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A BRIEF ANALYSIS OF PREPCOM I

The World Summit for Social Development is the fourth in a series of five landmark world conferences organized by the United Nations in the 1990s. These five conferences -- the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development; the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights; the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development; the 1995 World Summit for Social Development; and the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women -- are part of a process attempting to give priority to the social policy agenda within the UN system. As was noted during PrepCom I, the machinery for the advancement of the social agenda within the UN system is carried out by the General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council, the Security Council, the UN specialized agencies, and the Bretton Woods institutions. While the Security Council's main charge is to monitor international peace and security, security is no longer defined strictly in military and political terms. In fact, at the Earth Summit, the Heads of State adopted a definition of security incorporating economic and social factors. What is needed in the UN system are policies that further social development goals and ensure coherence and coordination of action. It is up to the WSSD to reshape this machinery.

Now that the PrepCom has completed its first session, it is useful to take a step back and assess the progress made so far in developing these new policies and goals for social development. During the course of this two-week session a number of government delegates, representatives from UN agencies and NGOs expressed a certain degree of pessimism about the process so far. The first week's general debate was filled with well-worn rhetoric. Despite PrepCom Chair Juan Somov´┐Ża's urging, few delegates were prepared to make concrete, substantive proposals. Delegates' statements were limited to addressing the symptoms of poverty rather than the economic roots of the problem. Nevertheless, it is important to remember that this is only the first substantive session of the PrepCom. There are still two more sessions and one more year until the Summit convenes in Copenhagen. This stage in the multilateral negotiating process typically focuses on issue definition and exploration. Detailed discussion usually takes place later in the process.

Delegates came to New York with the knowledge that the Summit will take place in March 1995 and that the General Assembly, in Resolution 47/92, had decided that the Summit should address three core issues: enhancement of social integration, particularly of disadvantaged and marginalized groups; alleviation and reduction of poverty; and expansion of productive employment. The goal of this session of the PrepCom was to agree on the elements for inclusion in the draft declaration and the programme of action to be adopted by the Summit. This goal was reached despite concurrent meetings in Geneva, Kuala Lumpur and UN Headquarters that pulled delegates away from the PrepCom, limited instructions from capitals, and two snowstorms that practically shut down New York City.

Delegates did agree that discussions regarding a new social development agenda must be premised on the importance of putting people at the center of development and economic policies. Anything less will result in social disintegration. During the debate, the delegates also indicated that while the three core issues do affect all countries, they do so in differing degrees. Therefore, the solutions need to take into account regional, national and local dimensions of the problem. As such, and in view of the long list of themes, the Committee will need to define the priority areas. To do this, delegates need to determine which are the problems that are better left to national governments and those that must be addressed in the international context. Some of these issues have already been identified: the effect of the Bretton Woods institutions on social development as well as their relationship to the United Nations; the solution to dwindling international aid, the effects of structural adjustment programmes and debt; the ratification of already existing international instruments relating to the issues; the role of the Security Council and the Economic and Social Council in light of the redefinition of peace and security; and the need for a value-system or code of ethics to guide international economics. Given the highly political nature of these issues, governments and regional groups must engage in consultations during the intersessional period to develop their positions.

Despite the progress made, there were several problems that emerged during PrepCom I that could have lingering effects on the preparatory process, as well as the Summit itself. First, governments seemed reluctant to discuss some of the important issues, including the relationship between international economic policies and social development. Although there was agreement that these policies are a barrier to human development, there was an apparent unwillingness by some delegates to identify specific problems and possible solutions. The impacts and social consequences of international economic policies, including structural adjustment programmes and debt, were recognized. However, delegates preferred to merely address the linkages between the international financial institutions, the UN and various governments, without suggesting concrete reforms.

There was also a reluctance to discuss the financial resources needed to assist the South, even though delegates were willing to consider the possibility of debt relief for the least developed countries. Many delegates affirmed the importance of recognizing the special plight of Africa. However, few were able to articulate the form in which this special attention should be provided. African countries will have to be more innovative in their call for special assistance, especially in the face of dwindling development aid flows. In the attempt to focus on the special problems of these regions, there was a tendency to disregard the fact that certain sectors in the North face similar problems that also require attention.

A second problem was the fact that documents were not prepared and distributed far enough in advance. As a result, government delegates did not have sufficient time to prepare their own positions much less agree upon regional positions. During the latter part of the PrepCom, meetings were suspended or delayed to allow time for regional consultations. This resulted in insufficient time for the discussion of some of the important decision documents. Many delegates urged that the documents be distributed in a more timely manner to provide delegates with sufficient time to prepare their positions and hold regional consultations. Not only will this encourage constructive dialogue, but it will also allow the PrepCom to make the best use of the limited time available during the next year.

A third problem was that most NGOs tended to provide rhetoric rather than innovative and practical solutions. This may have be due to the total absence of representatives from affected sectors, such as marginalized social groups and the trade union movement, in both the North and the South. To be more effective at the next session, NGO representatives will need to consult with these affected sectors and ensure their presence at PrepCom II or, at the very least, ensure that their voices are heard.

To ensure that PrepCom II is a success and delegates are able to build upon the decisions taken at PrepCom I, rather than back-pedaling even further, governments, UN agencies, the Secretariat and NGOs must arrive in New York prepared to commence concrete, focused and political discussions on both the draft declaration and the draft programme of action. First, the Secretariat should do its best to ensure that the draft documents are ready by the set deadline of 1 June 1994. If this deadline is met, governments and non-state actors will have the necessary time to review the documents and formulate concrete positions and proposals.

Second, delegations will need to consult within their regional groups to identify their regional positions in advance of the next session. In particular, they will need to identify the areas of divergence within each of the groups and streamline their positions to ensure that the regional spokespeople are adequately briefed. This will reduce the necessity to suspend and defer official meetings for regional consultations. It will also enable representatives of the various regional groups to hold small informal drafting meetings, when the need arises.

Third, as there was minimal input from the civil society and environmental groups at PrepCom I, NGOs should lobby their governments to ensure that the proposals their governments put forward are both people-centered and ecologically friendly. The Secretariat will also need to furnish NGOs with adequate and timely information and documentation to enable them to raise public awareness and ensure that sufficient public pressure is mobilized to generate the necessary political will.

Finally, all participants must arrive at PrepCom II ready to tackle the difficult issues that lie ahead, particularly those that address the relationship between international economic policies and social development. Unless these and other key issues are addressed in a forward-looking, productive manner, the World Summit for Social Development may fail to produce any concrete proposals that will actually alleviate and reduce poverty, expand productive employment and enhance social integration.

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