Press Releases

     

    NGO/521
    PI/1504

    11 September 2003

    FIFTY-SIXTH DPI/NGO CONFERENCE CONCLUDES
    AT HEADQUARTERS; DRAWS RECORD 2,000 CIVIL
    SOCIETY REPRESENTATIVES

    NEW YORK, 10 September (UN Headquarters) -- As the fifty-sixth annual DPI/NGO Conference concluded this afternoon at Headquarters, Sadako Ogata, Co-Chair of the Commission on Human Security, told participants that the understanding of the many types of threats to State security had broadened over the last decade to include environmental pollution, infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS and SARS, massive population movements and transnational organized crime.

    She said that the Commission’s report, released in May, examined the situation of people in conflict, emphasizing the importance of a firmer application of human rights and humanitarian law.  It also dealt with people on the move -- refugees, internally displaced and migrants -- the transition between war and peace, with greater institutional and financial concentration on the transition phase.  Other areas of the report included economic security, health and education, she said.

    Paul Hoeffel, Chief of the NGO Section of the Department of Public Information (DPI) and Co-Chair of the Conference, introduced Ms. Ogata.

    Earlier, the Conference held two plenary sessions.  In the morning, participants discussed “Sustainable Development in the Context of Globalization”, which featured panellists Jocelyn Dow of Guyana’s Liana Cane Interiors and Red Thread; Meryem Essafi of Moroccan Radio Television (RTM); Ashok Khosla of India’s Development Alternatives Group; Hune Margulies of Community Development Partners for the Americas; and Roland Wiederkehr, a member of Switzerland’s Parliament and Director of the Swiss Green Cross.  Alfredo Sfeir-Younis, Senior Advisor to the Managing Director of the World Bank, moderated the session.

    Panellists in the afternoon plenary, entitled “A Conversation with Eminent Persons on Global Trends and Strategies”, were Kingsley Moghalu of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; Mary Racelis of the Institute of Philippine Culture, Ateneo de Manila University; and Jeffery Sachs, Special Advisor to the Secretary-General and Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University.  The moderator was Barbara Crossette, columnist for the UN Wire.

    Other Conference activities included 10 NGO workshops held between 1:15 p.m. and 2:45 p.m.

    Mr. Hoeffel, in his closing remarks, said that the three-day Conference had drawn 3,500 pre-registered representatives of more than 700 NGOs from over 100 countries.  Despite financial and safety concerns, and increasing difficulties in obtaining visas, more than 2,000 representatives had been able to attend -- a record number.  He said 800 representatives had come from a total of 65 countries in developing regions.  That was 40 per cent of all participants, almost double the proportion from last year alone, he added.

     

    Morning Plenary

    The morning plenary session was devoted to the topic “Sustainable Development in the Context of Globalization”.

     

    Statements

     

    ALFREDO SFEIR-YOUNIS, Senior Advisor of the Office of the Managing Director, World Bank, said that this meeting was taking place at crucial and difficult moment in history.  Many were still trying to heal the wounds of recent events in Baghdad.  Those that had died must not have done so in vain, and it was a unique opportunity to address strategic issues.

    Human security could not be conceived as material security, he continued.  Material security was an illusion and, in fact, consumption was creating a great deal of insecurity.  The international community needed to look at human security from a non-material perspective and needed to think about human security from a different point of departure.  More of the same would only yield more of the same, he said.

    ASHOK KHOSLA, President of Development Alternatives Group, India, described sustainable development as satisfying the basic needs of every single person in society and regenerating the resource base on which they depend.  The most basic need was a sustainable livelihood -- a job that provided goods and services, while bringing meaning and dignity to their lives.  The first and foremost job of society was to create sustainable livelihoods.

    On the other hand, he noted, although globalization had brought benefits to many, the globalized economy, owing to the needs of competition, necessarily created certain jobs that were unsustainable.  There was a fundamental flaw in the modern international economy, since industrial machines were being built to create work for yet more machines.  While the global economy had expanded rapidly over the last five decades, there had been an equally rapid increase in poverty, illiteracy, desertification and environmental degradation.

