Weeks Away from Development Conference in Istanbul, General Assembly Holds Hearing with Civil Society to Explore Ways to ‘Wipe Away Curse of Being Least Developed’

1 April 2011

Weeks Away from Development Conference in Istanbul, General Assembly Holds Hearing with Civil Society to Explore Ways to ‘Wipe Away Curse of Being Least Developed’

1 April 2011
General Assembly
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-fifth General Assembly

Informal Interactive Hearings

AM & PM Meetings

Weeks Away from Development Conference in Istanbul, General Assembly Holds Hearing


with Civil Society to Explore Ways to ‘Wipe Away Curse of Being Least Developed’


Speaker Warns Least Developed Countries ‘So Far from Handling

Steering Wheels of International Machinery’ but First to Get Run Over by It

With the Fourth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries a little more than a month away, the General Assembly convened today an interactive civil society hearing to explore ways grass-roots organizations could revive the global drumbeat on behalf of the world’s poorest countries and put pressure on Governments to honour their promises to deliver sustainable development for all.

Opening the informal hearing, Acting Assembly President Susan Waffa-Ogoo, of Gambia, said the discussions were a vital part of preparations for the Conference, to be held in Istanbul, Turkey, from 9 to 13 May.  Civil society and non-governmental organizations were crucial partners for the 48 United Nations-identified least developed countries and their development endeavours.  They acted as the “world’s conscience” and were often leaders in “getting things done”.

She said that, before the global financial downturn, the least developed countries had been experiencing high economic growth rates, even surpassing the targets set by the 2001-2010 Brussels Programme of Action adopted by the Third United Nations Conference on their behalf.  Yet, that growth contracted sharply as the economic crisis unfolded, and the negative impact was amplified by numerous other structural and development challenges, natural disasters and climate change.

Thus, it was timely that today’s hearing was built around three interactive panel discussions on the productive capacities of the least developed countries.  Indeed, strengthening those capacities would help those countries create jobs and acquire the technological know-how that would allow them to generate domestic momentum for growth and development.  With that in mind, she said civil society’s continued engagement was crucial to the Conference preparatory process and beyond.  The Conference, she added, was about “uplifting the welfare of the poorest of the poor.  All of us should, therefore, consider ourselves partners and stakeholders in our drive to achieve the goals that we will set in the outcome document.”

Wrapping up the days events, Arjun Karki, International Coordinator of Least Developed Countries Watch, and Chair of the Civil Society Steering Committee for the Conference, introduced the Global Civil Society Report and recommendations on the Conference process.  Though negotiations were ongoing and the report was incomplete, he said it opened with an assessment of the Brussels implementation decade and proceeded to identify civil society priorities for Istanbul.  He assured participants that the full report would be available ahead of the May Conference.

In an earlier address, he said that the interactive hearing brought together civic actors from all parts of the world to lay out their expectations for the Istanbul outcome.  They represented a diverse group of women’s organizations, farmers, human rights defenders and regional and global civil society networks.  Despite the diversity, their concern was the same:  “We need a commitment from the international community to enable the development process within LDCs to work,” he said, urging everyone to mobilize the will to lift the poorest people out of their misery and “collectively wipe away the curse of being least developed”.

Cheick Sidi Diarra, Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States, told the diverse group:  “your tireless commitment to the LDC agenda is indeed admirable”.  With the Conference just a month away, the Assembly’s interactive hearing could not have come at a more strategic moment.  Discussions would strengthen the common resolve to ensure the Istanbul outcome reflected the concerns and aspirations of all stakeholders.

The Fourth Conference would provide an opportunity for an honest assessment of the Brussels Programme of Action, said Mr. Diarra, who would serve as Secretary-General of the Istanbul Conference.  While there had been progress, delivering on Brussels commitments had been a tough challenge, he continued, stressing that poverty rates were unacceptably high, unemployment figures “staggering”, and basic infrastructure lacking, while children and mothers were more vulnerable to mortality than their developed country counterparts.  “In a nutshell, after three programmes of action, we can all agree, there is definitely room for improvement.”

