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Special Session of the General Assembly on the Implementation of the Outcome of the World Summit for Social Development and Further Initiatives («Geneva 2000»)

25 February 2000

Contributions to the preparatory process, 1999-2000.

1999: 37th Session of the Commission for Social Development, New York, 9-19 February. Oral Intervention by the Ecumenical Team, "Promises to Keep - Miles to Go," assessing the achievements made toward implementing the Copenhagen World Social Summit Commitments.

Preparatory Committee meeting, New York, May, Ecumenical Team review of the Implementation of the World Summit for Social Development with an emphasis on globalized economy, jubilee and foreign debt.

2000: Preparatory Committee meeting, New York, February. Written submission, "A Call for a Change of Heart, Ethical Reflections to be considered for the Draft Declaration".

Preparatory Committee meeting, New York, April: Written submission, "For Clarity of Vision, A Sense of Urgency and a Change of Heart," calling for an alternative vision of a global community to be included in the Political Declaration. More than 50 NGOs supported the Ecumenical Team's appeal.

General Assembly Special Session for Social Development ("Geneva 2000"), June. The Ecumenical Team updated its lobbying positions in a document, "The Time to Act is Now".

"A Call for a Change of Heart: Some Ethical Reflections to be considered for the UN Draft Declaration," written statement submitted to the second intersessional meeting for Geneva 2000, New York, 7-25 February 2000.

At the World Summit on Social Development, delegates acknowledged that the inequity of the current market system has prevented many people from being able to share in the global common wealth. At a time when globalization was seen as inevitable, this important admission created a context for more honest conversations, clearer analysis of the roots of poverty, and more effective strategies for social development.

The rising levels of poverty, the growing disparity between rich and poor, the escalating number of armed conflicts, and a host of other symptoms point to the sad reality that the hopes of Copenhagen have not been furthered. In many ways, the international community has found itself mired in the turbulent currents of globalization. The inability to fulfill the hopes of the Social Summit leaves the human family facing the same profound moral and ethical crisis. Ironically, many continue to believe that the inequities of the market can be rectified by market remedies alone! The neo-liberal market cannot resolve the problems that globalization has created.

Poverty is not merely the inability to provide for material human needs. It is also a social and spiritual crisis that tests the very soul of the human family and its ultimate values. If Copenhagen identified the moral imperative for social development, the WSSD Review needs to unleash the moral energy and the political will to address the continuing crisis posed by the failure of the neo-liberal market prescription, especially the crushing burden of external debt. Recognizing that the resources are now available to eradicate extreme poverty, we call upon member states and the international community to fulfill the financial commitments they have already made, and to redouble their efforts to reduce and cancel the debt of developing countries.

One result of globalization that diminishes our collective capacity to achieve social development is the redefinition of many institutions of our common life. Globalization is redefining the nature and role of state and international governance bodies, subordinating democratic political processes to publicly unaccountable economic actors. Globalization thus undermines the ability of governments to serve as guarantors of the social, economic, political and cultural health of our communities. The corporate and finance sectors have exceeded their appropriate roles by claiming to provide a vision for all aspects of our common life. Such ceding and seizure of power has diminished the capacity of human communities to shape their own futures. Civil society, which should be, inter alia, a source of new ideas and a generating center for meaning and purpose in the lives of communities, is increasingly filling the gap as a service provider.

Five years after Copenhagen, we have failed to move toward a more just, peace-filled and sustainable world. What is required of us in this moment is the development of an economics of life and a politics of hope. As churches we urge all actors to foster sustainable communities. Sustainable community requires a just and moral economy where people are empowered to participate in decisions affecting their lives, where resources are equitably shared, and where public and private institutions are held accountable for the social and ecological consequences of their operations. In building sustainable communities, we would be wise to look to indigenous communities for concrete lessons in fostering and maintaining sustainability. We need to reassert the right of the people to make choices and the capacity of governments to safeguard the collective social health of our communities. The neo-liberal focus on "freeing" trade and investment from public oversight has diminished that ability.

The immense and complex problems confronting the global human community require a fresh vision and a change of heart. We call for an alternative vision of a global community whose interdependence is not reduced to trade and markets. We affirm our common destiny as co-inhabitants of the one earth for which we all share responsibility and from which we should all equitably benefit. We call for a change of heart which recognizes that real value cannot be expressed in monetary terms and that life - and that which is essential to sustain it - cannot be commodified. The role of the economy is to serve people, communities, and the health of the earth. A moral vision calls for economic actors to be accountable to poor and powerless people and for the voices that have been neglected to be lifted up. The aim of economic life should be to nurture sustainable, just and participatory communities. Building such communities will require nothing less than profound moral courage and the willingness to be open to new ways of living and working together.

