2 October 2004
Future of United Nations - Civil Society Relations
257 questions in assessing the Report of the Panel of Eminent
in relation to the challenges of the 21st Century
- / -
This note is an attempt to highlight dimensions and questions arising from
the Panel of Eminent Persons on United Nations-Civil Society Relations
appointed by the UN Secretary-General in February 2003, and chaired by Fernando
Henrique Cardoso. The Panel
Report was presented on 11 June 2004 (A/58/817) [more
on Panel website]. The website of the Global
Policy Forum (GPF) provides links to a number of documents, notably from
NGOs, commenting on the Panel's activities and the challenges. These include
earlier comments by the author Response
to GPF's Report, "NGOs and the United Nations" (25 June 1999) and a
Secretary-General's Report on NGOs (21 May 1999). Both of these argue
strongly in favour of a focus on the value of the web environment in reframing
the challenges of UN-Civil society relationships as argued most recently by
the author in Practicalities
of Participatory Democracy with International Institutions: Attitudinal, Quantitative
and Qualitative Challenges (2003). Since that time most active international
NGOs now make extensive use of NGOs and seek to make creative use of websites.
The Panel's Report has been followed by:
The focus of this note is on a broader framing of the report and its conclusions
and is not intended as a commentary on the relevance of the conclusions within
the frame considered appropriate by the UN Secretary-General and the Panel.
As such it follows from earlier comments by the author on earlier efforts by
the UN to address, explicitly or implicitly the role of international NGOs in
relation to the UN system. (see references below)
In particular this note is concerned with the degree to which the Report responds
to the urgency of the challenges facing society and the planet, notably as articulated
in the report of a conference sponsored by the Stanley Foundation conference
of June 2004 (Updating the United Nations
to Confront 21st Century Threats: the Challenge to the High-Level
Panel) prepared for a distinct UN High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges
Given the concerns in official investigations of the activities
of the intelligence community in relation to the threat of terrorism, the focus
here is on whether the "global
intelligence failure" and "lack of imagination" (identified by a US Senate
investigation of the response to terrorism) should not also be recognized in
relation to other threats and the appropriate institutional reform. As noted by
the chairman of the Senate intelligence committee:
"While we did not specifically address it in
our report, it is clear that this group-think also extended to our allies and
to the United Nations and several other nations as well, all of whom did
believe the Saddam Hussein had active WMD programs," [more]
The point has been made that other organizations, like the
intelligence agencies, can suffer from bureaucratic inertia, lack of
imagination and simple hostility to unconventional thinking. All institutions
have a tendency to the "groupthink", and the tendency to downplay dissenting
voices, for which the CIA was criticized.
The note below takes the form of questions through which to
reflect on the Panel's conclusions in terms of the adequacy of UN-Civil Society
relations to the challenge of the times. The questions, appropriately reviewed,
might be considered vital to any balanced evaluation of the Panel's Report on
the future of UN-Civil Society relations.
Briefly stated, the Report is an admirable positive articulation
of what should have been a reality in the 1990s, if not in the 1980s and the
1970s. However it fails to address the realities of the United Nations'
demonstrated inability to give real substance to such aspirations - or to take
meaningful account of the information technologies (available for decades) that
would make the advocated changes possible in the immediate future. It could be
argued that the very political correctness of its positive language precludes
its acknowledgement of real challenges. Such complacent denial leaves the
United Nations increasingly paralysed and marginalized in the face of the
nastiest of threats, such as terrorism. "Terrorism" might even be explored as
the consequence of a pattern of past failures in UN dialogue with "civil
society" and its dissident perspectives -- such as those now articulated in the
World Social Forum. It could be
understood as the failure to come to grips with the survival concerns of
peoples who are, faced with this denial, thereby forced to become increasingly
"uncivil". This crucial gap in communications is exemplified by the fact that
9/11 occurred in 2001 -- the UN Year of
Dialogue Among Civilizations.
The questions below are clustered firstly as a response to the
Report's Glossary, its List of Proposals, and then as clusters
of questions cutting cross the organization of the Report.
