by Chakravarthi Raghavan

Geneva, 26 June 2000 -- A Special Session of the UN General Assembly, 'Copenhagen plus 5’, a summit meeting of governments on the follow-up to the 1995 Social Summit, to review progress made on social targets set at Copenhagen, including steps towards eradicating poverty, was officially kicked off Monday, with a speech by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

The one-week Assembly, officially titled “World Summit for Social Development and Beyond: Achieving Social Development for All in a Globalizing World,” whose principal objective is to review and measure how far governments have progressed on social development targets set by themselves.

A preparatory committee of the Assembly that has been negotiating the agreed conclusions and recommendations for the final documents of the Summit has made a three-part report that shows that many key areas of the text, on measures to be taken to achieve the targets set, are in square brackets, meaning differences that have to be negotiated and resolved.  Much of the negotiations relate to the third part on new initiatives.  The Assembly committee has to wade through 129 paragraphs and resolve differences, in order to adopt a consensus document.

Among the issues to be resolved are such “complex and controversial issues” as worker rights, good governance, role of civil society, and proposals for financing social development, especially in the area of debt relief and tax reform.

Kofi Annan used the occasion of his speech at the Assembly to commend a ‘report’, to be launched by him a few hours later, which is co-signed and commended by him in a foreword along with the heads of the IMF, World Bank and the OECD.

The 24-page glossily-produced Report is more in the nature of a pamphlet, with figures and charts and pictures, and is a product of the OECD, the World Bank and the IMF (without any real input from the UN system organizations involved in the Copenhagen Summit or the economic and social sectors of the system) which Annan appears to have embraced.

This, as well as his advocacy of his compact with the corporate sector, attracted considerable criticism from the NGOs, at their alternative forum meetings and a concluding final session Sunday, as well as in the banners and placards carried by them in their demonstration and march on Sunday in Geneva. The marchers, consisting of environmentalists, workers' groups, development groups and others, marched in good humour and were determined to be peaceful. Interestingly, the ICFTU which was at the final rally on Sunday was not present. But the CGT, a communist group was present.

The criticism of the Secretary-General’s approach was also voiced in his presence at a pre-conference official Forum 2000 organized by the Swiss host-government, where Roberto Bissio, the Coordinator of the global NGO coalition, the Social Watch, that has been monitoring the implementation of the Copenhagen and Beijing UN Conferences spoke.

Earlier, in his speech to that forum, Annan not only repeated his thesis that people are poor not because of too much globalization, but too little, and seemed to strongly defend his compact and alliance with private corporations with the argument that these corporations “are no less a part of ‘civil society’ than NGOs.”

Commending the UN making common cause with the IMF, World Bank and the OECD, Annan angered NGO leaders present with his remark “If the Bretton Woods organizations, OECD and/or the World Trade Organization have pursued mistaken policies in the past, haven’t we all at one time or another?”

Bissio reminded Annan that the norms and standards—about eradication of poverty, more aid, lifting the debt burden, redesigning structural adjustment programmes and opening up Northern markets to export of the South, were those that Heads of Governments/States had accepted and committed themselves to at the Copenhagen UN Conference, and were not demands of civil society or NGOs.

The goals and targets set at Copenhagen were realistic targets set by governments and could be accomplished. And while some of the poorest countries were making enormous progress to achieve the targets, no single country, even the richest, had met all the targets.

The Social Watch leader complained, and explained his complaint later in talking to the media, that the targets and goals set at UN Conferences had been distorted by the Bretton Woods Institutions and the OECD. While there were undoubtedly some good comments in the report Annan had co-sponsored, “there is also a severe distortion of the commitments made at the UN Conferences.”

At Copenhagen and Beijing, Bissio said, the rich countries had committed themselves to increase official development assiatance (ODA), reduce the debt burden, redesign structural adjustment programmes, and open their own markets to the exports of the developing countries. “None of these commitments had been met... and the Report does not mention any of these.”

“But there are recommendations addressed to developing countries, that they open up their economies to imports, open up their financial markets—an opening up which has already played havoc, and undertake privatization, including privatization of social policies."

“I am afraid Mr Secretary-General, this is not the understanding of civil society of the commitments made by governments at UN Conferences,” Bissio told Annan.

The global casino economy needed changes and reforms and the United Nations was the only institution—not dominated by a few or functioning behind closed doors in ‘green rooms’ or where money votes -- with legitimacy to make the changes needed.

After his speech at the official NGO Forum, several of the senior UN system officials present in the hall came and congratulated Bissio, and many of them indicted that they had no hand in the drawing up of the Report to be launched by Kofi Annan.

At the Assembly opening Monday, Annan again commended the report ‘A Better World for All’, and said it was surely a sign of the times that the four main international bodies concerned with development had together reviewed progress towards the internationally agreed goals for reducing extreme poverty and had articulated a common vision of the way forward.

In other remarks, Annan agreed with the President of the Special Session that the issue was one of resources, an issue which he said would be addressed at the planned global meeting on Financing for Development!

It was only natural, Annan said, that poor countries of the world with so few resources of their own should look for help to the rich ones.  Many of the rich had acute social problems of their own, but none of them could be indifferent to the social conditions in which many in the poor countries lived.

“The rich countries have an indispensable role to play - by further opening their markets, by providing deeper and faster debt relief, and by giving more and better focused development aid."

“But those changes are likely to come, and will bring few real benefits even if they do come, unless leaders and peoples of developing countries show real determination to mobilise their own resources - above all, their own human resources - to deal with their own social problems.”

Earlier, in opening the Special Session, the General Assembly President and foreign minister of Namibia, Dr. Theo-Benn Gurirab said, “It’s really no guesswork that there is storm over globalization. In recent months, from Seattle, to Washington, D.C. and to Davos, actions spoke louder than words. We all witnessed these confrontations. And it could be just a warning shot fired across the bow.” Gurirab underscored the need for resources, including aid and market access for their exports.

Gurirab also touched on the issues of debt, trade and aid. The burden of Third World debt, he said, was in fact even more crushing than the absence of aid. For example, a number of African countries are forced to pay more for debt service than for education and health combined.

“On top of that, much of their debt was incurred by undemocratic regimes that were encouraged and supported by certain industrialized countries. To add insult to injury, more aid and cooperation was extended in the past to those dictatorships than to the democratizing and reforming governments in Africa today,” Dr. Gurirab said.

Despite the 1996 Heavily Indebted Poor Countries initiative, only four or five of 33 applicants have qualified. Some leaders in industrialized countries often lament the burden that deficit spending will impose on their children. Why, then, has there been benign neglect in the face of the crushing mortgage being imposed on future generations in impoverished countries, Dr. Gurirab asked.

“If the alternative to aid is trade, it should follow that the prerequisite for trade is tariff reduction, and strengthening of trade preferences,” the General Assembly president said. “Most developing countries depend on commodities for more than half of their export revenues. Their primary economic sectors are agriculture and textiles, which are precisely the areas that many industrialized countries so doggedly protect. There would be no more effective way for the industrialized countries to demonstrate commitment to sustainable social development than to implement special and differential treatment of the exports of developing countries.”

“Surely, we can agree that it is neither fair nor helpful to pursue a form of economic “liberalization” that forces fledgling developing countries to open their markets while excluding the only services and goods they can offer for export,” Dr. Gurirab observed. - SUNS4695

The above article first appeared in the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) of which Chakravarthi Raghavan is the Chief Editor.

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