    MERYEM ESSAFI, Deputy Chair of the Moroccan Guild for Environmental and Development Writers, said that her country was striving to be a State governed by law and order and by the legitimacy of democracy.  It also aimed to reach a level of social peace by solving various cases relating to human rights and by compensating the victims of political kidnappings and secret detentions.  Those achievements were taking place, however, in a social situation marred by high unemployment, the slow rise of the national income, poverty and the lack of basic infrastructure in rural areas.  It would be impossible, she said, to have stability and democracy in Morocco while there were huge social disparities.

    The role of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) was very important, she said.  While the organizations working in human rights and health campaigns were thriving, however, those working in the social sector were lagging behind.  That was often due to a lack of experience and resources, and the fact that the decision-making was often down to one of a handful of people.  Despite all those shortcomings, NGOs should be supported, as they showed they could be useful contributors in cooperative development.

    ROLAND WIEDERKEHR, Member of Parliament from Switzerland and Director of the Swiss Green Cross, said that the organization managed an international programme dealing with the environmental and social consequences of war and conflict.  The programme promoted, among other issues, the safe and environmentally sound destruction of weapons arsenals; the conversion and clean-up of military facilities and lands; and the reduction of the environmental impact of military practices.

    A second big task for the Green Cross was to prevent conflict over the shortage of resources, he said.  There was a big water problem in the Middle East, but it could not be tackled constructively until there was some sort of peace in the region.  Eventually, however, any inequitable distribution of water in the Middle East would inevitably lead to another conflict, he added.

    Regarding energy, he said people must realize that the importance of alternative sources did not lie merely in the need to avert climate change, but because people realized the potential for conflict inherent in the dependence on nuclear or petroleum sources.  The United States was still very dependent on fossil fuels and had made not the slightest effort to reduce that dependency, he noted.

    HUNE MARGULIES, Executive Director, Community Development Partners for the Americas, said that when talking about poverty, people were really talking about the sustainability of life.  Poverty was destroying millions of lives, not only in terms of life expectancy, but also in terms of the quality of life.  There were several factors that had contributed to the globalization and sustenance of poverty.  One of those factors was fragmentation.  The international community tended to look at poverty as if it was an issue unto itself, separate from the issues of health, education and the environment.  It was imperative that the international community look at poverty in a more global context.

    Another factor that had contributed to the growth of poverty was the concept of the nation State.  People often thought of the State as the major tool for development and the maintenance of peace.  The international community had to place more emphasis on communities -- local and regional.  The international community must also re-establish local cultures as a resource for development, not as a drawback.  Furthermore, the environment should be viewed as a resource that served economic development best when it was preserved and protected.

    JOCELYN DOW, Executive Director, Liana Cane Interiors and Red Thread, Guyana, recalled the Rio Earth Summit of 1992, saying that women understood then that the essential issue was not the capacity to fix the world, but the power to do so.  Women understood the nature of power because they often did not have it, whether in the household or in government.

    Describing the Washington consensus system behind globalization as a vampire sucking the blood from the globe, she said it was also a historic system rooted in colonialism.  In the Caribbean region, where indigenous people were virtually wiped out over the past 500 years to make way for others from the rest of the world, globalization today mirrored the same outsourcing of production as witnessed under colonialism.

    There was another form of globalization, she said.  It was a people’s globalization that refused to allow governments to speak in their name for the oppression of other peoples.  She emphasized the need to increase civil society’s solidarity and global energy in order to stop the privatization of water and to prevent United States and European companies from dividing up the world.  The poor needed not just sustainable development, but also sustaining development, she added.

    Questions and Answers

    An audience member asked how the international community could resolve the “spiritual crisis” that was prevalent in many nations today.

    Ms. DOW said that global media had fed the notion that in order to be happy, one had to consume.  The issue was how to stop those messages from prevailing.  It was necessary to build communities that had different value systems, in order to counteract that message.  It was also important to deal with school curricula.

