We have an audience with the king, so to speak, so we better practice our speech and get our best clothes laundered. From June 23-24, only six weeks away, the General Assembly President will be convening “interactive hearings” with civil society. It’s difficult to keep your eye on the prize as we slog through the administrative, technical and logistical nightmares of organizing these hearings. But the payoff could be gigantic if we do this right.
The United Nations General Assembly just two weeks ago finalized an agreement on the exact arrangements for their “Millennium+5” high level segment in September as well as a “hearing” with civil society this June. (The resolution number is A/RES/59/291, by the way.) Among the many contentious points for governments were (1) what to call the high level segment, (2) what should be on the agenda, and (3) who is invited. So basically the whole thing was contentious.
Most relevant to myself and other NGO activists was the provision of the GA resolution calling for “informal interactive hearings” with civil society, NGOs and the private sector. The language is as follows:
Decides also that the President of the General Assembly shall preside over the informal interactive hearings to be held on 23 and 24 June 2005 with representatives of non-governmental organizations, civil society organizations and the private sector, and that the hearings shall be organized in accordance with the modalities set forth in annex III to the present resolution, and requests the President of the Assembly to prepare a summary of the hearings to be issued as an Assembly document prior to the High-level Plenary Meeting in September 2005.
In order to organize these hearings, the GA President, Mr. Jean Ping, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Gabon, has convened a small “task force” of civil society advisers to counsel his office on how to organize the hearings. The task force is roughly representative of a number of different constituencies that relate to the United Nations, including women’s organizations, poverty advocates, labor unions, the business sector, peace groups, volunteers, and the Millennium+5 NGO Network, which I help organize.
The Task Force was formally convened literally only days ago. Although much is still up in the air, it is anticipated that there will be around 200 individuals formally invited to participate in the two-day hearings. The individuals will be expected to have some expertise in some area related to the UN’s work in development, peace and security, human rights or UN reform. Gender balance, geographic, religious, ethnic and age diversity will be important factors. Individuals representing major networks and coalitions will be especially welcomed. Other than that, the door is basically open for nominations.
The first official communiqu€ from the Task Force on the nominations process for the hearings is expected by early next week. The deadline for nominations is likely to be the end of next week, i.e. May 20! Even with a quick turnaround time, potentially hundreds and hundreds of nominations are quite likely.
Assuming a lightning fast selection process, let’s say three days, that gives folks participating in the hearings less than a month to make their travel arrangements, get visas, raise funds, and prepare their input. For some that time frame will be too short, for sure. For others, they will not be able to find the money to come to New York for a two-day meeting.
Getting through the nomination and selection process is an incredibly high hurdle. An equally daunting task is how to organize the actual hearing sessions. Not to over-emphasize the importance of this, but it would be good if civil society did not screw this up. Because there are some of us who would like this kind of interaction with the General Assembly to be a regular part of its work plan. But if the 2005 hearings are seen as a big fiasco, than its very unlikely anyone is going to want to repeat it anytime soon.
On the other hand, the hearings could be really great. There is so many wonderful, amazing, inspiring civil society activists and organizers around the world, doing incredible work. People in the trenches combatting the spread of HIV/AIDS, defending women’s rights, educating homeless children, defusing ethnic conflicts. They are truly the unsung worker bees of the UN’s development, human rights and peace agenda. If we can get just a few of those people here from all of the world — particularly the poorest communities and most war-torn regions — the possibilities are endless.