Analysis by Adriano José Timossi*

GENEVA (IDN) - The commemorations of the adoption of the Declaration on the Right to Development by the UN General Assembly 30 years ago gained a new momentum on September 29, 2016, with the adoption by the Human Rights Council of a resolution (A/HRC/33/L.29) which established a mandate for a Special Rapporteur on the Right to Development.

On September 22, 2016, the President of the UN General Assembly convened a one-day high-level segment, in the margins of the general debate of the UN General Assembly at its seventy-first session, to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Declaration on the Right to Development.

- Photo: 2021

UN Development System Reform Far from Inclusive

By Caroline Mwanga

NEW YORK (IDN) – An independent survey prepared by the Global Policy Forum and Social Watch, comprising the Global Policy Watch, shows that civil society organizations (CSOs) have “a very high level of commitment to United Nations (UN) values and principles, much dissatisfaction with the actual operations at the country level and articulation of areas for improvement”.

The objective of the survey was to explore CSO perspectives on activities of the UN Development System (UNDS) in countries with a regular UN programme presence (UN Resident Coordinator, Multi-country Office and UN Country Team – UNCT). It received 44 respondents from “programme” countries. Of those, 41 responses came from national or sub-national organizations, and three came from regional organizations in the global South (in Africa, Latin America and the Arab region).

Further, the survey received 14 responses from organizations based in countries where no UN Resident Coordinator is accredited. These include seven replies from Western Europe, three from the United States, two from Central and Eastern Europe and one each from Australia and Puerto Rico.

Further, the survey received 14 responses from organizations based in countries where no UN Resident Coordinator is accredited. These include: seven replies from Western Europe, three from the United States, two from Central and Eastern Europe and one each from Australia and Puerto Rico.

As the focus of this survey concerns the relationship between UN Country Teams and civil society, the analysis enclosed within refers primarily to the responses from programme countries. However, since the 2030 Agenda and the Voluntary National Reviews of its implementation are universal, when relevant, comments from “non-programme” countries are included, with identification of their origin.

The organizations consulted believe the UN is relevant and they find the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development even more relevant. Their work is focused on achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in a variety of ways, including establishing new partnerships and participating in the political process of assessment.

Yet, those partnerships rarely include the UN. Or, inversely, the UN country teams do not include independent CSOs in the partnerships they form. Similarly, when the official processes to monitor progress on the SDGs do not accommodate them, which seems to be in a majority of the cases, they find or create initiatives to voice their own conclusions and participate in the national, regional and global debates.

The survey sought to find out what had happened since the UN Member States adopted a resolution (A/RES/72/279) to reposition the UN development system (UNDS) on May 31, 2018. UN Secretary-General António Guterres spelt out its significance:

“The resolution you adopt today ushers in the most ambitious and comprehensive transformation of the UN development system in decades. It sets the foundations to reposition sustainable development at the heart of the United Nations. And it gives practical meaning to our collective promise to advance the Sustainable Development Goals for everyone, everywhere — with poverty eradication as its first goal, leaving – as we always say – no one behind…In the end, reform is about putting in place the mechanisms to make a real difference in the lives of people.”

As Barbara Adams and Roberto Bissio said: This consensus decision was the result of five years of expert group meetings, many reports, and multiple informal and formal sessions. It also came two-and-one-half years after the adoption at the highest political level of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Unlike previous reform efforts that were limited to administrative and “internal” UNDS functioning, the Member State directive was unequivocal in calling for the repositioning of the UNDS in the direction of sustainable development objectives and it put in place major UNDS restructuring for system-wide, value-added UN operations, especially at the country level.

While civil society organizations (CSOs) are repeatedly recognized as key players in advocating for and achieving UN goals, they are rarely consulted and engaged in UN reform efforts.

For a number of CSO respondents, the UN system is appreciated for its inspiration, legitimization and promotion of the values they stand for but is “also viewed as a competitor for funds and influence, often displacing the social sector instead of building it. And frequently it is seen as both at the same time”.

Despite the substantial emphasis on partnerships including with civil society, the survey results illustrate limited and uneven engagement between CSOs and UNCTs. Results indicate that CSOs in programme countries are largely unaware of the existence of the UN Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework and only a minority are regularly engaged with their country’s UN Resident Coordinator.

Respondents were asked, at the end of the questionnaire, to freely comment about the UN in their country, including aspects or areas that need improvement. Two-thirds of the survey participants actually did so. “Engagement with CSOs” is the three-word summary on needed improvement from a regional network, expressing the view of many others:

“UN needs more engagement with civil society organizations of marginalized and vulnerable groups. Focus their activities to the demands and need of the people” (Asian campaigning group).

“The poorest and most vulnerable sectors should be more involved. The population perceives it [the UN] as an upper class of diplomats that do not share with the poor peoples” (Latin American organization).

Organizations with a specific focus on some social sectors logically demanded attention to their constituencies:

“In my country UN agencies are not closely working with DPOs (disabled peoples’ organizations),“ observed an African NGO. Another demanded inclusion “for people with cognitive disabilities” and an organization from Latin America concretely proposes that “persons with disabilities who are experts should be recruited as staff in order to be inclusive of them, but also in order to build capacities in mainstreaming the rights of persons with disabilities throughout the UN system”.

A Central American women’s group demands “that the programmes will be improved to fulfil the Decade of Afro-descendant and indigenous peoples, and in particular with women. I do not see actions that ensure significant changes in the situation of these vulnerable populations.” [IDN-InDepthNews – 08 February 2021]

Image credit: Global Policy Watch

IDN is flagship agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate.

Visit us on Facebook and Twitter.

This article is published under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International licence. You are free to share, remix, tweak and build upon it non-commercially. Please give due credit.

Related Posts

Begin typing your search term above and press enter to search. Press ESC to cancel.

Back To Top