WSF: UN Could be the Tool for Change

Nov 22 2004

Samuele Gabbio

PADUA, Italy, Nov 22 (IPS) – Civil society groups preparing for the World Social Forum in January are building up a campaign to make the United Nations an instrument for change that empowers people.

Reform of the UN was the accent at a three-day meeting of non-governmental organisations in this northern Italian city over the last weekend.

�Reclaim our UN� was the banner of the conference organised by the Italian pacifist network Peace Roundtable with the help of international civil society organisations including Euralat, Attac Brasil, Ibase, Cives, Conseu, Ubuntu, Cadtm and Social Watch. Inter Press Service (IPS) supported the meeting.

â€?What we are getting from here is the point of view of civil society on very important issues that are being discussed in the UN itself – issues such as the reform of the UN Security Council and the Bretton Woods institutions,â€? Salil Shetty, director of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) campaign told IPS.

The Bretton Woods institutions include the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). They are so named after Bretton Woods in the United States where they were set up.

The Padua meeting drew wide representation. Ten organisations from North America participated, 17 each from Latin America and Africa, three from the Middle East, eight from Asia and the Pacific, 36 from the European Union (EU) and 13 from European countries outside the EU. Thirty-seven international networks were represented.

About 600 people attended the meeting, including 40 members from the international council of the World Social Forum (WSF).

�This seminar has contributed greatly to the new methodology of the World Social Forum,� Antonio Martins from Attac Brasil and member of the WSF international council told IPS. �The new methodology aims to grant the freedom of diversity, the building up of autonomy, the possibility to organise specific activities where to express identities and projects.�

It is necessary for civil society to organise itself at a global level, Antonio Guterres, president of the group Socialist International told IPS. This is needed he said, �to promote the emergence of a public sphere able not only to mobilise the people, as against the war in Iraq, but also to create the conditions for an effective interaction with international organisations for a global democracy to be possible. Today everything is global except democracy.�

The Padua event threw up several new proposals to reinforce the participation of civil society in the agenda of international institutions, such as the creation of a world parliament, and a world constitution. But the thrust of the debate was on the need to reform present institutions, in particular the UN system, the IMF and the World Bank. â€?We have to deal with parallel systems of power: the U.S empire, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organisation, the transnational corporations etc,â€? said Dot Keet from the Africa Trade Network in South Africa. â€?All of this contradicts the principles on which the UN is based. It’s a political problem and there is no alternative to democratic struggle to change the situation.â€?

The Padua meeting was of enormous importance because it raised questions about how the United Nations is dealing with poor countries and the way they are setting their agenda, said Terezinha da Silva from Forum Mulher, a civil society network in Mozambique. â€?Women in a country like Mozambique are affected by very serious problems in every sector — not having a say at the UN can cost really hard.â€? The United Nations should not reflect the present world order â€?with its unbalanced distribution of power and wealth,â€? said Augusto Cacòpardo from the group Laboratory for Democracy of Firenze. â€?It should reflect the world’s needs. We need a world constitution to create international rule of law.â€?

Delegates spoke of the need to rescue the United Nations from U.S. influence. â€?There’s a long history of the United States manipulating the UN,â€? said George Martins from United for Peace and Justice, the largest pacifist coalition in the United States. â€?With the war in Iraq the UN lost its role of defending partnership between countries.â€? David Lionel, veteran video producer from Los Angeles and member of the World Citizen Movement said that â€?when you come to an event like this you learn about the real world and the practical problems – but you also need to reinforce your ideals. If we collect enough public energy and we are right, we can get incredible legitimisation.â€? (END/2004)
“Other News” is a personal initiative seeking to provide information that should be in the media but is not, because of commercial criteria. It welcomes contributions from everybody. Work areas include information on global issues, north-south relations, gobernability of globalization. The “Other News” motto is a phrase which appeared on the wall of Barcelona’s old Customs Office, at the beginning of 2003:â€?What walls utter, media keeps silentâ€?. Roberto Savio

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