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DEVELOPMENT: Civil Society Rejects ‘Toothless’ Istanbul Plan of Action

Claire Ngozo

ISTANBUL, May 12 2011 (IPS) - Civil society groups have vowed to mobilise citizens of the world’s poorest nations to take to the streets, rejecting the Istanbul Programme of Action agreed today by the Fourth U.N. Conference on the Least Developed Countries.

LDC-IV leaders' forum: civil society says grassroots demands have been ignored. Credit:  United Nations

LDC-IV leaders' forum: civil society says grassroots demands have been ignored. Credit: United Nations

“The plan of action has no teeth and appears to have left the people living in the least developed countries in a worse position than before,” said Arjun Karki, the spokesperson for the civil society forum at the conference, known as LDC-IV. “We are appalled and disillusioned,” he said.

More than 800 million people live in the 48 countries are classified as least developed; 33 of these are found in sub-Saharan Africa.

The Programme of Action for the decade 2011 to 2020 declares that the ownership and primary responsibility for development lies with the least developed countries themselves. LDCs are called on to incorporate the Programme of Action into their national development strategies, plans and programmes and identifying the domestic authorities responsible for overseeing implementation and multi- stakeholder engagement by parliamentarians and the private sector.

Their development partners have pledged to a renewed and strengthened global partnership.

“This partnership also includes the United Nations system, including the Bretton Woods institutions, other multilateral institutions and regional development banks, within their respective mandates,” the declaration reads.

Civil society says the Istanbul Programme fails to live up to the mandate agreed ahead of conference, which was to formulate and adopt renewed terms for the relationship between LDCs and their development partners, and to mobilise additional international support and action in support of the LDCs.

”It is difficult to find real commitments and quantifiable targets that would help the lives of people in the LDCs [in the document],” Karki told a press conference. “The programme lacks specific commitments to action as well as any mechanisms to hold governments to account. It is devoid of political will.

“The development partners have got away without committing themselves to delivering long-standing commitments to provide support for LDCs and remove obstacles to development,” he said. “Our vision, hopes and expectations for the conference were very high but the results the governments have produced have made a mockery of these.”

The conference also failed to make progress on mobilising finances for climate change adaptation, according to Lidy Nacpil, international coordinator for Jubilee South – Asia/Pacific Movement on Debt and Development.

“There’s no mention of commitments from developed nations to undertake emission cuts in the Istanbul Programme of Action,” said Nacpil.

Nor are there new pledges to improve the level of official development assistance from the Rich World to the poorest countries of the South, according to Thida Khus, the executive director of Silaka, a Cambodian NGO  promoting gender equality, who deems the conference a failure.

“The failure of LDC-IV should mostly be blamed on the developed world for failing to commit additional finances for the LDCs,” she said. “The governments in LDCs should also bear the blame for failing to lobby for their people.”

She also worried that the Istanbul Plan of Action is even worse than the Brussels Plan of Action on civil society involvement as it does not give them enough room to contribute to development endeavours.

“We represent people at the grassroots level, but the role of the civil society on the international level is not included in the plan,” said Khus.

At the beginning of the conference, civil society had expressed the need for a paradigm shift including the immediate and unconditional cancellation of debts owed by LDCs and a review of the mandate and operations of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.

They also wanted to see agricultural reform policies that would favour smallholder farmers, as well as measures to regulate genetically-modified seeds, land grabs and large- scale biofuel production, and speculation affecting the price of staple foods.

“It’s very disappointing that they did not take into consideration our demands – which are people’s demands. In the Istanbul Plan of Action, the northern elite has diluted its role towards equitable and collective international consciousness,” Dr Ihsan Karaman, chair of the organisation which hosted the civil society forum, Doctors Worldwide.

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