Government delegates, NGOs and other observers left UN Headquarters on Friday, 2 September 1994, with mixed feelings. While they had worked hard during the two weeks of the second session of the Preparatory Committee for the World Summit for Social Development, they did not succeed in producing a negotiated or even bracketed text of the draft Programme of Action. The PrepCom's lack of progress in developing such a text is largely due to the fact that the first PrepCom did not achieve its goals.
It is often useful to analyze negotiations in terms of phases or stages. In each phase, the focus is different: identifying and defining the problem; exchanging statements of initial positions; drafting; negotiating; and reaching consensus on the final, most contentious details. The root of the problems in the WSSD's preparatory process lies in the fact that the issue definition had not been resolved at PrepCom I. More specifically, the Secretariat- sponsored expert group meetings on the three core issues -- poverty, employment and social integration -- had not been completed. Delegates left PrepCom I unsure about the scope and mandate of the Social Summit.
Due to the lack of issue definition and the lack of clarity of Government positions at PrepCom I, the Secretariat was not provided with sufficient guidance in drafting the document. As a result, the first draft of the Programme of Action lacked a clear focus, concrete goals, timetables, specifics regarding financial resources, as well as modalities for popular participation in the social development process. A number of delegates commented that the first draft, in encompassing everything, at the end of the day contained nothing. The nature of the draft, therefore, precluded any possibility for substantive negotiations at PrepCom II. Delegates were thus forced to repeat the issue definition phase, albeit with a guiding text. The 249 interventions during the first week precluded any possibility of developing a bracketed text.
Nevertheless, some accomplishments were achieved at PrepCom II, especially with regard to the draft Declaration. The following analysis examines in greater detail some of the problems faced by the PrepCom, the substantive gains of the two-week meeting, and challenges for the future.
PROBLEM AREAS: The major problem of this session of the PrepCom was its lack of substantive progress due, in large part, to the nature of the draft text. The process was further handicapped by the plodding paragraph-by-paragraph approach. The fact that many Governments insisted on this painstaking process, while others appeared unprepared to address goals and commitments, led some to question some delegates' desire for real progress at this meeting.
Beyond the session's incremental approach and the weaknesses in the actual text, delegates could not agree on the nature of the Programme of Action. While many delegates called for more specifics in fleshing out the five chapters, others argued against a document that would micro-manage national and local policy-making. Although delegates pressed for a text that was short, concise and visionary, they proceeded to propose numerous amendments to be incorporated into the new document.
Draft Programme of Action: Some contended the Programme of Action would have been far more effective if it had targeted two or three crucial issues rather than vaguely addressing a broad spectrum of concerns in a non-committal fashion. Progress on a narrow range of topics such as debt, structural adjustment programmes (SAPs) and trade practices, might have provided a stronger foundation for future negotiations.
There was also concern about the discrepancy between the lofty rhetoric exhorted by many Governments and their own practice of development assistance. Other delegations openly expressed opposition to some of the fundamental issues before the Summit. For example, Japan challenged references to debt cancellation, citing the lack of evidence for its positive social impacts. Japan also objected to quantitative goals and targets. China, Indonesia and certain African countries objected to enshrining issues, such as good governance and human rights, as substantive commitments in the texts. They resented the "paternalistic implications" of imposing such "constraints" solely on the South. Singapore and several other Asian countries also objected to any reference to ILO labour standards.
Given the global dimensions of the problem, it was argued that references to poverty in all countries must be strongly articulated. In fact, at one point, several Eastern European countries threatened to abandon the process unless appropriate references were made to countries with economies in transition. Some also felt that the problems of poverty in the developed world were lost in the overall debate. NGOs were especially concerned that neither the PrepCom discussions nor documentation addressed the root causes of poverty.
Finally, the question of means of implementation generated considerable controversy. While some countries, most notably India and Pakistan, called for serious discussion on the means of implementation, others felt such debate was impossible at this stage of the process in light of the lack of consensus on substantive matters. As Algeria noted, "We do not even know what we would be implementing."
Draft Declaration: More progress was made in the development of a new draft Declaration than on the Programme of Action. This was largely due to the fact that the Declaration was a product of the "Friends of the Chair" consultations following the initial discussion of Plenary. While this type of process often generates criticism for its putative lack of transparency, it was clearly effective in generating an acceptable basis for further negotiations.
While the Chair's paper on elements to be included in the Declaration was well-received, a number of criticisms were expressed. Several NGOs were concerned about the text's portrayal of people living in poverty largely as victims rather than as potential active agents in identifying and implementing solutions that affect their livelihoods. Many women's groups felt that the Declaration lacked an integral gender perspective within the context of human rights, despite several specific references to gender issues. One UN official noted that it appeared as if gender was tacked on as an afterthought, along with every other "special group," especially since gender equity was omitted from the Declaration's introduction.
While several praised the Declaration for its references to SAPs, many delegates and NGOs insisted that stronger language is needed on this particular issue. In fact, several noted that the actual reforms being carried out within the field of SAPs and the Bretton Woods institutions have not been adequately reflected in either the Programme of Action or the Declaration. Many urged that the "Social Summit rhetoric must catch up with the actual practice."
MAJOR GAINS: Notwithstanding the critiques described above, many Governments and NGOs felt that the Declaration represented an important political breakthrough, one which would ensure that the "flat track" actually turns into a climb towards a real Summit. Indeed, some observers noted that the "Friends of the Chair," who produced the first draft of the Declaration, seemed prepared to work in an honest spirit of collaboration to overcome the major obstacles in their way. On substantive issues, there was a tentative degree of openness on the part of delegates to consider new ways and means of redistributing resources between and within nations. Two key options that generated interest were the 20:20 Compact and the "Tobin" tax -- a tax on international transactions. The viability and feasibility of both of these proposals will require further consideration.
