Virtual assembly adopts declaration, addresses demands to the UN

United Nations Headquarters in New York City. Image: Shutterstock

Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP) hosted an online Global People’s Assembly from 21 to 23 September 2021, in parallel to a high-level segment of the UN General Assembly in New York.

The final declaration highlights the interests of the most disadvantaged groups in societies worldwide who “resist being left behind”, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and the challenges it has created and exacerbated. 

In a section on UN reform the declaration calls on UN member states to support “the creation of a UN Parliamentary Assembly, a UN World Citizens’ Initiative and the office of a high-level UN Civil Society Envoy”, demands put forward by Democracy Without Borders and other organisations. While the document “welcomes” the UN Secretary-General’s recent report titled “Our Common Agenda”, it thus goes beyond its scope and points out that “gaps remain”. It is emphasized that “the state-centric model of governance inevitably leads to the crisis we see today.” 

The state-centric model of governance inevitably leads to the crisis we see today

As the opening preamble of the declaration points out, the document was adopted

“in order to promote a more equanimous union of Peoples and Nations, one of solidarity and respect for every person’s human rights,to protect the planet from environmental degradation and anthropogenic climate change,to eliminate poverty and inequalities, and emerge from this pandemic into a just, equitable, resilient and sustainable world.” 

The document calls “on those who have left us behind to listen and act for their sake, as well as ours, because we are one global community.»

The preamble further notes the delegates’ view that “even as we are systematically marginalised, exploited and persecuted, we are not victims”, stating that “we are innovative and we have solutions for the systemic and structural disadvantages experienced primarily by women and girls, indigenous peoples, as well as individuals marginalized for their age, sexual preferences, belief systems, work or descent.”

Main themes and participants

This perspective represents the overall context of the assembly and its discussions. The main themes included free and universal access to COVID-19 vaccine globally; creating and ensuring a universal social protection floor for all; pathways to peace from conflict; climate and environmental justice; defending human rights and civic space; financing for development and building a new global economic architecture; and reform of the United Nations.

The Global People’s Assembly brought together over 34 civil society organisations. Alongside Democracy Without Borders, participating groups included ActionAid, CIVICUS, Coalition for the UN We Need, Democracy International, Forus International, SDG Watch Europe and GESTOS. Overall around 950 delegates attended the assembly’s various sessions, representing hundreds of movements and organisations, and millions of people from across the world. 

Peter Kamalingin, Pan Africa Director of Oxfam International, spoke in the opening plenary introducing the main themes. Also speaking were serving politicians Saifuddin Abdullah, Malaysian Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Sanjay Paswan, Member of the Bihar Legislative Council, India, who contributed on a panel on implementing the UN’s sustainable development goals in Asia.

Session on UN reform and “We The Peoples” campaign

Democracy Without Borders together with partner organisations CIVICUS, Coalition for the UN We Need and Democracy International hosted an action session on advocating a more democratic UN with the key point of discussion being how to promote and strengthen the “We The Peoples” campaign. The campaign represents a common civil society platform that advocates a UN Parliamentary Assembly, a UN World Citizens’ Initiative and a UN Civil Society Envoy.

The “We The Peoples” campaign is a civil society call for inclusive global governance backed by 189 organisations spanning the globe

Jeffrey Huffines of Coalition for the UN we Need began the session by presenting the ‘Our Common Agenda’ report and identifying pathways to advance the principles and proposals of the “We The Peoples campaign”. 

Andreas Bummel of Democracy Without Borders discussed seeking support from national and international legislators from across the world. A collective statement from these supporters would be a useful step in advocating more inclusive global governance. 

Mandeep Tiwana of CIVICUS discussed the expansion of support from civil society groups for the “We The Peoples” campaign. He explained why such increased support would be beneficial for civil society in particular with a view of the proposed UN Civil Society Envoy as a high-level entry point, as well as the formation of a civil society caucus. 

Caroline Vernaillen of Democracy International suggested an international mass petition be completed by 2023, in time for the so-called “Summit of the Future” suggested in the UN’s “Our Common Agenda” report. Such a petition could be run in a decentralised way, ideally mobilizing millions of people across the world in support of the call for inclusive global governance. 

When implemented, seeking the support of national and international legislators, creating further civil society support and creating a global mass petition would have a huge effect in regards to the increase of support for the “We The Peoples” campaign. By strengthening the inclusive and democratic character of the UN, the demands of the Global People’s Assembly, focusing on those who have been left behind, can be more easily tackled.

Due to restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the assembly was held in a virtual format. In 2019, a similar assembly was convened by GCAP opposite the UN in New York.

George Blundell
George Blundell is an International Relations and Politics graduate from De Montfort University who is currently working with Democracy Without Borders and the One World Trust.