NGOs are defined in the Report as "all
organizations of relevance to the United Nations that are not central
Governments and were not created by intergovernmental decision, including
associations of businesses, parliamentarians and local authorities". Does
this mean that all such organizations that are relevant to the UN are
recognized as "NGOs", namely that those not so recognized are irrelevant to the
UN? Given the consultative relationship criteria, does this mean that only
those accepted as fulfilling UN criteria of representativity are relevant? What
kinds of civil society bodies are considered as "non-NGOs"?
Civil society is defined as "associations of
citizens (outside their families, friends and businesses) entered into
voluntarily to advance their interests, ideas and ideologies...Of particular
relevance to the United Nations are mass organizations..., trade unions,
professional associations, social movements, indigenous people's organizations,
religious and spiritual organizations, academe and public benefit
nongovernmental organizations" Does
this mean that all civil society bodies are potentially NGOs for which Article
71 allows for consultative relationships? Since the definition is inclusive
rather than exclusive, and the UN has traditionally supported liberation
movements, does civil society include networks and movements labelled as "terrorist"?
What about secret societies with non-pecuniary agendas? If not, how is the
exclusion from "civil society" of bodies implicitly defined as part of "uncivil
society" achieved? Are such networks irrelevant to the UN?
If the UN Charter derives its mandates from the concept of
"We the peoples..." which bodies are irrelevant to the United Nations and how
is this decided? What does that imply for the excluded?
To what extent, as argued elsewhere (Public
Management, 1995) is such ambiguity being deliberately used as a form
of "definitional game-playing" and "conceptual gerrymandering"
to advance particular interests and to marginalize other interests? Has the
UN considered apologizing for its decades-long apartheid-like separatist approach
to civil society in which it only recognized certain bodies from civil society
as acceptable and of relevance?
Is the relationship to civil society being reframed through
the Article 71 relationship to NGOs, or is it bypassing the Article 71
provisions on the Secretary-General's initiative, as with the Global Compact
initiative in relationship to multinational corporations?
To the extent that civil society bodies are NGOs, do all
civil society bodies (from international to local) now have the right to enter
into consultative relationship with the UN and to seek participation in UN
meetings? Or is it only some bodies that are distinguished - as NGOs - as
having that right? Within what framework does the UN then expand its
relationship with civil society?
Is the distinction between "civil society" and "NGOs", from a
United Nations perspective, more accurately stated as the distinction between
the multitude of bodies representing the interests of "we the peoples" ("civil
society") to which the United Nations would, in principle, like to
relate and be seen to relate in its public relations initiatives -- as
opposed to the necessarily limited number of bodies ("NGOs) to which the United
Nations is capable of relating in practice, through its various
consultative and other administrative procedures, and taking account of
its political and other constraints (see para 44)? Do remarks made with respect
to "civil society" mainly reflect a sense of what the United Nations ought to
do, and would (to the extent possible) claim to be doing, whether or not this
corresponds to the reality in practice?
List of proposals of the Panel of Eminent Persons
Convening role of the United Nations: fostering multi-constituency
Proposal 1: Inclusion of "all constituencies
relevant to the issue": Who defines what "the issue" is, especially if that
process is highly politicised to ensure the marginalization of some issues?
Why, in a society recognized as increasingly complex and dynamic, is the focus
on a single issue rather than on how emergent networks of actors can better
handle networks of emergent issues with networks of emergent strategies? Is
there no concern regarding the lead time between recognition of an issue by a
civil society body and recognition ("accreditation") of that issue by the
United Nations - as with the year-long delay in UN recognition that the
invasion of Iraq was illegal? (see para 34) Why is that?
Proposal 2: How does the United Nations
"embrace an array of forums" when it is has the greatest of difficulty in
reconciling the sectoral preoccupations of its different Specialized Agencies -
especially when all of them have proven to be inadequately designed to "achieve
a specific outcome"? To what extent is the proposed four-step procedure an
ideal whose implementation over past decades has proven to be highly
unrealistic? Is it possible that the
design now envisaged is overly simplistic in relation to the challenge? Might
this be deliberate to disguise an intended inadequacy to the challenge? How
might such possible inadequacy be determined?
