The 2015 NGO Conference – August 25-27, 2015 – was the first true Civil Society presence at the UN Headquarters. This came about thanks to an initial group of Six Governments, a handful of NGOs, and several Foundations – that want to see a successful UN.
At its 70th Birthday – the UN was finally pushed to accept a true presence of Civil Society. The 2015 NGO Conference at the United Nations has established finally the idea that People at the UN ought to be as important as the Governments. Up to now this idea was a fiction at the UN, and the UN had never considered this idea seriously.
In our opinion, the 2015 NGO Conference, that thanks to this year’s UN DPI choice not to have their traditional yearly DPI/NGO Conference, constitutes a revolutionary event – that will make from now on the UN more relevant for the post-2015 Era.
The UN came into existence on October 24, 1945 with 51 Founding Members – the winner or survivor Nations of World War II.
The idea was to create a new World that will not allow such a calamity anymore. 50 Nations signed at the Founding Conference in San Francisco on June 26, 1945, and the last to join was a reconstituted Poland that signed on October 15, 1945.
Those 51 Nations are: The Driving Force of Five – Republic of China, France, USSR, UK and USA and the other 46 – Argentina, Brazil, Belarus SSR, Chile, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Egypt, El Salvador, Haiti, Iran, Lebanon, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Paraguay, The Philippine Commonwealth, Poland, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, Ukraine SSR, Yugoslavia, Australia, Belgium, Bolivia, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Greece, Guatemala, Honduras, India, Iraq, Liberia, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Panama, Peru, Union of South Africa, Uruguay, and Venezuela.
The Foundation Document is the CHARTER OF THE UNITED NATIONS and in its Preamble it says: “WE THE PEOPLES OF THE UNITED NATIONS determined TO SAVE SUCCEEDING GENERATIONS FROM THE SCOURGE OF WAR, WHICH TWICE IN OUR LIFETIME HAS BROUGHT UNTOLD SORROW TO MANKIND, and to reaffirm faith in fundamental HUMAN RIGHTS, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of NATIONS LARGE AND SMALL, and to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom, and ….”
Three years later, under UN Secretary-General Mr.Trygve Lie of Norway, and under the leadership of Ms. Eleanor Roosevelt, above preamble was fleshed out with The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) – a declaration adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 10 December 1948 at a meeting in Paris.
The International Bill of Human Rights – the larger document – consists of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and two Optional Protocols.
In 1966, the General Assembly adopted the two detailed Covenants, which complete the International Bill of Human Rights.
In 1976, after the Covenants had been ratified by a sufficient number of individual nations, the Bill took on the force of international law. This is the first real contribution to make the UN Charter a truly important document to humanity at large.
Next further enlargement in above direction had to wait until 2004 when Mr. Kofi Annan of Ghana was UNSG. The Responsibility to Protect (R2P or RtoP) – a proposed norm that sovereignty is not an absolute right, and that state-governments forfeit aspects of their sovereignty when they fail to protect their populations from mass atrocity crimes and human rights violations (namely genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and the like. In 2004, following the genocidal violence in Rwanda and the Balkans, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan appointed Juan Méndez as Special Adviser to fill critical gaps in the international system that allowed those tragedies to go unchecked. In 2007, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed Francis M. Deng on a full-time basis at the level of Under-Secretary-General. He also appointed Edward Luck as the Special Adviser who focuses on the responsibility to protect, on a part-time basis at the level of Assistant Secretary-General. Both Special Advisers Francis Deng and Edward Luck ended their assignments with the Office in July 2012.
Above two elaborations to increase the meaning of the UN Charter came about as it was obvious that leaving Sovereignty only to Governments – some of which are in denial of rights of their citizens – cannot be seen as the only guarantor of peace. This brings us to events at the UN that led to the very successful Conference of last week – the subject of this report and our first article of a series we intend to use in order to highlight the change at the UN with this newly found true importance of Civil Society.
The present introductory article may seem to some a bit long – but our intention is to help with this article smooth the way to the true understanding of the nature of the problem with an institution run by Member States of uneven quality – that push for unanimity in decision making so that it by necessity in the best cases aims to a lowest common denominator, and to paralysis in the worst cases – all this without really being serious about the lip service to the non-Governmental Sector – the so called NGOs.
To the question – “What is the UN?” – the conventional answer these days is a collection of 193 Nations and two Observer delegations. But in effect even that is not true because the UN has become its own body and the vested bureaucracy does in effect manage without taking the temperature of a consensus and in cases we observed – even without backing decisions taken by the Secretary-General. It is the country that put the employee on its quota of the staff that makes his decisions while on the job.
In our future articles we will point out such cases. For now, also as an introduction, we are returning to the PREAMBLE to the UN CHARTER – to that line that says: “WE THE PEOPLES OF THE UNITED NATIONS” – a very much misrepresented line that speaks of “PEOPLES” – not PEOPLE and neither PEOPLES’ – but PEOPLES.
