IPS: In December, IPS spoke with Sylvia Borren, Co-Chair of the GCAP, about the results of the Doha Financing for Development Conference, but she said that it had been “four days spent agreeing to another expensive U.N. meeting.” What is your opinion? AAW: To be honest I am not sure that we need any additional agreements and yet more inflation of so-called political commitments. We already have very strong human rights standards and the human right of everyone to live life in dignity entrenched in the various national, regional and international human rights instruments. Everything about legal justice, social and economic justice, gender justice and an enabling international order to achieve it all, and the obligations of governments including donor countries is all there.

With these instruments governments not only have a moral obligation but they have a legal obligation to eradicate poverty from our planet. We need to discover the power of human rights and bring it back from oblivion. In an age when our basic human rights are being attacked from all sides, let’s wake up, re-establish the primacy of human rights – take a clear stand that human rights prevail over corporate ‘rights’.

IPS: President Barack Obama has brought a message of hope. What do you expect from the new government in the U.S.? AAW: Once the honeymoon is over, the new administration will be confronted with the fact that there are so many vested interests at play, most notably from powerful corporations. It will feel somewhat daunted by the fact that the structures of discrimination and injustice are so deeply rooted that it isn’t going to be so easy to bring about fundamental change! All through the campaign he has talked the talk, now Obama needs to walk the walk!

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