Delegates also appeared willing to consider the social impacts of issues such as the globalization of world markets, the liberalization of trade and SAPs. These issues have been avoided in other environment and development negotiating fora, such as the recently concluded desertification negotiations. By contrast, discussions on these issues in the Social Summit preparatory process generated new ideas for tackling the resource stalemate.
Just as the International Conference on Population and Development's preparatory process has provoked an important policy shift by moving the population issue out of the narrow demographic and into the larger development context, the WSSD process has led to a fundamental broadening of the concept of human development. Traditionally referred to as comprising basic human needs such as education, primary health care, clean drinking water, sanitation and shelter, this process has forced a rethinking of the concept to include other important issues such as the empowerment of women, credit schemes for the poor, and the strengthening of civil society to ensure full participation at all levels of decision-making.
NGO Influence: Another major gain at PrepCom II was the instrumental role of the NGOs. NGOs brought about several important "sea-changes" in this process. While many of the issues before the Summit have been dealt with in other UN fora, the three core issues have never been addressed before with such considerable emphasis on the following matters: a broader definition of human development; the interrelationships between poverty, lack of productive employment and social disintegration; the root causes of poverty, such as the failure of markets and societal institutions and processes; and recognition that the means for implementation must be seriously "retooled." As one NGO expressed, "unless Chapters 1 [enabling environment] and 5 [means of implementation] are infused with real political will, the `sandwich' in between cannot be eaten."
NGOs increased their effectiveness by working together in a number of caucuses, including the Women's Caucus, the Development Caucus, the South Asia Caucus, the Human Rights Caucus, the Health Caucus, the Youth Caucus, the Rights of the Child Caucus and Canadian NGOs. These caucuses met daily, analyzed text, tabled concrete recommendations and served to increase NGO influence on the process by operating as organized coalitions. The Development Caucus, for example, raised awareness around three specific issues: the social impacts of SAPs; the burden that debt repayment presents to the achievement of sustainable human development; and the need to redirect a greater proportion of development assistance to human development needs, as well as reallocating military expenditures towards social development.
The Women's Caucus worked to ensure sufficient references to women in both the draft Declaration and the Programme of Action. The commitment to gender equity in the Declaration reflects the breadth of concerns that the Women's Caucus had articulated throughout this process. This commitment refers to: the elimination of obstacles to gender equality; the establishment of measurable goals to reduce gender differentials; the importance of ratifying the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women; policy changes to ensure the full participation of women; and gender balance in decision-making.
The Women's Caucus helped identify important concepts such as human security, livelihoods and the expanded notion of work. The draft Declaration refers to human security as a guiding principle that guarantees basic human needs, personal dignity, safety, and peace within and among nations. The draft Programme of Action emphasizes the importance of a broader concept of work -- one that enhances the possibilities for a greater number of people to "participate meaningfully in all aspects of work life, including informal activities of sustainable livelihood." This expanded notion of work is especially critical since it calls for greater recognition of women's multiple roles, both paid and unpaid.
CHALLENGES FOR THE INTERSESSIONAL PERIOD AND PREPCOM III: If there was any agreement among delegates, it concerned the need for a radically overhauled draft Programme of Action in time for PrepCom III. While Governments disagreed on many of its specific elements, they acknowledged the need for a more focused, balanced text to serve as the basis for future negotiations. In the process of transforming the 250-page appended draft Programme of Action into a more manageable text, the challenge will be to protect its core. Some delegates stressed that the intersessional informal consultations must advance substantive discussions, since they were absent at PrepCom II. As well, there is a fear that PrepCom III will result in a stalemate if Governments are unwilling to deal seriously with implementation issues.
The concepts of sustainable human development and human security will no doubt generate intense debate during the intersessional period. Some delegations want to abandon the terms altogether, fearing the scope of issues that could ultimately be subsumed within them. Given the emphasis on peoples' participation within the concept of sustainable human development, resistance seems to be coming from those Governments with less than fully democratic political regimes. Some delegates, however, have noted that not only is the concept of human security enshrined in other international instruments, it reflects the evolution in thinking and practice in the social development field.
Notwithstanding the need for intersessional work, NGOs are concerned about the issues of openness, transparency and full participation at the October meeting. NGOs fear that the most contentious issues -- right to migrate, debt reduction, structural adjustment, official development assistance, social security, broadening the understanding of work to include informal activities, and the role of the family -- will be relegated to closed working groups where NGOs could be excluded.
As previous UN negotiations have demonstrated, the debate will become increasingly focused. NGOs will need to sharpen their lobbying positions while broadening their base of support. Many should seek to participate in the formulation of country positions and national reports.
GOALS FOR THE SOCIAL SUMMIT: As PrepCom II demonstrated, there is a tremendous need for Governments to awaken to the need for real and imminent change in the social development field. The international community must move from the traditional concept of human development to a broader notion that encompasses issues such as the empowerment of civil society, access to credit, improvement in the overall status of women and human security. The World Summit for Social Development must provide the symbolic fillip needed to incite substantive change at the national and grassroots levels. Unlike other conferences with clear mandates such as climate change, desertification or population, the Social Summit still seems to be suffering from "agenda confusion." If the Summit is to be successful in bringing about change, delegates, NGOs and other citizens must send unequivocal messages to Copenhagen, not to mention Heads of State and Government.
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