In our opinion – PEOPLES refers to Nations – some of whom became Member Nations of the UN in 1945 but many were left outside the UN – either as occupied Nations belonging to those Member Nations, and some completely unrelated to the newly budding UN. We believe that it was the Roosevelt couple that saw the need to address issues like decolonization and other oppressed Nations – and foresaw that eventually all those Nations will have to get their sovereignty and join the UN – this beyond the needed freedom to the individuals whose problems are described by the word PEOPLE with sort of a plural as PEOPLES’.
Now to what has happened in 70 years – the growth from 51 Member States to 193 Member States plus two Observer States (the Vatican and Palestine) for what the UN likes to call the total of 195 Sovereign States – but that is also only part of those that claim Statehood.
Further – there are 6 States with partial recognition ranging from Northern Cyprus recognized by only one State to Kosovo recognized by over 100 States. This list includes also Taiwan, Western Sahara, South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
Then the Cook Islands and Niue behave as if independent, without claiming independence and breakaway States Nagorno-Karabach, Transnistria, and Somaliland are de-facto independent States bringing the total of independent States to 206.
Three more breakaway States are more controversial as they are in active war zones – The Islamic State, The Lugansk and the Donetsk People’s Republics – the total of States in the news is thus 209 – and this only for starters. What about the Catalans, Basques, Scots, the Flemish people, the Maori, Aboriginals, Hopi, Inuits, Samis, the Massai, etc. etc. All people with distinct cultures and occupying a definite piece of land. It is only a question of time until they claim their independence. Will the UN employees stand in their way not to allow them to claim what they deserve? What is the bottom line for UN Membership?
Some professional organizations have interim numbers. The World Olympic games recognize 209 States that include also Puerto Rico, Bermuda and Aruba; while the soccer or football Federation has 209 members that break up the UK into its 4 constituent countries.
The International Standards Organization (ISO) has 249 country codes that include 49 Inhabited Dependent Territories, 6 Uninhabited Territories and even Antarctica (1).
Having reached now the mountain of UN staff. Naturally they did get the jobs to serve the interests of their home quota State in an understanding that they work for and within the organization. So, the UN Department of Public Information – the UN DPI – as an organization is intended to be a laudatory to the UN rather then a dispenser of true information. On this obviously is then superimposed the layer of service to their home-State – their own Sovereign leader. If the interest of the latter conflicts with the interest of the UNSG – so it is the UNSG who is over-ridden as this happened for years on topics like Climate Change.
DPI made sure that only those media that had not climate change on their mind were allowed to function at the UN as media – the decree was that the topic was a topic for NGOs and not for the UN and the Press – this without attention to changes in policy at the UN Secretariat. That is the background of the UN DPI being ready in 2015 to ditch its responsibility to run the DPI/NGO yearly Conference for 2015 and transfer it out of sight to Korea for 2016. That was seemingly the decision of Mr. Maher Nasser – an interim Head of DPI. But this was a very fortunate mistake of the UN as it allowed an initiative by Civil Society to wrestle the subject away from the UN bureaucracy and develop the conference independently without interference from the UN. NOW THIS IS WHAT WE WILL BE DEALING WITH FROM NOW ON – or at least until the UN wrestles the subject back into their own hands.
Friendship Ambassadors, an NGO active at the UN, undertook the organization of the UN DPI rejected 2015 Conference and easily enlisted the backing of six UN Member State delegations: Canada, Denmark, Korea, Sao Tome and Principe, Suriname, and Ukraine.
Thailand volunteered as well but did not get anymore into the publicity. A new active head of the CONGO DPI section of the NGOs took over from the more lethargic previous head and many NGOs joined in the effort – so did the NGO organizers of the post-2015 NGO effort at the UN. In short – CIVIL SOCIETY WOKE UP AND PROVED ITSELF. Foundations made sure that the exercise will not falter because of lack of funds. The success was preordained and we will be describing the meetings in our future postings in this series. Thank you for your attention. The new UN DPI head – Dr. Christina Gallach from Spain asked to join the effort that went underway without her office help. We hope the NGOs will work with her but continue to keep the effort running with headquarters outside the UN.
FURTHER: I must note that with all this activity – THE NGO 2015 CONFERENCE going on downstairs in Conference Room #1, upstairs at the UN Media Section – the daily PRESS CONFERENCE – had no information about this activity – so UN accredited media got no official press releases making thus sure the news about CIVIL SOCIETY ACTIVITY AT THE UN was not passed on to the global public at large.
On the day the Conference ended – Thursday August 27, 2015 – the Spokesman for the UNSG – a function of the UN DPI – did not hold a Press Conference whatsoever. Seemingly he did not think that there was anything worthwhile to report from the UN.
WE hope the new USG in charge of the UN DPI will make it her business to supervise this lack of attention that her personnel attaches to Civil Society.