"Now is the time," oral statement to the Committee of the Whole, Geneva, 26 June 2000.

I (Judy Williams, Grenada) speak to you on behalf of the Ecumenical Team which is co-ordinated by the World Council of Churches. In partnership with many others, we have made the journey from Copenhagen in 1995 to Geneva 2000. We have arrived at a critical moment in the process of implementing the commitments made by the world's governments at Copenhagen. From our faith-based perspective, poverty eradication, full employment and social integration are fundamental. Our Jubilee vision includes sustainable, just and participatory communities and an interdependent world in which we share responsibility for one another.

We come to Geneva 2000 with a sense of profound disappointment. Efforts to implement the Copenhagen Declaration and Programme of Action have neither reversed nor significantly improved the situation for millions of the world's people. In fact, the reality for many has dramatically worsened in spite of huge increases in wealth worldwide. In the past five years the few have continued to accumulate excessive wealth, while many still lack basic necessities and are constantly struggling to survive with human dignity and hope.

At this Special Session, we find the absence of a significant number of heads of states disturbing. Is this a sign that governments have abandoned their responsibilities? Does this reveal the extent to which the power of governments to act in the interests of their citizens has been usurped by the forces of globalization? Have governments been held hostage to market forces, and coerced into excluding social development from their central policy agendas?

People around the world are calling upon their governments and political leaders to stand up and to say "No!" - no to the imposition of globalization that allows markets to determine life and death for many; no to the privatization of goods and services necessary to sustain life; no to the illusion of "free" markets that lead to wealth concentration, weaken public accountability, and diminish social responsibility. Some significant voices in the global community are questioning a market system that widens the gap between rich and poor, disables democracy, undermines cultural diversity, and threatens biodiversity and the natural resources upon which life as we know and love it depends. People know the vital distinction between growth that nurtures just and sustainable communities, and growth that aggravates social inequity and environmental destruction.

Now is the time for people, their governments and the United Nations to claim a clear Jubilee vision and move boldly toward it, a vision of a global community whose interdependence is not reduced to trade and markets. This requires a change of heart, which recognizes that real value cannot be expressed in monetary terms, and that life in its many forms cannot be commodified. The economy should serve the well-being of people, rather than people being servants of the economy. This moral vision upholds the right of all people - particularly those excluded - to participate in the economic realities that impact their lives. The ultimate aim of economic life is to nurture sustainable and just communities. Building such communities requires nothing less than profound moral courage and political action.

The urgency of the situation, and the Jubilee vision for sustainable and just communities leads us to call yet again for fundamental changes. We call for new financial institutions and systems that include the concerns and participation of developing countries in determining the direction of international financial institutions and trade regimes. We call for a stronger United Nations governance role through the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in establishing policy and accountability of international monetary, financial, and trade institutions and monitoring their practices. We support the implementation of currency transaction taxes. We reiterate the need for binding codes of conduct for transnational corporations, and financial and investment institutions to insure they are held accountable and responsible for the social and ecological consequences of their operations. Governments need to support fully the legitimate role of non-governmental organizations and people's movements in planning, fostering, and monitoring social development. Finally, we repeat our fundamental opposition to proposals for an Enhanced HIPC initiative. Debt cancellation is a Jubilee imperative. The governments of the world must take political action to cancel the debt ... and do it now!

Now is the time for governments to recognize their fundamental responsibility for social development, and to take political action to honour the promises made at Copenhagen. Now is the time for the governments represented at Geneva 2000 to have a change of heart, commit themselves to true global solidarity, and dare to address the pressing social concerns of our time with courage and determination. Now is the time for the United Nations to be accorded - and to claim - its legitimate role in building a world in which social justice and the social development of all people is secured. Now is the time for an economics of life and a politics of hope. Those who depend on you to act can wait no longer!

Letter from Konrad Raiser to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan expressing concerns about the role of UN-related International Financial Institutions at "Geneva 2000", Geneva, 28 June 2000.

Dear Mr Secretary-General,

We were gratified by your presence at the Cathédrale Saint Pierre this past Sunday, and for your public words there and elsewhere in recent weeks about what is at stake in "Geneva 2000".

It is therefore with some regret that I feel compelled to write to you with respect to the report, A Better World for All, that you issued jointly with the senior officers of the OECD, the World Bank and the IMF as the Summit opened.

