DESA News Vol. 11, No. 1 January 2007

Features

Partners for action Partners for action

Meeting the Millennium Development Goals means finding common cause on finance and trade

The world, in one voice, committed itself at the dawn of the new millennium to ambitious goals: halving worldwide poverty by 2015, achieving universal education, promoting gender equality, and among others, creating a global partnership for development. Yet as we approach the mid-point of the implementation period, a glance at the state of goal eight – on partnerships – shows that finance and trade are relative weak spots in international development cooperation. The thematic informal debate on partnerships towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals held at the General Assembly in late November made one point clear: Failure to deliver on commitments in the areas of development assistance, debt relief, and, most importantly, access to export markets by developing countries may well compromise attainment of the targets for 2015.

The compact or “global partnership” between developed and developing countries – expressed in the outcome of the International Conference on Financing for Development at Monterrey in 2002 – is a partnership of shared responsibilities and obligations. It arises from a recognition that the main responsibility for development rests with developing countries themselves – including through improved governance. However, commitments by industrialized nations to provide more and better development assistance and debt relief, and to reduce trade-distorting subsidies while supporting a more equitable world trading system, are vital enablers of developing country efforts.

Goal number eight, on the global partnership for development, must be strengthened since cooperation among states, civil society and the private sector remains a cornerstone of the development effort.

Overcoming financial constraints

For many countries, official development assistance is still an essential catalyst without which economic and social progress would be severely constrained. Although ODA has steadily increased since the Monterrey Conference, regions such as sub-Saharan Africa and Oceania, on current trends, will not be able to meet any of the goals envisaged for 2015, while Southern and Western Asia are not advancing fast enough. These trends could be reversed through a combination of improved policies and more resources in the spirit of global partnership. Yet with eight years to go to the MDG target date, we are still far from reaching the long-standing UN aid target of 0.7 percent of gross domestic product for ODA, today met by only five countries. As the Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, José Antonio Ocampo, points out, “Scaling-up development aid flows, strengthening aid effectiveness, and maximizing ODA’s impact on poverty reduction are of critical importance. Indeed, when ODA is not determined by geopolitics, it can have a strong positive effect on long-term growth, essentially because it supports investment in infrastructure and human development.”

The General Assembly concluded 2006 with a key message from its informal thematic debate on partnerships towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals: Good intentions remain to be matched by concrete action. Departing Secretary-General Kofi Annan recalled that “many donors are already falling short of their commitments to increase aid – and the longer this shortfall persists, the harder it will be to correct. They must be held accountable.”

Recent agreement at the General Assembly Second Committee to hold a follow-up conference on financing for development to review the implementation of the Monterrey Consensus in Doha, Qatar in the second half of 2008 should serve this purpose of holding countries accountable and to strengthen this pillar of global partnership for development.

External debt relief has been a positive step in that direction in helping liberate the poor countries’ resources for poverty reduction – as the decision to cancel the external debt of 18 heavily indebted poor countries demonstrates, but debt burden still weighs heavily on many developing countries. What is more, the Second Committee passed a month ago a draft resolution expressing concern over failure by some poor countries that have reached the completion point of the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Debt Initiative to achieve lasting debt sustainability. Another text approved by the Committee emphasized, in this regard, the need for creditors and debtors to share responsibility for warding off unsustainable debt situations.

In any case, when discussing debt relief and emergency aid, it is worthwhile to nuance that neither of them back long-term development. They should, therefore, complement and not replace existing ODA obligations. In support of the Millennium Development Goals, as the DESA World Economic and Social Survey 2005 on financing for development stresses, the call for more development assistance must refer specifically to real cash increases, fresh money, and be targeted to the poorest and least developed countries.

Beyond development assistance, it is encouraging to note how innovative sources of financing are enlarging the resources for financing development. Nineteen countries are already putting in place a solidarity levy on airplane tickets to finance an international drug purchase facility (“UNITAID ”), launched last year at the opening session of the General Assembly. This financial mechanism should facilitate the poorest people’s access to drugs for the treatment of diseases such as tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and malaria. Another initiative, the International Finance Facility, was launched in November with the support of eight donor countries to fund immunization programs in campaigns against measles, tetanus, and yellow fever through the initial flotation of a USD 1 billion five-year bond.

DESA: promoting partnerships from within

While encouraging this partnership among states, DESA also continues to explore ways of promoting partnerships in its own work, not only in support of intergovernmental consensus, but also in the implementation of the UN Agenda. For example, the financing for development process promotes participation of experts from the public and private sectors, international organizations, academia, and civil society in various consultation processes, some of which are directly organized by private sector and civil society partners. Voluntary, multi-stakeholder initiatives in the area of sustainable development were, too, a fundamental outcome of the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development, where more than 200 partnerships were launched. In this sense, in the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation in 2002, Governments designated the UN Commission on Sustainable Development as the focal point for the elaboration of partnerships that promote sustainable development including the sharing of lessons learned and progress made.

DESA’s promotion of partnerships can also be extended to the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, the UN Forum on Forests and to the Global Alliance for Information and Communication Technologies and Development, a platform for cross-sectoral dialogue launched less than a year ago with the purpose of integrating ICT into development activities. That task is indeed paramount if the internationally agreed development goals, including the MDGs, are to be achieved in 2015.

Boost for development cooperation

In general, debates on economic and social issues in the General Assembly and in the Economic and Social Council are all processes with the concept and practice of partnership at the core of their work. The recent approval of a General Assembly resolution that gives the Council two new functions offers, moreover, a reason for optimism in the path toward a genuine global partnership for development. One of these new functions, the Development Cooperation Forum is expected to bring the discussion on aid effectiveness to a truly multilateral arena, so that the forum will be able to bolster the effectiveness of oversight provided by ECOSOC of the global development cooperation system. Effectiveness on this front is crucial to ensure an efficient and effective partnership for development.

