Non-State actors are prime movers in today’s world, and the United Nations needs to be more pro-active in “bringing together all constituencies relevant to global issues, and galvanizing appropriate networks for effective results”, says the report of an independent panel chaired by former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, released today.... Among its specific recommendations are that the General Assembly should include civil society organizations more regularly in its affairs, that civil society dialogs with the Security Council should be extended and deepened, and that a new Under-Secretary-General should be named to promote engagement with civil society.
But the major thrust of the report, entitled “We the Peoples: Civil Society, the United Nations and Global Governance”, is to argue for a paradigm shift in how the United Nations sees itself. Rather than an exclusively inter-governmental body that occasionally accepts input from outside the ranks of State actors, the Organization should foster multi-constituency processes that incorporate the viewpoints and capabilities of citizen groups, policy advocates, businesses, local governments and parliamentarians.
As corporations dissolve borders and escape the bounds of national sovereignty who will speak for the people? Cofi Annan should be praised for his wisdom in looking to the self-organizing communities of civil society for a rebirth of global democracy in the age of global markets. (No doubt NGOWatch will take another position on the "unelected few" who dare call global capital, their politicians and their policy think tanks to account.)
I can't help wondering if the financial scandals rocking the US nonprofit world, and the incipient round of new governmental regulations will be used to curtail civil society organizations that, like those listed on NGOWatch, do not always toe the neoliberal line. The battle for global democracy will be fought by NGOs against not only corporate interests, but the governments they carry in their pocket. Who then issues the NGOs their "permits"? (On a related note, it is hardly reassuring that the ideologically-engaged Justice Department is using its terrorist database and the Patriot Act to hassle and defund the ACLU.)
Playing politics with charity? I think we are seeing only the beginning. I don't know whether to smile or weep that the conservative think tanks are writing about the proper role of charity in a society dominated by business interests and their governmental allies.
The freedom to assemble peacefully and form a nonprofit to work toward shared visions of the public good is an essential Constitutional right. I am concerned when policy intellectuals and regulators begin to see these civic organizations as another pawn on their chessboard, divvying them up into "For" and "Against," or seeing them as a cheap way to provide services with somebody else's money. Let's keep "the third sector" as independent as possible, so, as Cofi Anan might agree, it can act as a check and a balance on both government and business.
Where are the think tank policy intellectuals with the courage to blog? Come on. NGOWatch, can we talk? Or would prefer that we, the unelected electors, just listen?