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UN Development Goals Can be Best Achieved with Civil Society Participation

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By Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS (IDN) — A coalition of over 1,000 civil society organizations (CSOs) from 127 countries, under the umbrella of the Global People’s Assembly (GPA), has declared that the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) can be best achieved—and on its 2030 deadline—only with the active participation of civil society.

“Seven years after the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals—almost halfway to the 2030 deadline—the visionary promise of social justice and a rights-based, equitable and ecologically just world for all appears to be a distant dream,” warns the coalition.

The GPA, in an appeal, has called upon world leaders to take “bold and transformative steps to address the current unjust, unequal and extractive system”.

A Declaration developed with inputs from over 30 national and regional people’s assemblies was adopted at the three-day Global People’s Assembly on September 20-22—and organised by Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP) and allies during the 77th session of the UN General Assembly currently underway.

Andreas Bummel, Executive Director, Democracy Without Borders, told IDN the Global People’s Assembly rightfully expresses grave concern over the implementation of Agenda 2030 and the SDGs.

The latest Human Development Report, for the first time since it was launched three decades ago, measured a decline in 90 per cent of countries in two years in a row.

The Assembly, he pointed out, has come up with 25 key demands across nine thematic fields. “This is a time where minorities, civil society and democratic rights are under attack in many countries.”

But if the SDGs are to be achieved, he argued, democracy, human rights, equality and participation need to be strengthened significantly.

“For me, the call for global democracy and a robust civic space is the key message of the people’s assembly. What is more, the aspiration of Agenda 2030 to achieve more effective, inclusive and accountable institutions must expand to the UN.”

Bummel said the Assembly’s call for a UN Parliamentary Assembly and a participatory World Citizens’ Initiative are very important to make the UN more democratic.

Elaborating further, he said, “The Global People’s Assembly creates an important space for alternative views and voices to be raised while heads of state meet in New York. Those gathered in the assembly believe that the UN cannot remain an exclusive club of governments. The people, civil society, and elected representatives need to be included.

“The time to act is now,” said the group, which calls for a shared political and economic power equally between the global north and global south, for global democracy and a robust civic space.

“We have attempted to galvanise the voices of the most marginalised communities in the people’s assemblies organised at the national, regional and global levels. The global assembly declaration has been prepared in a bottom-up process by taking inputs from the grassroots groups world leaders have to listen to,” says Ingo Ritz, Director of Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP).

The Global People’s Assembly is calling for decision-makers to link the needs of future generations to present priorities, including the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, to end militarism and to act on the climate crisis, with a strategy founded on human rights principles and intergenerational equity, essential to preserve the interests of present and future generations.

“In order to achieve global justice, we must achieve climate justice, and in order to achieve climate justice, we must ‘Stop Ecocide’.

Ecocide is a crime against my generation and against humanity. Centring my generation in the fight for global justice is key, because it’s our future that we’re shaping,” says Emma Buretta of Fridays For Future, who will be joined by thousands in the streets of New York city for the upcoming climate strike.

In a recent statement, GPA says the Declaration places a special emphasis on the current human rights challenges across the globe and calls for world leaders to guarantee the fundamental freedoms of peaceful assembly, association, and expression and uphold the rights of all to participate fully in economic and civic life. 

“Civic space conditions continue to remain a challenge throughout the world with only 3.1% percept of the global population living in countries where fundamental freedoms are respected and protected.”

Lysa John, Secretary General, CIVICUS, said the SDGs cannot be completely achieved without the participation of those who are affected by them, and such participation can only be realised in an enabling environment.

“It is critical for civil society to be fully, actively and effectively engaged to accelerate Agenda 2030 commitments.”

Speaking on civic space ahead of the upcoming Presidential elections in Brazil, Athayde Motta, Executive Director of the Brazilian Institute of Social and Economic Analyses (IBASE) and Executive Staff at Abong, says, “Brazilian civil society organisations and social movements have been subject to bureaucratic criminalization processes whose goal is to prevent them from demanding rights for the poorest sectors of Brazilian society”.

“Civic spaces have been completely shut down in Brazil, and citizen’s participation in policy-making and decision-making has been obliterated. The result is clear: less effective social policies and less money for social programs, or, simply put, more poverty.”

Bhakta Biswakarma, Asia Dalit Rights Forum, said caste-based discrimination and untouchability known as work and descent-based discrimination in UN terms, is “a fundamental root cause of extreme poverty, non-representation, violence, exclusion, slavery, and injustice to Dalits”.

“Such injustice and inequalities have to be eliminated by implementing national and international laws and policies effectively.”

The Declaration also focuses on several main issues, including vaccine equality, democracy and human rights, both online and offline, a gender transformative approach, the need to meet and exceed the Paris Climate Agreement, debt and economic justice—in particular when it comes to financing for development and an accountable global financial system—the need for pacifism, and finally UN reforms ahead of the Summit of the Future in 2024, where no one should be left behind. 

“While civil society seriously strives for the successful implementation of the SDGs, political and economic systems are failing us.”

Rising food and energy prices, loss of livelihoods, environmental degradation and critical gaps in healthcare—including vaccine inequality and other inequities in the fight against COVID-19—are pushing people to the margins and making our planet uninhabitable.

Urgently, the assembly demands to ensure free and universal access to the COVID vaccine and all tests and treatments, prioritizing the most marginalized countries, going a step beyond the decision of the WTO Ministerial Conference in June 2022 to include a full TRIPS waiver of vaccine, test and treatment. Finally, the pandemic treaty proposed by the WHO should be adopted. 

Mavalow Christelle Kalhoule, Chair of Forus and President of SPONG, the Burkina Faso NGO network, says initiatives such as the Global Peoples’ Assembly regenerate spaces in which activists and civil society organisations can meet, strengthen each other, express solidarity and strategize with communities that are left on the periphery of today’s political world.

“I am referring, of course, to young people, women, people with disabilities, the elderly and all those who are left out because of power imbalances. It is time to hear their voices.”

“The gap between rhetoric and reality must be closed. Let us finally translate promises into action! Let everyone, Leaders, Researchers, Civil Society Groups and all other Actors around the world find in my words, a call to action.” [IDN-InDepthNews – 26 September 2022]

Read the Global People’s Assembly declaration here.

Image credit: Global Call to Action Against Poverty.





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