A joint message reviewed by participants at the end of this year’s PyeongChang Peace Forum in South Korea from 9-11 February 2020 calls for the creation of “meaningful entry points and ownership for civil society in all UN processes”, a focal point for civil society within the UN Secretariat as well as consideration of a UN Parliamentary Assembly and a UN World Citizens’ Initiative, among other things.
According to the organizers, the three-day conference in the Gangwondo province all in all drew over 4,000 participants from more than 50 countries. In addition to creating peace on the Korean peninsula and in the world, topics included the future of the UN, sports diplomacy and advancing the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
Dialogue with the special envoy on UN75
At a panel discussion on the occasion of the UN’s 75th anniversary this year, the UN Secretary-General’s special envoy on the commemorations, Fabrizio Hochschild, noted that it was “a paradox of our time” that countries were retreating from international collaboration “while it is needed more than ever before.”
Retreat from multilateralism “a paradox of our time”
In the first of its kind dialogue in Asia on UN75, the Under-Secretary General said that “we have to go back to the first words of the UN’s Charter: We the Peoples.” He explained that the UN intended to collect feedback on what people think about how to make the UN “fit for purpose” and to present this to the heads of state at a summit meeting in September.
Giovanna Kuele of the Brazilian think-tank Instituto Igarapé said that “world leaders again and again disappointed us.” According to Ben Donaldson of the UN Association of the UK and the Together First campaign, “the paralysis at the top is not the full picture”, referring to mass protests around the world. “The UN is massively biased towards governments and this has to change,” he noted. In the view of Mandeep Tiwana of CIVICUS, “populist authoritarianism” is currently one of the biggest challenges to multilateralism. Salina Sanou of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance stressed that the debate should focus on what the UN can do “to bridge the gap between citizens and the UN itself.” Further she said that she wants “a UN that has teeth and a UN that can bite.”
We need a UN that has teeth
In the discussion a participant from the audience remarked that “we have had this kind of dialogue before with the consultations on the Sustainable Development Goals” and he wondered why it was being repeated.
Speaking from the audience, the Executive Director of Democracy Without Borders, Andreas Bummel, called on the panel to say in specific terms what institutional change was recommended and added his own proposals, a UN Parliamentary Assembly for better representation and a UN World Citizens’ Initiative for better participation of global citizens.
Supporting this intervention, Mandeep Tiwana said that citizens should be able to bring agenda items directly to the UN and that it should be explored how the UN could include elected representatives. Ben Donaldson called for an “office for civil society” in the UN Secretariat and said that citizens’ assemblies might be a good instrument as well.
Panel on the UN2020 campaign
An additional panel on the second day on the topic of UN75 was opened by Jeffrey Huffines of the UN2020 and Together First civil society initiatives with an announcement that an NGO Peoples’ Forum would be held in New York on 23 April 2020 in order to discuss joint positions of global civil society that should be presented to the UN. Picking up on the previous dialogue, he remarked that a UN Parliamentary Assembly and a UN World Citizens’ Initiative are proposals “we certainly should promote.”
An NGO Peoples’ Forum on 23 April 2020
Speaking as a panelist, Andreas Bummel stressed that the UN’s negotiations on a UN75 summit declaration are supposed to be finished in June and that there was now only a short time window to advocate forward-looking proposals. “We need to reach out to the governments in the capitals right now,” he said.
In the opinion of panelist Roberto Bissio of Social Watch, the UN75 dialogue runs the risk of being a mere “publicity gimmick” at a time when hundreds of human rights defenders were being killed across the world. Levi Bautista of the Conference of NGOs with consultative status at the UN referred to a declaration of his network on UN75 that was already adopted four months ago. Additional panelists included Sow Oumar of Global Call to Action Against Poverty and Fannie Munlin of the Global NGO Executive Committee.
A message from PyeongChang
The outcome message prepared by a drafting committee of the conference’s different civil society segments runs over several pages. One of the paragraphs on UN75 says that “We need a strong and effective UN to facilitate the deep global cooperation necessary to achieve the Agenda 2030 and make progress on the wider peace and disarmament agenda. Proponents in favor of a strengthened, transformed multilateral system recognize the 75th anniversary of the UN as an important opportunity to hold governments accountable to the commitments they made to the UN Charter in 1945.”
This year’s conference followed the inaugural PyeongChang Peace Forum in 2019 that was launched to commemorate and continue the peace spirit of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics and Paralympics. Keynote speakers included former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and the chair of The Elders, Gro Harlem Brundland.