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UN: NGOs Appeal For Globalization Reforms

  • Robert McMahon

A large gathering of non-governmental organizations has adopted a declaration calling for reforms at the United Nations to more effectively deal with the world's problems. They single out the globalization of the world economy as a source of concern, as well as a potential benefit to the world. UN correspondent Robert McMahon reports. United Nations, 29 May 2000 (RFE/RL) -- A global gathering of non- governmental organizations, or NGOs, has produced a document that calls on world leaders to make sweeping reforms to improve international controls on issues such as human rights, arms control, and economic globalization.

The meeting last week at the UN headquarters in New York represented one of the world's largest gatherings of NGOs. It marked the first time that all of the major interests served by such organizations were considered at such a level.

Nearly 1,000 NGOs from more than 100 countries attended the meeting, known as the millennium forum. The incentive was provided by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan -- the chance to influence the September Millennium Summit of world leaders at the United Nations, which is expected to be the largest summit of its kind.

A 25-page declaration adopted at the close of the meeting last Friday pays special attention to the trend toward the broadening of world markets known as globalization. The document notes with concern what it calls "corporate-driven" globalization, which it says increases inequities between countries, undermines local cultures, and marginalizes large numbers of people.

The paper says that states are becoming weaker, partly as a result of this kind of globalization, while the transnational private sector grows stronger. In the words of the declaration: "If the architects of globalization are not held to account, this will not simply be unjust. The edifice will crumble with dire consequences for everyone."

But the declaration also says that globalization can be made to work for the benefit of all. It says this can happen if international financial institutions, global corporations, and governments are subject to democratic controls, via the United Nations and civil society. This is similar to a theme that dominated last autumn's controversial summit of the World Trade Organization in Seattle. The co-chairman of the summit, Techeste Ahderom says globalization was the most divisive item of debate among the NGOs.

"The most heated discussions were around globalization. There were those groups that see nothing good about globalization. There was a very long list of negative aspects of globalization."

The declaration indicates the NGO community's distrust of major world lending and trade organizations. One of its chief recommendations is to reform and democratize all levels of decision-making at the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and World Trade Organization. It calls for them to be integrated fully into the UN system and make them accountable to the UN's Economic and Social Council, a chamber of the General Assembly.

The declaration also calls for a UN global poverty eradication fund that would give poor people access to credit. Such a fund could be financed by contributions from the public and private sector.

The NGO document covers the main sectors of work by civil society. In the area of peace and security, it recommends that the United Nations establish a corps of trained mediators who could be called on to provide more prompt and effective conflict prevention.

It follows up the call of the recent non-proliferation treaty review for the world's nuclear powers to expedite the elimination of their atomic weapons. It suggests a worldwide missile-launch warning system and a conference to review ways of ending production of long-range surface-to-surface missiles and long-range bombers.

The NGOs express general dissatisfaction with the way the UN Security Council has performed. The declaration calls for the immediate enlargement of the 15-member council, with newly elected members drawn from the member states of different regions of the world on a rotational basis.

The NGOs also want the United Nations to move toward the creation of alternative revenue sources -- such as taxing use of air and ocean routes -- as a way of reducing dependence on key members such as the United States.

Will these recommendations be heard?

The UN Secretariat has promised to convey them to the Millennium Summit in September. UN Assistant Secretary-General Miles Stoby, who is coordinating the summit, told the NGOs on Friday that he would seek to make their declaration an official document of the summit.

Stoby said the NGO forum last week was a milestone for international organizations.

"The occasion of this meeting may well mark an important turning point in the collaborative arrangements of civil society organizations among themselves as well as forecasting a new direction for the relationship between civil society and the United Nations."

But it is unclear how the NGO consensus paper will connect with world leaders. The forum's organizers said a number of poorer NGOs who wanted to attend last week's gathering were unable because of lack of money.
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