Groups say inclusive UN remains on the agenda after UN chief’s report

UN Secretary-General António Guterres (at podium and on screens) briefs the General Assembly on his recommendations to advance the common agenda during an informal meeting of the plenary on 10 Sept. 2021. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

On Friday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres unveiled a much anticipated report titled “Our Common Agenda” which outlines plans for strengthening multilateralism and the United Nations, among other things.

The document was requested by a resolution adopted by heads of state and government on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the UN last year which identified commitments across twelve issue areas. The UN chief’s report was understood to take into considerations extensive consultations carried out by the UN in 2020 and in the course of this year.

In an initial comment on the recommendations in the field of „upgrading the United Nations“, the Executive Director of Democracy Without Borders, Andreas Bummel, noted that “While it is a step in the right direction, the Guterres report does not suggest specific institutional changes that would make the UN genuinely more democratic and inclusive“ adding that „our proposals remain on the table and we will continue to advocate for them”.

Three proposals from civil society

Democracy Without Borders together with CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation and Democracy International is spearheading a civil society coalition of around 200 groups called “We The Peoples” that was launched in April. A joint statement that was submitted to the UN and member states urges the implementation of three reforms to make the UN more inclusive: a World Citizens’ Initiative enabling citizens to put items on the agenda of the UN, a UN Parliamentary Assembly composed of elected representatives to act as a watchdog and connecting the people with the UN as well as a UN Civil Society Envoy to champion a broader strategy for opening up the UN to people’s participation and civil society voices.

According to Democracy Without Borders, the three proposals received significant support in the UN’s consultations in 2020 as well as in a separate online consultation carried out earlier this year which was acknowledged in relevant reports. The documentation of the UN’s online consultation that was published last week notes „proposals that attracted support were various forms of parliamentary assembly/network, youth assemblies, and a citizens’ petition initiative.“ 

UN chief promises more consultations

In his report, the UN chief identifies more consultation as a way to make the UN more inclusive. Bruno Kaufmann, a board member of Democracy International commented that “it is good to promise more consultations, but it is not enough“, adding that „a transnational and global agenda-setting tool such as a UN World Citizens’ Initiative“ was required.

Further, the UN chief’s report points out that he will “explore options to enhance parliamentary inputs” working with “existing partners.” According to the civil society groups, existing mechanisms and partnerships are not sufficient which is why they are calling for a genuine parliamentary chamber at the UN.

Regarding the proposed UN Civil Society Envoy, the Secretary-General acknowledges that he “has heard” such calls and that he will “further explore options in that regard.” A commitment that he would ask all UN entities to establish “a dedicated focal point for civil society” was welcomed in the group’s statement. However, it was noted that such a network would have to be coordinated and missing at the center.

A „Summit of the Future“ in 2023?

In his report, the UN chief suggests that a group of former heads of state should work towards a so-called „Summit of the Future“ in 2023, „preceded by preparatory events and consultations“, in order to „to advance ideas for governance arrangements in the areas of international concern“. The so-called „High-level Advisory Board“ would „identify global public goods and other areas of common interest where governance improvements are most needed, and to propose options for how this could be achieved.“ Among other things, the document says that this group should look into „equity and fairness in global decision-making.“ 

„The UN’s credibility is on the line“, said Andreas Bummel. „The UN cannot keep stressing the need of renewal, inclusion and a new social contract without the will and ability of implementing institutional improvements while cherry-picking from its consultation results“, he noted.

A tweet posted by the Stimson Center’s Program on Global Governance, Justice and Security, that has been pioneering the call for a 2023 Summit on Inclusive Global Governance, in an initial reaction called the Guterres report „a phenomenal road map for the future of the UN.“