    Mr. SFEIR-YOUNIS said that the debate in the world today had to be about values.  Economics was just a collection of values, and those values needed to be revised.  If globalization was going to get anywhere, the international community needed to “humanize” economics.

    An audience member asked how impoverished nations could use the resources that they had to bring them out of poverty without having to emulate the West, and what role should the media play in helping that process?

    Ms. ESSAFI replied that the media had an effective role to play, as it was the link between the public at large and theoreticians.  However, media institutions often led people to follow the traditions of the West, and that was a matter that needed to be resolved.

    Ms. DOW said that if governments provided enabling environments and were willing to look at local solutions, it was possible for poor nations to make better use of their resources.  The problem was that poor countries were given prescriptions by regional groups, such as the World Bank, and therefore alternatives needed to be developed in the margins.  The media could help by encouraging the use of best practices.

    What concrete action could be taken by the United Nations DPI/NGO Conference to stop international corporations from destroying the environment? an audience member asked.

    Mr. KHOSLA replied that the forum was not in a position to take direct concrete action.  It was, however, in a position to “legitimize” and lay the groundwork for policies that could help make those corporations accountable.

    Mr. WIEDERKEHR said that the majority of transnational corporations were destroying the environment.  There was no United Nations coordination agency for alternative energies, however, and that was an absolute necessity.

    Ms. ESSAFI said that it was important to continue working to enhance the ability of NGOs.  If their capabilities could be strengthened, then more information could be provided to the consumers, and public information could be swayed to boycott goods that were not properly produced.

    When asked whether overpopulation was biggest threat to sustainable development, Ms. DOW said that it was an issue of distribution, not an issue of numbers.  There was plenty of wealth in the world; it was simply held in the hands of the few.

    Afternoon Session

    BARBARA CROSSETTE, columnist for the UN Wire, moderator for the afternoon session, introduced the subject, “A Conversation with Eminent Persons on Global Trends and Strategies”, and the panellists.

    She raised the issue of the Secretary-General’s call this week for the reform of the United Nations, particularly the expansion of the Security Council.  Was there a danger of creating divisions within the global South by grouping the “Group of 77” developing countries with the major Powers? she asked.

    KINGSLEY MOGHALU, Director, Resource Mobilization and Global Partnerships, Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, said the global South should not be kept from the table just because there may be a chance that they may be divided.  Regional groups from Africa, Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean held regular consultations that could be reflected by their representatives on an enlarged Security Council.  There was a strong case to include the global South on the Security Council to enhance its legitimacy, since it was well known that it was in crisis, he added.

    MARY RACELIS, research scientist with Ateneo de Manila University’s Institute of Philippine Culture and a member of the High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on United Nations-Civil Society Relations, said that South-East Asian regional political groups could continue to be accountable to the global South.  Further, it was important for the NGO community to ensure that their governments were responding to the global South as a whole and that they responded to civil society concerns.

    JEFFREY SACHS, Special Advisor to the Secretary-General on the Millennium Development Goals and Director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University, said the concern was less about divisions among the global South than about the unbelievable imbalance in the world, where only rich countries seemed to have a voice.

     

    He said that rather than a few presidents or prime ministers from the South being invited to the Summit of the Group of Eight (G-8) industrialized nations for a couple of hours, they should hold their own summit to give voice and balance to the majority.  They should address issues involving global poverty, disease and the environment, which never seemed to make it on to the agenda of the G-8 Summit.

    Speaking about the reform of the United Nations institutions, Ms. RACELIS said that the Economic and Social Council procedures were behind the times in terms of credentials, and the criteria for representation seemed to be getting more political, rather than technical or humanitarian.  United Nations reform should also be about how civil society interacts with the institutions, she said.

    Mr. SACHS said that the major conferences had produced one major outcome -- a set of international goals and standards that were supposed to be met by the international community.  The Millennium Development Goals had been the result of a decade of global agreement.  One of the things that the rich countries had agreed to was to take concrete steps to achieve the target on 0.7 per cent of their gross national product (GNP) for development assistance.  However, whereas the rich nations were very good at spending money on bombs and armies, they were not so good at addressing global poverty.