This report was received with great astonishment, disappointment and even anger by many representatives of civil society and of non-governmental organizations gathered in Geneva to support and encourage the Special Session on Social Development following your consistent injunction to move the world closer to placing controls on the negative features of globalization. Among these representatives are members of the Ecumenical Team coordinated by the World Council of Churches.

The consternation of these civil society representatives, and a good many of the government delegates as well, was aroused by your participation in what amounted to a propaganda exercise for international finance institutions whose policies are widely held to be at the root of many of the most grave social problems facing the poor all over the world and especially those in the poor nations. We and many other non-governmental organizations have consistently supported the United Nations and encouraged you in efforts to address the injustices embodied in these institutions. By identifying yourself with the goals and the vision promoted by this report in your address to the General Assembly on 26 June, you have cast doubt upon the will of the United Nations to reaffirm the Copenhagen commitments and translate them into effective strategies for the eradication of poverty and further significant progress towards the goals of a people-centered approach to social development.

The World Council of Churches addresses these concerns to you not as a simplistic criticism of the United Nations or of your role as its Secretary-General. The WCC has been with the UN as a supporter and cooperating body since the San Francisco Conference. While we have not hesitated to issue our critique when it was due, we have done so as an organization deeply committed to the aims of the Charter, and as one substantially involved in many of the aspects of the work of the Organization. You are well aware of our consistent efforts to sustain and support you personally in your enlightened approach to leadership of the world body in challenging and critical times. Thus we warmly welcomed the statement in your Millennium Report that the challenges of globalization need a functioning platform for States "working together on global issues - all pulling their weight and all having their say."

We have noted with dismay in recent years how the UN's development agenda has floundered as more and more responsibility for global economic and trade reform was ceded to the World Trade Organization and the Bretton Woods institutions controlled by a small number of highly industrialized countries. Their policies have not only failed to bridge the gap between rich and poor and achieve greater equality, but rather contributed to a widening gap, the virtual exclusion of an increasing number of the poor and widespread social disintegration. The OECD, comprised exclusively of rich countries can hardly be said to have the interests of the poor nations at the centre of its concerns.

By privileging these organizations as your partners in presenting a vision to UNGASS, considerable damage has been done to the credibility of the UN as the last real hope of the victims of globalization. It signals an acceptance of the logic of the market and could further limit space for governments and civil society to develop alternative goals and means to achieving social development through democratic and transparent processes. The question of how major international decisions are made has become one of pressing urgency in the world today. If the UN abdicates its independence and its authority, to whom are the peoples to turn?

I am deeply aware of the difficulties involved in the burdens you have been asked to carry. Repeatedly you have said that the change for which you and we have all hoped through this Special Session would come in large part through the imagination, technical skills and courage of civil society to press the case of the people. You have often appealed to these forces as your source of hope and support. The motto of our own ecumenical team which has participated actively since Copenhagen in the preparation of Geneva 2000 has been: "A Change of Heart." In this spirit, we remain with and stand behind you, encouraging you to hold steadfastly to your oft-stated goals for this Social Summit.

Konrad Raiser
General Secretary

Response from the UN Secretary-General, 3 July 2000.

Dear Mr Raiser,

Thank you for your letter of 28 June 2000, which has been forwarded to me while on official travel. Because of the seriousness of the issues you address I wanted to respond without delay.

Let me say at the outset how much I appreciate the support the United Nations receives from the World Council of Churches, and from other civil society organizations. We would not succeed in most of our endeavors were it not for the selfless efforts by the non-governmental community, particularly on the ground in developing countries. As you know, I have been a steadfast advocate of having the UN reach out more extensively and effectively to civil society in all its dimensions.

But I believe that my consistent position in favor of civil society also entitles me to be absolutely frank with its representatives when we have occasion to disagree. The issuance of the report, A Better World for All, appears to be such an occasion.

Perhaps the most important point to make is that the report contains our targets and our objectives - these are the aims of the United Nations, as expressed at Copenhagen and elsewhere, for which our partner organizations now express their support as well. It would be truly ironic if, after years of trying to get them to do so, were we now not to accept their "yes" as an answer.

I should also add that all of our intergovernmental bodies - at the United Nations and the Bretton Woods institutions alike - have asked us to cooperate more effectively among ourselves, especially in development-related work. Indeed, some of our respective governing bodies have begun to convene regular joint meetings. We all serve the same people, and we all agree that the need for more effective cooperation and greater policy coherence is imperative if the needs of the people are to be best served. This report was a response to that demand - and to repeat, it enshrines UN objectives and UN targets.

