by Chakravarthi Raghavan

Geneva, 27 June 2000 -- As the 24th UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on the implementation of the outcome of the Copenhagen Social Summit of 1995 entered its second day, it was not clear whether working groups of the Committee of the Whole (COW) negotiating final documents were reviewing progress on implementation and additional measures needed or subtly redefining the targets.

Three working groups of the COW were tackling various parts of the final document to be adopted - a Part I political declaration, a Part II giving an overall review and appraisal of the implementation of the outcome of the World Summit for Social Development (WSSD), and Part III setting out further actions and initiatives to implement the commitments made at the Summit.

The 27-page document relating to Part III has innumerable square brackets and formulations which under ‘further actions and initiatives’, seems likely to result in UNGASS-24 decisions that would change the substance of the commitments at Copenhagen.

The Copenhagen Summit in its Commitment No 2 set as a goal, “eradicating poverty in the world, through decisive national actions and international cooperation, as an ethical, social, political imperative of humankind.”

This was set as a goal for all nations of the world.

And when the various sub-paragraphs ‘a’ to ‘i’ are carefully read, they seem to call for each country to define ‘poverty’, and formulate or strengthen (by year 1996):

*        national policies and strategies to substantially reduce overall poverty in the shortest time;

*        focus efforts and policies to address root causes of poverty and provide basic needs for all - including elimination of hunger and malnutrition, food security, employment and livelihood, primary health care services including reproductive health care, safe drinking water and sanitation, adequate shelter, and participation in social and cultural life, with special priority to rights and needs of women and children;

*        ensure people living in poverty have access to productive resources, including credit, land, education and training, technology, knowledge and information, access to public services;

*        policies to ensure economic and social protection during unemployment, ill-health, maternity, child-rearing, widowhood, disability and old age;

*        ensure national budgets and policies are oriented to meeting basic needs;

*        seek to reduce inequalities, increase opportunities and access to resources and income.

At the international level, this commitment to eradicating poverty included commitments:

*        to ensure international community and organizations, particularly multilateral financial institutions, assist developing countries to achieve overall goal of eradicating poverty and ensuring basic social protection,

*        encourage all institutional donors and multilateral development banks (MDBs) to support policies and programmes and specific efforts of developing countries relating to people-centered sustainable development, meeting basic needs for all, assess their (donors and MDBs) existing programmes to ensure achievement of agreed objectives.

There is nothing immutable about decisions and recommendations, even of Heads of States/Governments.

But the square-bracketed texts that have come from the preparatory committee in New York, and the discussions in working groups here, several third world delegates, observers and NGOs tracking the process, say, could dilute the commitments of the developed countries made at Copenhagen—whether on aid, lifting the debt burden, opening of markets to imports from developing countries etc.  On top of it, they fear, the final document would usher in either as objectives (such as market-driven globalisation processes) or measures through developing countries liberalising their trade, investment and financial markets.

The discussions in the working groups reflect broadly the North-South divides, though in many areas there are also other divisions even within the South - reflected in the fact that in the preparatory committee processes at New York, on details there was no G-77 position as such.

And there are subtle efforts to bring in some of the new ‘ideas’ and conditionalities about ‘governance’ - which like mother-love has come to mean many things to many nations in the North, including elections and multi-party democracy, transparency etc at national levels, but no question of democratic governance or transparency (of the IMF, World Bank or WTO) at international levels.

The attempts for e.g. of the industrialized world to define the concept of ‘sound principles and good practices in social policy’, seem much more aimed at legitimising the social and economic policy ‘conditionalities’ being set by the IMF and the World Bank.

In a speech at the launch Monday evening of the 'Better World for All' report, the IMF representative Mr. Vito Tanzi confessed that over and above the economic ‘conditionalities’ of the IMF lending programmes, the IMF technical missions to countries look at unproductive expenditures, including military expenditures. “We keep track of how much countries spend, and sometimes we have gone to two different countries which are rivals, trying to tell both of them to lower spending. There is a lot of this kind of work which is taking place and much of it is not visible because it is behind the scenes.”

If military spending and armaments are being reduced everywhere, it would be most commendable. But the problem with the IMF/World Bank ways of functioning, as has been brought out in the conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo, is that screws are applied by the IMF and the Bank to further the interests of some of the big western powers, and not in pursuance of any mandates or decisions of the UN - the only body with legitimacy to act on issues of peace and security.

Also, the IMF and the Bank applied the screws on President Mugabe to withdraw Zimbabwe's military units that went in under a Southern Africa Defence Community arrangement to support President Kabila and his government, but is not known to have used the same pressures on, for example, Uganda which had military units supporting the rebels.

The discussions in the working groups over the final documents are also being used to bring up a particular view of social development of countries and the relationships of targets and ways to achieve the varying religious, cultural and ethnic backgrounds, and the ‘values’ to be attached to them.

Another working group dealing with social and humanitarian aspects of development was going around in circles, the ICFTU representative, who is also the vice-chair of the ILO governing body, Bill Brett complained late on Monday evening on the arguments inside the group on how to describe “children in conflicts”.

And repeatedly, and spread across in various areas, are attempts to get some kind of commitment or legitimacy out of the special session for globalization - with the word used in a confusing way both as an objective and as a process and setting neo-liberal norms (like liberalisation of financial markets) that cannot be found even in legal commitments of the World Trade Organization.- SUNS4696

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

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