Civil society had been at the forefront of raising awareness about a number of issues, he said — notably the need for decent work and capacity-building for the working poor — and it should continue its advocacy.  Indeed, civil society’s unique capacity to forge grand coalitions that transcended borders must be put to the service of the development of least developed countries.  Eager to enhance civil society’s contribution in the run-up to the Istanbul Conference, he said civic actors would be vital to identifying “new and fresh ways to overcome what might seem to be insurmountable obstacles”.

Turkish Ambassador Ertuğrul Apakan, speaking in his Government’s capacity as host of the Conference, said civic and private sector actors were important agents for social change; they were “the voice of ordinary people” and added a much-needed human element to policymaking processes.  The role of an active civil society, with strong civic engagement, could not be emphasized enough at the intergovernmental level.  Indeed, as Governments and organizations worked to empower the least developed countries, civil society was working hand in hand with the people, “who are the cornerstones of global effort to eradicate poverty”.

Continuing, he said civil society could help raise the voice of the people in planning and implementing national development policies.  That was why their involvement was crucial, not only in the run-up to the Istanbul Conference, but after.  He believed that the new and visionary action plan that everyone hoped for could only be fully implemented if ordinary people were actively involved in crafting it.  Finally, he said Turkey expected that the Conference outcome would send a strong political message and include a strong call from civil society for serious partnership with the least developed countries and their peoples.

Ahead of the discussions with civil society groups, presentations were also made by Jarmo Viinanen, of Finland, Chairman of the Preparatory Committee, and Gyan Chandra Acharya of Nepal, Chair of the Global Coordination Bureau of the Least Developed Countries, who both agreed that the Istanbul Conference, with the active participation of civil society, would be an historic opportunity to renew the global partnership for development on behalf of the world’s poorest countries.

Most of the civil society participants expressed frustration that efforts to implement the earlier action plans targeting least developed countries had yielded only limited results.  The most glaring example of the process’ stagnation was that the countries’ “graduation” rate was appallingly low, with only three of the original 51 — the Maldives, Botswana and Cape Verde — having moved out of the category since 1970.  One speaker said that in the years since Brussels, developed country partners had consistently failed “to meet their end of the deal”; an enabling trade environment, technology transfer and long-term solutions for massive debt burdens had all been promised, and none had been delivered.

Similarly, some speakers noted that most of the least developed countries were off track to meet the Millennium Development Goals.  Indeed, one participant said that a careful look at the three most essential social indicators — infant mortality, maternal health and primary school enrolment — would reveal that over half of the countries for which any information was even available were either making no progress at all, or were regressing markedly.  All the challenges the countries faced, especially small islands and landlocked nations, were being exacerbated by climate change, many believed.

The key, some felt, was serious and honest government commitment to social justice — not charity — for all people.  “The Programme of Action does not belong to Governments.  It belongs to the people,” said one speaker, who stressed that informal interactions between civic actors and Governments were not enough.  The aim should be to bolster genuine involvement of citizens and civic groups in policymaking, and to ensure ordinary people’s centrality to, and ownership of, their development.

Many of the interventions also focused on the outcome of the Istanbul Conference.  Rudy de Meyer of 11-11-11 urged creating an environment that was less hostile to building productive capacities and promoting domestic solutions.  He said that least developed countries remained “so far from handling the steering wheels of international machinery” but were often the first to get run over by it.

Heading into Istanbul, he said the focus should not only be on social justice, but also on “deliverables” and other concrete steps forward in areas such as resource mobilization, sustainable agriculture and infrastructure development.  He cautioned against the type of “trench warfare” and paralysis that such meetings traditionally devolved into, “with predictable country group positions and no results at all”.

Calling for urgent action that acknowledged past blunders and identified ways to avoid similar mistakes, Njoki Njoroge Njehu, of the Kenyan-based Daughters of Mumbi Global Resource Center, noted that one definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.  “I believed we have a clear case of institutional insanity,” she said, wondering why time and time again, lessons were not learned, gaps were not bridged, and civil society’s calls for innovative thinking were ignored.

“We need to stop the headlong slide towards disaster, but we refuse to act,” she said, decrying the obvious lack of political will characterized by a dangerous devotion to the status quo.  The situation of the least developed countries, especially for women and children and people living in rural areas, was only getting worse while efforts to address their plight appeared “stuck on treadmill”.  As negotiations moved forward on the Istanbul outcome, she said:  “You must embrace change.  You must act now”.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.