    More global conferences were not the answer, he said.  What the developing world needed was the actual implementation of commitments that had been made over the last 15 years.  The international community had a timetable.  It was not a matter of convenience; it was a matter of millions of people dying every year.  Those goals were achievable, but the window was closing.  They could not be reached without a worldwide social demand.

    Mr. MOGHALU said that one of the most important elements of United Nations reform would be to bring the people to the United Nations.  The United Nations was not “we the peoples”, but “we the governments”, “we the diplomats” or “we the security experts”.  Civil society should be given a place at the table, he said.

    Turning to the role of developing countries, he said that they needed to do far more for themselves and to take up ownership of the global fund.

    Ms. RACELIS highlighted the importance of NGOs and civil society.  In the Philippines, she said, NGOs and civil society groups were very strong and had brought about significant policy shifts.  Government needed to have high-level NGO offices to address issues of poverty from the perspective of different vulnerable groups.

    Mr. SACHS said that, although there was no doubt that nothing could be accomplished without national and local leadership, it was a basic fact that there was a need for essential funding that only rich countries could provide.  Without real action by the United States, millions of people would die no matter how heroic they were.

    The peace dividend had gone to Iraq, he said, noting that the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria was $3 billion short this year for already-agreed programmes.  Those funds were simply not going to be obtained from Ethiopia or Malawi, but they were available in the United States Treasury.  The rich countries should not be let off the hook, he emphasized.

    Mr. MOGHALU said that, in just 18 months of operation, the Global Fund had committed $1.5 billion to programmes in 93 countries.  It would place half a million people on antiretroviral therapy and finance the purchase of 42,000 insecticide-treated mosquito nets to prevent malaria in Africa and Asia.

    However, those goals would only be achieved if the Fund received the necessary resources, he stressed.  If it did not get the money, the five-year programmes would stop after just two years.  Those on antiretroviral therapy would go off their medicine and die.  The Global Fund had been created because experts had realized that, although certain interventions made a significant difference in the treatment of the most infectious diseases, AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria were getting worse because of a lack of resources.

    Regarding the need to mainstream the role of women in development theory, Ms. RACELIS said it was clear that women cared more, since they were closest to the family and had to ensure the daily feeding, schooling and health care of children.  The United Nations had not helped the worldwide movement as much as civil society had done in boosting the process of self-awareness that had moved women into micro-finance and helped them make connections with the banking sector.  Women were among the most significant forces for change, especially in the socio-economic area.

    On the lip service paid to the role of women in post-conflict reconstruction and peace processes, Mr. SACHS raised the issue of the feminization of poverty.  Despite the increasing numbers of assistance being given to help girls go to school, he said, those in the poorest parts of the world would not go to school anyway, because they still had to fetch water and firewood.  Minimally adequate systems of wells and cooking fuel were crucial in helping women and girls in extremely poor societies.

    Also addressing the issue of women, Mr. MOGHALU, said that 58 per cent of people living with HIV were female.  There were 14 million AIDS orphans worldwide.  Most of the time, their parents had died, leaving them under the care of their grandmothers.  This was a heavy burden and was tearing apart the social fabric.  For example, when children became orphans because of AIDS, it created a social taboo, so some grandmothers were even scared to take care of their own grandchildren.  He recommended that when communities were putting together programmes on HIV/AIDS to submit to the Global Fund, they pay particular attention to the burden that women faced and how they could fit into a solution.

    Questions and Answers

    Asked how NGOs could highlight the importance of the United Nations work throughout the world and leave a positive image of the United Nations, Mr. MOGHALU said there was no question that NGOs were now part of the world of the United Nations.  There was a need to establish education programmes at grass-roots levels in many countries to help spread the message of what the United Nations is and what it had achieved, he said.

