Published on Wednesday, June 1, 2005 by the Inter Press Service
'World' Bodies Under Fire for Serving the Few, Not the Many
by Thalif Deen
MONTREAL - The world's multilateral institutions -- which preside over the political and economic destinies of more than six billion people -- have come under heavy fire at a meeting of 350-plus representatives of civil society and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) here.
The United Nations, World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF), and World Trade Organization (WTO) were criticized as lacking transparency and accountability and practicing political elitism and decision-making dictated by the rich and powerful.
Rajesh Tandon, chair of the board of the Montreal International Forum (also known by its French initials, FIM), singled out the United States, France, and Britain -- three veto-wielding permanent members of the U.N. Security Council -- for what he termed their political double standards.
''Those who pretend to be champions of democracy at the national level are the practicing enemies of democracy at the global level,'' Tandon told IPS.
He urged civil society groups in the three countries to exert pressure on their governments to bring their actions in line with their stated principles.
All three countries have opposed the elimination of the veto power -- currently held by the permanent five in the Security Council, including China and Russia -- which makes them singularly more powerful than the rest of the 186 U.N. member states in an institution advocating multi-party democracy and majority rule.
''The veto is the most undemocratic weapon at the United Nations,'' said Tandon, who also is executive director of the New Delhi-based Society for Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA).
''Over the years, we have abolished the veto of the father over decision-making in the family, the veto of the village chief in rural communities, and even the veto of the elites in some point of time in democracy,'' he said.
But the world's three largest practitioners and propagators of democracy, Tandon added, have consistently refused to forego the political anachronism of the veto even in the current proposed restructuring of the 15-member Security Council.
He said the political architecture created 60 years ago during the birth of the United Nations remains unchallenged.
''The major deficits of global democratic governance are well known, including the inability of the U.N. system to live up to the values of its own charter,'' Tandon said, hinting at the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003, which U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan described as an ''illegal war.''
Tandon said the very survival of the human race was at stake because a four-week-long meeting of 188 countries to review the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) last week ''ended in disarray.''
At the same time, he said, the U.N.'s social and economic agenda of the 1990s, including poverty eradication, remains ''unimplemented.''
Even so, he said he feels that in the next five years ''something will give way. And I think there will be some significant changes in the mechanism that currently operates in the United Nations. If this happens, it will only be under sustained pressure both from within and from the outside.''
Bill Pace, of the World Federalist Movement and the Coalition for the International Criminal Court, told NGO delegates at the talks ending here Wednesday that the United Nations is going to enact more major changes in the next four months than it has over the last 60 years.
The changes include restructuring the Security Council, creating a Peace Commission, revamping the U.N. Human Rights Commission, and revitalizing the U.N. Economic and Social Council.
A U.N. summit of world leaders scheduled for September is expected to approve all or most of these proposals.
But Pace said he held out very little hope of any accomplishments, primarily because of the unilateralist policies of the United States.
''There is too much focus on national security at the expense of human security, and too much concentration on unilateral action as against multilateral action,'' Pace told IPS.
Kumi Naidoo of South Africa-based Civicus told NGO delegates that one of the first political exercises is to educate world leaders who extol the virtues of democracy in their own countries.
''But they advocate the worst policy of global governance in multilateral institutions outside their home countries,'' he added.
Kristin Dawkins of the U.S.-based Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy said a hierarchy of treaties which, in practice, favor economic and trade agreements over international human rights law or environmental agreements dramatically illustrates the democratic deficit in the global governance system.
''Some treaties are enforced, while others are not,'' Dawkins said.
Activists also have highlighted the World Bank's appointment of former U.S. deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz as the global lending agency's president as ''a glaring example of undemocratic governance.'' Wolfowitz takes up his new duties Wednesday.
''These recruitment procedures are neither democratic nor transparent,'' says a recent report from a coalition of advocacy groups including the World Development Movement. ''Citizens, their representatives and most governments (bar a few exceptions in Europe and the United States) have no say about who takes on this key job.''
The Montreal-based FIM, which organized the four-day NGO seminar here, is a global alliance of individuals and organizations sharing the goal of improving the influence of international civil society on the multilateral system.
Organizers described the seminar, titled 'Global Democracy: Civil Society Visions and Strategies', as a major world conference of civil society in the run up to the U.N. summit in September.
In a report to the seminar, FIM says ''we are living in the midst of a worldwide crisis in democracy. There is an increasing concentration of power amongst an elite. As a result, there is a growing gap between the rich and the poor. The economy is being militarized and legitimate public debate is either discouraged, personalized, sensationalized, or trivialized, leading to a dangerous level of political polarization.''
A growing number of young people, discouraged with seemingly rampant corruption and a growing elitism of the political class, are opting out of the formal political process altogether, it adds.
FIM also criticizes the mainstream media, once the vital fourth estate, which it says ''has largely been absorbed by the corporate community.'' As a result, freedom of the press has become subservient to the bottom line, and, by extension, accountable to shareholders, FIM says.
''The response to current crises such as (war against) Iraq, (genocide in) Darfur, the spread of AIDS and the future of our environment, is a sad reflection of weak and misguided governance,'' the group says.
''If these and other challenges continue to be exacerbated by the politics of greed and power, then new democratic measures must be invented, and by and for the people,'' it adds.
© Copyright 2005 IPS - Inter Press Service