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Opinion

#UNmute: Over 350 Civil Society Organizations Ask for Real Inclusion in UN Summit of the Future Negotiations

Student protest in Bogotà, Colombia. Credit: Sebastian Barros/Forus

NEW YORK, Feb 22 2024 (IPS) - A coalition of over 350 civil society organisations part of the #UNmute initiative, shared concerns over the current engagement mechanisms for civil society at the UN – particularly in light of the upcoming Summit of the Future.

At the heart of global policy-making, civil society organisations have long been seen as those bearing the torch of grassroots advocacy and bringing forward the messages of communities worldwide. Civil society has changed the world we live in, fighting against discrimination, securing voting rights for women, raising awareness about environmental issues, being at the forefront of humanitarian aid, and advocating for equity and acceptance. Civil society’s impact is undeniable, yet increasingly questioned with negative narratives, risks to their safety, and limited access to decision- making spaces. To silence or exclude this voice is to silence the collective needs and aspirations of millions of people around the world.

At the national level, attacks on civic space and democratic freedoms have escalated. New legislation limits civil society’s ability to engage in online and offline advocacy. International collaboration between civil society networks, social movements and activists is increasingly criticized, penalized, and criminalized. This is unfortunately replicated at the global level.

As we approach the Summit of the Future – set to to redirect our course towards a more effective and equitable future, there is a worrying drift from collaboration to restriction in the relationship between the UN, Member States in their national and local contexts, and civil society. For several years, civil society voices have found themselves on the periphery, with challenges ranging from limited access at key UN sessions such as the General Assembly’s High Level Week, to restrictive participation in other key UN forums such as the High Level Political Forum, the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), the Conference of the Parties (COP) and the Internet Governance Forum. In fact, the current system, contrasts with earlier UN processes and falls short of the UN’s stated commitment and previous good practices to inclusivity as written in the U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres in Our Common Agenda.

“For civil society activists and human rights defenders facing repression at national level the space at the UN is very important. The UN opened up since the 1990s. For example, it was possible to contribute to the 2030 Agenda development in national consultations, regional meetings and as part of the Open Working Group in New York. We were never excluded a decade ago. Therefore, we are disappointed that this is happening now. It will weaken the Summit of the Future,” says Ingo Ritz, Director of the Global Call to Action against Poverty.

Despite efforts to promote inclusivity and engagement on paper, in practice civil society organizations frequently face a lack of access to information and resources, limited opportunities to participate in decision-making processes, as well as exclusion from key meetings and events, increasing repraisals, discrimination, harassment, and insufficient avenues for input in policy discussions. The clock is ticking, and the integration of civil society into the heart of the UN is not only beneficial, it is essential.

Jyotsna Mohan Singh, representing the Asia Development Alliance, points out that “Over the years, we have seen the UN open its doors to civil society, but lately those doors seem to be closing slightly. Stronger collaboration is not only desirable, it is necessary. Engaging with the UN should not be a labyrinth where only a few know the way. We need transparent and inclusive processes that do not marginalise any civil society organisation on the basis of size or origin. Civil society sees the UN as a beacon of hope, a platform for global cooperation, where the voices of the marginalised and the aspirations of humanity are heard, leading to a world of equality, sustainability and true peace.”

Over 350 civil society organizations part of the #UNmute initiative have come together to issue a united call for inclusivity and participation in the preparatory process of the forthcoming Summit of the Future. The collective, which spans a broad spectrum of global civil society including Civicus, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Forus, the United Nations Foundation, the Coalition for the UN We Need, World Vision International, Greenpeace, Global Focus, among many others, has addressed a statement putting pressure on key figures at the United Nations.

“From the streets to the UN halls, we witness the alarming and continuous shrinking space for civil society and rights defenders. With the aim of restoring trust and preparing the UN for the future, the voice of civil society must be key for the Summit of the Future. This requires Member States to support and promote the unique role of civil society, especially the historically marginalized and underrepresented communities and informal activist and social movements, from New York to Nairobi. The UN is for the ‘we’, it is for the people, and it is based on their trust that the success of the Summit of the Future should be held against,” says Global Focus‘ Director, Mette Müller Kristensen.

What needs to change

The role of civil society cannot just be recognized, it needs to be actively strenghtened and placed at the core of global governance, where it belongs. We need to build, rather than erode, trust. The success of the Summit of the Future should be measured on how it delivers for people – inclusively and meaningfully. We call for immediate action, including the establishment of inclusive platforms for engagement, designated seats for Major Groups and other Stakeholders (MGoS) and civil society representatives in all phases of the Summit of the Future, and a comprehensive review of civil society’s engagement in UN processes. These measures aim to democratize representation, ensuring that all voices and perspectives are equally represented in international dialogues, which unfortunately is not the case as of today.

As Mavalow Christelle Kalhoule, civil society leader and Chair of Forus and SPONG, the Burkina Faso NGO network, puts it, “In a world increasingly driven by technology, many of our colleagues from under-represented regions find themselves mute, not for lack of passion or knowledge, but because of the digital divide and lack of resources and access. To truly champion global voices, we need to bridge this gap and ensure that civil society has the tools and support it needs to engage meaningfully in political processes and amplify the voices of the myriad communities and NGOs it represents. Civil society participation must be simplified and facilitated; it is also about real political will. Genuine progress within the framework of the United Nations depends on the real inclusion of civil society. Every decision taken without their engagement risks missing the heartbeat of the communities we serve. The purpose of the UNmute initiative is not to raise a few voices, but to ensure that the chorus of civil society is heard loud and clear at every meeting of the United Nations.”

IPS UN Bureau

 


  
 
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