    Ms. RACELIS said that the problem lay in the United States, rather than in the global South, where NGOs were well known.  She was amazed at how little the civil society sector in the United States spoke out about issues of concern to them.  The United States Government and media should not control the voices of the NGOs, she said, and she hoped that there would be more protest in this country.

    Asked how the NGO community could deal with terrorism, Ms. Racelis said that in Manila the out-of-school youth, especially male, had no employment or chance of it, and they were often picked up by drug syndicates.  That was a serious problem that needed to be addressed.

    Mr. SACHS agreed that there was much evidence to suggest that countries in economic crisis were a breeding ground for political and social instability, which could sometimes lead to terrorism.

    Regarding the role of culture in development, Ms. RACELIS said that although local NGOs usually had a good sense of what to do on such issues as female genital mutilation, many of their members were middle class people who had not grown up in poor communities.  They had to undergo a reorientation to understand that their prescriptions did not always work.  Just because they were women did not mean they understood the problems.  Culture was a process of learning and making people learn, she said.

    Mr. MOGHALU said culture could be part of the solution or part of the problem.  Whenever cultural myths were part of the problem, they must be confronted without fear.

    Regarding transparency in United Nations agencies and other bodies, he said the Global Fund’s board included representatives of civil society and the private sector, as well as people living with diseases.  At the national level, the only way to access its funds was to replicate that partnership in building a national proposal, which should reflect how each respective country saw itself responding to a crisis.

    Closing Session

    PAUL HOEFFEL, Chief, NGO Section, Department of Public Information, introduced the closing speaker, Sadako Ogata, Co-Chair of the Commission on Human Security and a former High Commissioner for Refugees.  The Commission, he said, was an independent body charged with creating a human security policy framework aimed at significantly reducing global human suffering and insecurity.  It had released its report in May.

    SADAKO OGATA, Co-Chair of the Commission on Human Security, said that over the last decade, understanding of State security and the many types of threats had broadened.  In addition to securing borders and people from external attack, they now included the dangers of environmental pollution, the spread of infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS, and more recently SARS, massive population movements, and particularly the threat of transnational organized crime.

    Recalling her time as High Commissioner for Refugees, she said she had realized that security threats to people emanated more often from the very States that should be protecting them.  Similarly, threats to national and international security came much more from internal than external aggression.  The post-cold-war era of the 1990s had been marked by internal communal conflicts with heavy ethnic undertones.  It became important to shift attention to the security of people, not necessarily to replace State security, but definitely to complement it.

    The idea of an independent Commission on Human Security had been launched at the 2000 Millennium Summit, she said.  The Commission viewed human security in terms of protecting people’s vital freedoms from critical and pervasive threats and in ways that empowered them to fulfil their potential and aspirations.

    In its report, she said, the Commission examined the situation of people in conflict, emphasizing the importance of a firmer application of human rights and humanitarian law.  A second area dealt with people on the move -- refugees, internally displaced and migrants.  The report also addressed the transition between war and peace, with greater institutional and financial concentration on the transition phase.  Other areas dealt with included economic security, health and education, she said.

    Delivering his closing remarks, Mr. HOEFFEL, Chief of the NGO Section, said he hoped that the Conference had been successful enough to send NGO colleagues home with a rekindled fire in the belly, a renewed commitment to working with the United Nations and some new tools and insights to bring back to their communities and constituencies.  The Planning Committee had worked hard, he said, to bring new and diverse voices from the frontlines of civil society campaigns around the world, and he felt that the aim had been achieved.

    In all, 3,500 representatives of more than 700 NGOs from more than 100 countries had pre-registered for the Conference, he said, and despite financial and safety concerns and visa difficulties, over 2,000 were able to come this week -- a record number.  Eight hundred had come from developing regions, he continued, that is 40 per cent of all participants and more than double the proportion from last year.  The Conference had been fundamentally about communications, he said, and one of the underlying themes emerging from discussions was the need for consultations, for feedback, for guidance from those with whom the United Nations interacted.  That was crucial for making the Organization’s work effective and relevant.

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