Proposal 3: Whilst the recommendations for
Secretariat innovation in "networked governance" and experimentation with
"Internet agora" are admirable (see para 13), what account has been taken, in
making such recommendations, of experience dating back to the 1980s with such
technology and the innovations proposed with respect to their use in the
future? Is the proposal locked into an
overly simplistic understanding of the challenge as exemplified by the hundreds
of thousands of civil society bodies that might see their participation in
United Nations processes as appropriate? To what extent are more complex forms
of mediated interaction required to handle the "diverse backgrounds"? Why is
the use of such agora seen only as a means to "survey public opinion" - as in
media surveys? Who then frames the questions? Who selects then the "emerging
issues"? Who processes the responses - and what happens to "unacceptable"
questions and answers? If the Secretary-General is to "initiate
multi-stakeholder forums", how is the perception of cronyism, elitism,
non-transparency and corruption to be avoided? If he (or she) is to "feed their
conclusions to appropriate intergovernmental forums", what is the track record
of this process?
Proposal 4: With respect to the global
conference mechanism, what learnings have occurred to ensure that future events
are a significant means for processing and interrelating insights of
participants rather than costly, tokenistic exercises in public relations with
only modest follow-up (para 58)? Especially given the UN's current involvement
in the World Summit on the Information Society, why is no mention made of the
role of the Internet in ensuring wider participation in such events and
Proposal 5: Whilst the possibility of
"multi-constituency processes as new conduits for discussion of United Nations
priorities" is admirable, what consideration was given to the highly
problematic dialogue issues that are characteristic of such processes - even
when participants do not have highly antagonistic agendas? Why is the focus placed on "hearings"
without any reference to the immense difficulties experienced by an
overloaded Secretariat in processing
information without filtering it to a very high degree? Again, why was no
reference made to the use of Internet technology to provide multiple channels
of interaction, both with the Secretariat, between Secretariat officials, and
between those being "heard"? Given their existing overload, what capacity do
the "relevant intergovernmental forums" have to process information transmitted
Proposal 6: Who is going to ensure the "carefully planned
participation of actors" given the highly politicised nature of such
participation? Why is the focus on only inviting contributions from those
"offering high-quality independent input"? Who determines high-quality"
and "independent"? Is it only those who "offer" who are
invited - a dependency on well-funded, interested activism as a selection
mechanism -- or is there some obligation to seek out those who might be able
to make such input? How does the United Nations avoid the dysfunctionality
of only exposing itself to proliferating lobbyists with funds to promote their
narrow agendas where meetings are held? To what extent is the United Nations
vulnerable to a form of "cosy", Northern-dominated "groupthink"
analogous to that recognized in the official evaluations of the misleading
assessments made by the intelligence community in relation to Iraq ? (see
para 98, 143, 161)
Investing more in partnerships
Proposal 7: How will the "Partnership Development Unit"
avoid the political and other challenges that tend to undermine such seemingly
reasonable initiatives - especially given their dependence on a political
appointee? What lessons were learnt from the appointment of the special advisor
to the UN Secretary-General for corporate social responsibility within the
Global Compact initiative? [more]
Proposal 8: In pursuing the "partnership"
model, to what extent is there any sensitivity to the way in which this
reflects a particular mindset that is currently fashionable but may well, like
previous management fads, prove inadequate to the challenge (see para 68-70)?
To what extent is there a danger that the use of the term may disguise the
ineffectual nature of the operational reality behind the term? To what extent
is the use of "partnership" dangerously unchallengeable - as with so-called
Proposal 9: What article of the Charter
governs does the proposal to "strengthen its relationships with actors in the
private sector"? How does the UN ensure that it does not get trapped by
commercial decision-making criteria - as with the "votes for cash" scandals of
Focus on the country level
Proposals 10 and 11: How do these differ from
initiatives and practices, undertaken or foreseen, by UNDP and its Resident
Representatives since the early 1990s? Why is no mention made of the use of
Internet technology to facilitate such communication processes and remedy their
Strengthening the Security Council - role for civil society
Proposal 12: Why is no mention made of the
increasingly problematic security provisions (and visa constraints) of the USA
governing participation of citizens from large segments of the world's
population at meetings in New York (para 144)? Is participation of civil
society representatives now conditional on US security provisions regarding
suspicion of terrorism? To what extent is the United Nations becoming complicit
in processes that are widely recognized as restricting human rights? Why,
again, is no mention made of the use of Internet technology to facilitate such
communication without exposing invited participants to the risk of being strip
searched or arbitrarily held for questioning without possibility of appeal? Why
have no provisions been made for the responsibility of the United Nations under
such circumstances? How are the civil society interlocutors to be selected so
that the process is perceived to be transparent, non-elitist, and beyond the
criticism that is so easily levelled (with reason) against current selection
procedures? To what extent do Secretariat staff have the requisite skills to
facilitate these and other dialogue sessions? How are facilitators and methods
of dialogue chosen to avoid the traps of dialogue fads and ensure
cross-cultural sensitivity? Why is the formula of an "independent commission of
inquiry" not evaluated? Has its track record been adequate to the task? Given
the relevance of the claims made by "terrorist" groups regarding United Nations
issues such as poverty, human rights, and the like -- and irrespective of the
violence of their initiatives -- to what extent should the Security Council be
exploring ways of dialoguing with groups which are currently framed as
constituting the gravest threat to international security? Given its experience
during the Cold War in reconciling parties bent on mutual annihilation, is
there not a case for exploring dialogue with the most extreme forms of "civil
society"? Why is there no discussion of the role of dissidence in democratic
processes, especially given efforts to confuse it with sympathy for terrorism?
