Millennium Forum

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Cyril Ritchie

Statement by Cyril Ritchie
This article was published in Transnational Associations, Issue 5/2000, 235-236. All rights reserved.
Article publié dans Associations Transnationales, Issue 5/2000, 235-236. Tous droits réservés.

First WOCSOC in Montreal last December, now the Millennium Forum in May 2000: these are events through which Civil Society is pursuing its task of changing the world. WOCSOC was a focal point specifically for civil society networks, and one of its successes was in having a high percentage of women among the participants and an even more significant proportion of women among the speakers and panelists. WOCSOC demonstrated once again that when women exercize leadership, our conferences - and the world - will be better.

WOCSOC also underscored two important truths of major relevance to the Millennium Forum. Firstly the essential role the United Nations plays - and must play - in our increasingly interdependent world. Secondly the increasing weight of relevant and competent civil society organizations as partners with the United Nations. These truths are simple in their essence but very complex in their ramifications.

On the first point, the principles enunciated in the United Nations Charter have the support of every person of good will, as do the many Conventions adopted over the years under the aegis of the UN or its Specialized Agencies. But in practice the UN is too often ignored or sidelined by its member governments for short-term political reasons. The world needs a strong UN based on incontrovertible principles, managed rationally, financed at an adequate level that does not require it to perform contortions to carry out its mandates, and reflecting in all its actions the enlightened conscience of humanity. Governments and the media must cease to treat the UN as a scapegoat when the political decisions of those same governments prevent it from fulfilling its true role as the world?s principal agent of peace, development, equity and justice.

On the second point, Civil Society is now more than ever indispensable to the search for rational and realistic solutions to the world?s problems. Civil Society is not a new phenomenon. The use of the words civil society may relatively recently have entered the political lexicon, but the concept of public opinion organizing itself to change the world for the better is nothing new. Civil Society?s recent collective and successful world campaigns against mines, or for an International Criminal Court, find precedents in the Anti-Slavery Movement or the Anti-Apartheid Movement, in last century?s societies or in the humanitarian groundswell started by the Red Cross. What is new is the extent to which governments must now open up to, and respond to, the input from competent and relevant civil society organizations. Governments need to draw on the professional, technical, scientific, and grass roots experience and capabilities of CSOs, and the world?s remaining authoritarian governments need it more than any, for with the fall of colonialism, of apartheid South Africa and of the communist Soviet empire, we now know that in a world of increasingly limitless communication mechanisms, it is going to be impossible to govern without the genuine consent of the people.

These considerations underline once more why the United Nations and Civil Society share so many principles in common and why the WOCSOC Conference was focused on "Building Global Governance Partnerships". That concept of partnerships is vital. The problems confronting the world?s governments and institutions are now so interlinked, so pervasive, so complex, that no isolated solutions will stick. We need partnership-based solutions if we are to achieve the eradication of social and economic injustice, if we are to attain a world community based on the rule of law and on principles of sustainable development, if we are to raise Human Security to the top of the political agenda. Partnerships must include governments, intergovernmental institutions - a strong UN above all, enlightened business leadership, and of course the responsible strata of civil society exemplified by the participants to this Millennium Forum.

In conclusion, and as a further contribution to the Millennium Forum?s deliberations and follow up, here are a few of the Action Priorities elaborated at WOCSOC:

- The UN Security Council must be primarily a Peace Council, a Human Rights Council, a Human Development Council, in short a Human Security Council. This role will be furthered by consultative access to the Security Council for competent and relevant civil society organizations (CSOs).

- The Security Council is invited to establish a Committee of independent experts to assess humanitarian situations endangering peace and to elaborate coherent early warning mechanisms.

- There is need for the International Financial Institutions (IFls) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) to report to the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) on their activities - and the consequences thereof- in the social, environmental and human rights areas. ECOSOC shall set guidelines to establish the primacy of human values over money values.

- The undermining of the effectiveness of the UN System through inadequate funding can be reversed both by governments fulfilling their legal and logical responsibilities and by the institution of a full or modified Tobin Tax designated for the UN?s global work.

- Of top priority for the achievement of a just world is the enactment and implementation of national - and where appropriate local - legislation to ensure gender equality takes root in daily life. National and local legal and administrative measures must ensure that women exercize and enjoy human rights and fundamental freedoms equally with men. Such guarantees must fully extend to life within the family circle, and to girls? access to education and training.

- Governments have the responsibility to create an enabling environment for an active and dynamic civil society, itself a prerequisite for the true existence of democracy. It is in a government?s own interest to foster civil society institutions that work independently and that exercize checks on omissions or excesses committed by governments. Freedom of opinion, freedom of expression, and freedom of association are fundamental and inalienable rights.

- Responsible business creates responsible prosperity and enhances human living standards. Civil society seeks to work with responsible business leaders to bring about a shared understanding of the importance in business and in the community of implementing internationally-agreed labour, environmental and human rights standards. In conflict areas the business community needs to be aware of and comply with the precepts of international humanitarian law. In all cases, the implementation procedures and outcomes require independent and objective monitoring.

- CSOs would welcome cooperation from academia to a) provide scholarships for peace research by CSOs, b) train journalists in CS practices, c) research and expand the comprehension of UN and CSO vocabulary, d) research and expand the mutual comprehension of academic, CS practitioner and popular vocabulary, e) provide services for pro bono translation of CS documents, f) provide scholarships for CS activists to spend periods of time in academia, g) offer objective assessment and evaluation of civil society programmes and practices.

- Democracy can only exist in the context of a dynamic civil society. Civil society action is rooted in the voluntary giving of resources, time and skills to benefit communities and individuals, near and far. Every occasion should be taken to foster and give incentive to the voluntary spirit. A particular opportunity to focus on the universal values of volunteering is provided by the Year 2001, the International Year of Volunteers.

For our week?s work together, and for the follow up after this Millennium Forum let us be inspired by the words of the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, spoken at the opening of WOCSOC in Montreal:

"The UN is keenly aware that if the global agenda is to be properly addressed, a partnership with civil society is not an option, it is a necessity. Solutions can be found only if we address global issues together - through better cooperation, closer alliances, increased commitment, and a renewed sense of solidarity. By bringing your energy, creativity and practical idealism to the process you will give global civil society its rightful place as one of the pillars of the international community in the twenty-first century."