Projecting the voices of the marginalised
Civil-society organisations (CSOs) deserve more say in global-governance matters. In particular, CSOs from developing countries tend to be marginalised in international affairs. IBON International, a Manila-based international NGO, wants to make a difference. It specialises in capacity building for grassroots movements in the Global South – and has launched a campaign for “People’s goals”.
Humanity is confronted with unprecedented challenges today, including climate change and environmental degradation, poverty and inequality, food and energy insecurity, financial and economic crises. One aspect of globalisation is that individual nations cannot adequately address these issues. Our increasingly interconnected world needs new forms of international cooperation that transcend borders and narrowly-defined institutional mandates.
At the same time, global governance must become more democratic. International processes for decision-making are disconnected from the people they affect most. The influence of developing countries in these settings has grown in recent years, but this trend has not necessarily benefited the marginalised and excluded people of the Global South. Intergovernmental consensus building is often hampered by what is called “national interests”, but really is about the competitiveness of any given country’s businesses and industries.
Civil-society organisations can serve as a progressive, democratising force in global governance, if they are involved in meaningful ways. They express diverse values and perspectives, and they build on experience and expertise drawn from working with various communities and constituencies. CSOs typically draw attention to issues that technocrats and government leaders tend to avoid or neglect because they seem too “political” or “unmanageable”. Human rights, inequality and conflicts are among those issues. On the other hand, most CSOs are not obsessed with supposed “national” interests. They are directly accountable to their members and constituents.
The sad truth, however, is that civil society tends to remain marginalised in global decision making. This is especially true of CSOs from the Global South. Numerous barriers restrain their role, including lack of resources and staff. Many CSOs in Africa, Asian and Latin America have neither the money, nor the expertise, nor the qualified staff they would need for effective multilateral lobbying.
Things are made worse by the fact that the UN is not doing enough to facilitate civil-society participation in global governance. Such participation is not even formally recognised. CSOs from developing countries typically do not get any financial support for participation purposes. Moreover, access to information (about agreement drafts for instance) remains restricted.
The Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 made a difference in this regard. CSOs were active participants – and this is also true of the negotiations that take place in the context of the conventions passed in Rio. They include the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the UN Convention on Biodiversity and others. The Rio+20 Summit that took stock of the results last summer, however, proved that humankind is not on a sustainable-development path two decades after the Earth Summit. That CSOs’ influence remains quite limited is one of the reasons (see box).
Reasons for reluctance
Neither the Rio process