I am back in the shopping mall near the World Social Forum, being true to my California culture. I see lots of the participants like me with their WSF name badges shamelessly window shopping, using the nice toilet facilities (instead of the WSF porta-potties), and chowing down to processed food in the food court. I just ate something that just barely passed for asian cuisine — overcooked salmon in a super-salty sauce and fried rice. I have no regrets.
6:10pm] Today was a fun day for me. I spent all of it at meetings on UN reform, sponsored by the groups UBUNTU and Tavola de la Pace.
Thankfully, the UBUNTU meeting on the reform of international institutions this morning actually had functioning interpretation. It was also less well-attended than the other one, which probably led to a more managable atmosphere. There was an international panel from the Middle East, Latin America, and Europe who gave their views on international democracy. I caught some good ideas in the mix, including focusing on the local and national level democracy building as a priority, since the UN is controlled by its member states.
Someone noted if we take human rights for all as the basis for a new just world order, than we have to wrestle with what should be the response of the international community to gross violations of human rights. Someone else commented that the UN Security Council reform debate was a difficult one, since it was a club that everyone wanted in on. And while Brazil certainly had a lot to speak of in its favor, it also did not solve the larger issue of regional-based membership.
All in all, a good meeting that brought forth some productive ideas.
For the entire afternoon, I went to a meeting on “Reclaiming the UN” sponsored by Tavola della Pace, and a host of other organizations including CONGO. Basically the goal of the meeting was to review what was already a fairly well-consulted draft document on UN reform, and offer people and opportunity to comment on it. Anyone could put their name on the speakers list and make their suggestion or criticism.
Over the next three hours I heard a litany of proposals and ideas, many of which sounded somewhat naive and idealistic, some even potentially dangerous, like several calls for a UN charter review conference and Security Council expansion. The problem is that the UN Charter is a Pandora’s Box, where you don’t know what is going to come out in the end, and its just as likely to bite you as embrace you. It is just as likely that the existing powers would create a UN that is even weaker and less democratic than it currently is.
I noted in my intervention this danger, and warned us not to get caught up in the Security Council reform debate, which promised to deadlock the UN for many years. I noted that the document should make some mention of how new information and communications technologies can make it possible for people around the world to directly view and participate in UN meetings from any cybercafe. Why should groups and individuals have to travel to Vienna or Geneva or New York to participate in a UN meeting when ICTs can enable their participation from wherever they are?
Roberto Bissio of Social Watch gave a detailed report on the recent meeting of several key NGOs with the UN Secretariat on the run-up to the Millennium Summit. He noted that there were several tracks being pursued, including civil society monitoring of the government negotiations, the civil society hearing with the GA in June and the Millennium+5 roundtables being organized around the Millennium+5 Summit.
The good thing about these meetings is that they allow all the participants, wherever they are from and whatever their backgrounds, to respond honestly to the questions posed by the current international system. Many of people’s suggestions were very rough, ill-informed and pollyannish. But they were also often passionate, creative and fresh. Whether or not these ramblings would be met with disdain in Turtle Bay, New York, they still represent people seeking a better way forward. That’s a good beginning.
[9:30pm] I finished the day with a meeting convened by the UN Millennium Campaign and UNDP with several NGOs involved in Millennium Development Goal follow-up. It was somewhat of a groundbreaking little meeting, since the UN has not had any official relationship with the World Social Forum in the past, and social movements at the Forum have historically been suspicious of the UN. So seeing them start to come together is a nice change.
There was a frank exchange of views with the UN officials and various NGO groups, including UBUNTU, Tavola della Pace, Center for Women’s Global Leadership, Euro-step, Christian Aid, Oxfam, and others. A couple of people noted that public demonstrations during the Millennium + 5 Summit could either be a celebration of the UN or a denunciation based on how well civil society was included in the process. I brought people up to date on CONGO’s activities and passed out our latest newsletter.