Democracy Without Borders

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Global People’s Assembly addresses demands to UN member states

Flag in front of the UN's headquarters in New York. Image: Sergey-73/ Licensed for use on this website.

While heads of states and governments meet in New York for the annual general debate of the United Nations, Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP) hosted an alternative online event over three days that brought together representatives of marginalized groups and civil society networks from across the world.

A declaration adopted yesterday which is addressed to the governments of UN member states puts forward 25 specific demands across nine fields: public health and vaccine equality, social protection, civic space and human rights, gender equality, climate and environmental justice, debt justice, economic justice, pathways to peace and UN reform.

Call for global democracy and robust civic space

“We have attempted to galvanise the voices of the most marginalised communities gathered in people’s assemblies organised at the national, regional and global levels. The declaration has been prepared in a bottom-up process by taking inputs from the grassroots groups world leaders have to listen to,” said Ingo Ritz, Director of GCAP in a media release.

Gabriela Bucher, Executive Director of Oxfam, speaking at the 2022 Global People’s Assembly

In the opening section, the statement notes that the “political, financial, economic and social architecture” as well as their leadership “is failing us”. According to the document, “rising food and energy prices, loss of livelihoods, climate change, environmental degradation, war and critical gaps in healthcare, including inequities in the fight against COVID-19, are pushing excluded people to the margins and making our planet uninhabitable.”

It says that halfway in the implementation of the Agenda 2030 adopted in 2015, “the visionary promise of social justice and a fair, rights-based, equitable and ecologically-just world for all appears more remote than ever.” 

The specific demands are put forward based on a vision of inclusion, accountability, transparency, participation and equality. The declaration calls for “global democracy and robust civic space”.

Over 25 civil society groups and networks assisted in organizing the global assembly, including Action for Sustainable Development, Asia Development Alliance, CIVICUS, Coalition for the UN We Need, Democracy Without Borders, Global Coalition for Social Protection Floors, Forus, Latindadd, Nigeria Network of NGOs, TAP Network or the Women’s Major Group. A full list of the organizations is included in the program.

Proposals for a more democratic UN

“The Global People’s Assembly creates an important space for alternative views and voices to be raised while heads of state meet in New York. Those gathered in the assembly believe that the UN cannot remain an exclusive club of governments. The people, civil society, and elected representatives need to be included,” said Andreas Bummel, Executive Director of Democracy Without Borders, in a media release.

Speakers and moderators of the assembly session on proposals for a more democratic UN on 21 September 2022

In the field of UN reform, the assembly’s declaration calls on governments to “make global institutions more democratic, representative and inclusive”. Two specific demands put forward are the creation of a UN Parliamentary Assembly and a UN World Citizens’ Initiative. In an assembly session organized by Democracy Without Borders on behalf of the “We The Peoples” campaign for inclusive global governance, expert speakers elaborated on these proposals.

James Organ, a lecturer at the University of Liverpool School of Law, highlighted that the instrument of a World Citizens’ Initiative represents a “bottom-up form of citizen participation” that offers “a clear path to impact on policy and decision-making”. He suggested that experts should produce a draft regulation for a UN World Citizens’ Initiative that the UN could implement.

According to Ivone Soares, a Member of Parliament from Mozambique, the proposed UN Parliamentary Assembly “will be a formal body to expand representation at the UN to elected representatives, not only from government parties but also from minorities that are not part of the government”. This way, she said, “the assembly will allow a much broader variety of voices to be heard at the UN.”

Rianna Nayee of the UN Association of the UK made the case for a UN Civil Society Envoy, arguing, among other things, that a system-wide envoy position can help make the UN more accessible and can help facilitate the implementation of other proposals.

Jeffery Huffines, senior advisor of the Coalition for the UN We Need (C4UN), elaborated on the 2024 Summit of the Future as an opportunity to pursue reform proposals. He said that “perhaps now is the time for us to push progressive states to establish a Group of Friends for inclusive Global Governance” to work on implementing the demands advocated by the “We The Peoples” campaign.

At another assembly session, organized by C4UN, plans were announced for convening a “Global Futures Forum” in early 2023 which would be “a civil society focal point for a range of campaigns and proposals to strengthen the United Nations in the preparatory process leading to the 2024 Summit of the Future.”

Recent survey-based research suggests that citizens prefer adding a directly elected chamber to the UN General Assembly over the status quo.

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