Finally, I should note that the report is not a policy document but a compendium of desirable targets and objectives. And while all of the co-sponsoring organizations now agree on the objectives, there may well continue to be differences among them regarding how best to achieve them.

In fact, if I have one regret in retrospect, it is that we did not make a stronger and more explicit case for the necessary contributions by the entire international community to meeting these targets and objectives. I did so in my Millennium Report, "We the Peoples: The Role of the United Nations in the 21st Century," a copy of which I enclose. There, I addressed the issue of debt relief, including offering some innovative proposals that were formulated with the help of Jubilee 2000: specific bench-mark dates for access to the markets of the industrialized countries by the least developed; and the need to increase official development assistance. Meeting poverty targets, I concluded, "will be only a pipedream" unless these steps are taken.

It is my hope that the participation of the OECD in the Better World for All initiative represents a renewed commitment by the donor community to live up to its commitments and responsibilities.

Once again, thank you for raising these important issues.

With very best wishes.

Yours sincerely,
Kofi A. Annan

Reply to the UN Secretary-General, 7 July 2000.

Dear Mr. Secretary-General,

I acknowledge with thanks your reply of 3 July to my letter expressing concern about the document, A Better World for All. I sincerely appreciate the prompt and serious attention you have paid to the points raised in my letter.

I welcome the restatement of the value you ascribe to the increasing role of NGOs and civil society in general in the process of global governance, and your support for the contributions they make within the UN system. I also share your view that different actors in the system of global governance may from time to time disagree. Your reply shows that these can be faced honestly through dialogue among those who strive and hope for a better world. It is therefore encouraging that you have made your response public.

In that same spirit, I would like to continue the dialogue now in a more personal way.

I do not deny that the institutions with whom you joined in issuing this document have adjusted their positions in recent times. It is to your credit that they have come to endorse many, if not all the objectives of the United Nations in the field of social development.

This change in attitude has resulted in part from their critical self-assessment of the negative results of past practices which failed to alleviate poverty or to meet basic human needs for the poorest of the world's people. It was hastened by growing popular resistance to policies imposed by the rich on the poor with little or no consultation with them. For many, however, this change is dangerously slow, and not all of it is in the right direction. A quarter-century ago the Club of Rome issued clear warnings about the implications of unlimited growth as an economic goal. Now OECD harmonises its policies with the Bretton Woods institutions' obsession with growth. I do not believe that this form of "greater policy coherence" best serves the needs of the people.

While I consider that the targets and objectives listed are too modest and incomplete, this is not the basis for my fundamental disagreement with the document. It is rather with regard to what the document proposes as actions required to meet even these comparatively limited goals. These remain committed to the goal of economic growth at any price. This has not only failed to reduce poverty, it has in fact increased it. They hold to the firm application of the principles of unrestricted free markets. This has served the rich, not the poor. What is needed is not an adaptation of these policies, but their radical change. This is what I had in mind when I called for "a change of paradigm" when I addressed the Copenhagen Social Summit.

I firmly believe that such change will not come from institutions that virtually exclude the voices of the poor and tend to serve first and foremost the interests of the rich countries of the "donor community" and the rich sectors of "client" states.

Because I believe so firmly in the promise offered by the United Nations Charter, I remain convinced that effective changes of approach to development and the goals of Copenhagen and Geneva 2000 can best be served by bringing international financial institutions under the mandate of the global forum of the Economic and Social Council. The world cannot afford to leave critical decisions on the shape and directions of the global economy only to those who control global capital and the flow of resources.

Thank you, too, for enclosing a copy of your Millennium Report. You may be assured that I read it carefully indeed the day it was issued. It was because I agree so much with your effort there to establish the UN as the legitimate authority in all matters relating to social development that I wrote to encourage and support you in that endeavour.

I should say again that the WCC's critical analysis of the international financial system is not a product simply of our reaction to the negative impact of present-day globalisation. It has characterised our work over decades of efforts to be faithful to the biblical mandate to place people and their interests at the centre of all our concern. We have long argued that persistent structural poverty is a violation of the basic human dignity invested by God in people, and that systems and institutions that perpetuate poverty must be transformed and made accountable.

To this end I reiterate my pledge of support to you personally and to the United Nations.

Thank you again for your letter. I look forward to opportunities to continue this exchange in an appropriate setting.

Sincerely yours,
Konrad Raiser
General Secretary