Another of ECOSOC’s new functions, the Annual Ministerial Reviews, can be a platform for political engagement and be useful to help keep the focus, beyond verbal commitments, on actual implementation. It can also serve to assess progress on the various aspects of the UN Development Agenda , helping determine what works and what should be scaled-up. Reviews with broad participation can, at the same time, be instrumental in unlocking the potential of civil society and the private sector and to set in motion new partnerships for development.

A partnership for trade with development: more phrase than fact

At the start of a new year, existing challenges still need to be faced. The collapse of the multilateral trade negotiations under the Doha Round in the World Trade Organization shows that “our global partnership for development – to paraphrase departing Secretary-General Kofi Annan – remains more phrase than fact.” Obstacles owing to lack of compromise among major parties on export subsidies and domestic supports in the agricultural sectors remain, but it also remains imperative to overcome such an impasse.

This lack of consensus among states was well reflected in the end of the year at the Second Committee. While the Committee adopted more than forty resolutions on a broad range of issues, the inability to reach consensus on the trade and development resolution for the third consecutive year is precisely “symptomatic of the growing gap between negotiating partners,” Under-Secretary-General Ocampo noted in a recent address to the Committee.

Be that as it may, the successful conclusion of the Doha Development Round is “a sine qua non” for achieving the international agreed development goals, including the 2015 goals, as outgoing Secretary-General recently highlighted. On current trends, most of the world’s poorest countries will miss most of these targets, underscoring the need to match rhetoric with palpable action worldwide. The clock is ticking.

Data on MDG indicators, including goal eight on the global partnership for development, and other relevant information, can be found at http://mdgs.un.org/unsd/mdg/Default.aspx .

 

Thematic informal debate

A webcast of the thematic informal debate on partnerships towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals is available at http://webcast.un.org/ramgen/ga/61/ga061127pm.rm .

 


Human rights in the 21st century Human rights in the 21st century

A groundbreaking treaty affirms the rights of persons with disabilities

More than two decades ago, under the auspices of the United Nations, disabled people set out to clear obstructions which have throughout history prevented them from enjoying the full benefit of economic and social development. This decades’ long effort culminated on 13 December 2006 in the adoption by the General Assembly of the Convention of on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Convention is being hailed as the first human rights instrument of the twenty-first century. Once ratified by individual countries, the treaty will enable the world’s 650 million disabled people to claim internationally-recognized rights as full and equal members of society.

The Convention is a far-reaching instrument in that it requires States to adopt laws prohibiting discrimination based on any form of disability, from blindness to mental illness. It is intended as a human rights instrument with an explicit social development dimension. It demands real change through effective legislation and a shift in attitude, calling for a change of perceptions to combat stereotypes and prejudices, and promote awareness of the contribution that persons with disabilities make to society. It also sets forth the principles on which to base actions in order to create the material conditions necessary for persons with disabilities to enjoy their rights.

A neglected development challenge

The treaty urges a series of development interventions intended to put an end to the situation of economic and social exclusion in which persons with disabilities remain mired. A recent study commissioned by DESA found that of 100 leading websites around the world, 97 failed to meet minimum accessibility standards for people who are blind, have low-vision disabilities, or cannot use a computer mouse. Exclusion of the half billion disabled poor living in the developing world is even more pervasive. Up to 98 per cent of children with disabilities in developing countries do not attend school.

With few exceptions, existing development programmes that address disability are limited in focus and endowed with scarce human and financial resources. Moreover, projects that benefit persons with disabilities are frequently viewed as a discrete area of activity. Yet the economic and social exclusion that features in the daily lives of persons with disabilities is a major cross-cutting development issue for all development partners. The Convention clearly recognizes this point. Article 32 stresses that cooperation should aim to ensure that every development programme is inclusive of, and accessible to, persons with disabilities. And it calls not for new areas of intervention, but for the integration of disability issues into national development strategies.

The treaty’s entry into force will obligate countries to gradually include disability-friendly features in the construction of new facilities; promote and improve access to inclusive health, education and employment; and, introduce measures that eliminate discriminatory practices against persons with disabilities. Effective legislation, along with a shift in attitude, is vital for bringing about change. Change indeed takes place far more rapidly in countries where relevant legislation has been enacted than in those without such laws as evidence from the forty-five countries with anti-discrimination and other disability-specific laws has demonstrated.

A unique negotiation process

Adoption of the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities would likely have not become a reality without the mobilization of civil society organizations. According to Johan Schölvinck, Director of the Division for Social Policy and Development of DESA, “the process of negotiation for the convention was unique. The actual drafting of the text took less than three years with civil society organizations actively participating throughout the negotiations.”

Civil society was a powerful force moving the process forward at all stages despite initial reluctance by several countries. The Ad Hoc Committee tasked with negotiating the Convention was supported by the Secretariat for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, housed in the Division for Social Policy and Development, in cooperation with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The convention opens for signature in March 2007, and comes into effect thirty days after it has been ratified by twenty nations. Ratification is expected to progress rapidly as most States, even those that were initially skeptical, strongly support the Convention’s aims.

Full information on the Convention, including the full text of the treaty, is available at: http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/enable/ .

Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Don MacKay, Permanent Representative of New Zealand, takes questions at a press briefing following adoption of the Convention on 13 December:

http://webcast.un.org/ramgen/pressconference/pc061213pm.rm .

 

Mr. Ban Ki-moon Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon takes office

Mr. Ban Ki-moon took the oath of office on 14 December, and as newly appointed Secretary-General pledged to strengthen United Nations work on peace, development and human rights while calling for concerted action to reach the Millennium Development Goals.

Webcast