Engaging with elected representatives
Proposal 13: To what extent does this differ
from the follow up sought after many major UN conferences and notably that of
the Rio Earth Summit in 1992? What is the track record of such processes?
Proposal 14: Do these proposals imply that
parliamentarians, as such, are to be considered as representatives of civil
society - or only through their association with the Inter-Parliamentary Union?
Does this imply a form of double representation in that parliamentarians may
act both as government representatives and in their associative capacity (see
para 105)? Can an association of Heads of State be considered to be a civil
society body entitled to representation as such at the United Nations? What
about the Corps Diplomatique as an association of diplomats? How is the
representativity of such government-related bodies to be assessed and compared
with the challenges to NGO representativity? Are the peoples of the world free
to elect other representatives, as in civil society bodies representative of ethnic
minorities (as with the Kurds or the Tibetans)? How are the issues articulated
through associations of parliamentarians to be distinguished from those
articulated through other bodies - especially when the parliamentarians reflect
a minority view in their country? Are political coalitions of parliamentarians
of regional parliaments (as at the European Parliament) to be included in this
Proposal 15 and 16: Given the challenges
associated with the effective implementation of these proposals, articulated in
the past, why again is no mention made of the new interactive possibilities
offered by the Internet -- beyond those of an "information service" -- in
by-passing difficulties already experienced?
Proposal 17: How would a "resolution
affirming and respecting local autonomy as a universal principle" be
related to the preoccupations of groups such as the Basque or the Kurds, for
example - especially given the current repression of human rights and
the lack of respect for international law?
Proposal 18: Whilst it is admirable that the
United Nations should acknowledge the value of particular associations such as
United Cities and Local Governments, to what extent does this reflect a mindset
of single issue focus (in response to the successful actions of a powerful
lobby) as with the Inter-Parliamentary Union? As with parliamentarians, to what
extent is the inclusion of local government representatives as civil society
bodies indicative of a form of double representation? Are these type-specific
approaches indicative of an avoidance of the challenge of addressing the
meaning of the existence of a vast network of associations (including the
powerful, the weak, and those who alienated by the process)? Is the use of the
term "civil society" a means of globalizing an undifferentiated concept to avoid recognition of the networked reality
of the psycho-social ecosystems that constitute the fabric of global society?
Who promotes this outdated mindset -- especially at a time when security
services are highly interested in investigating civil society networks? Why
again is the use of the Internet - a technology built upon and supportive of
civil society networking to the highest degree - not mentioned in this context?
Streamlining and depoliticizing accreditation and access
Proposal 19: How is the United Nations to
"realign accreditation with its original purpose, namely it should be an
agreement between civil society actors and Member States based on the
applicant's expertise, competence and skills" when no mention is made of "civil
society" in the Charter of the United Nations? In what context was the
"original purpose" defined? Whether or not this initiative proves to be
admirable in practice, does it not constitute a modification of the Charter by
subterfuge, as with the Global Compact? How are the useful features of this
proposal to be distinguished from the more dubious features - obscured by
failure to assess the interface between "civil society" and the "United
Nations" other than through the eyes of those who benefit most from the current
system and who are most inspired to advance their privileged access even
further - notably in those locations in which the United Nations holds the
highest proportion of its meetings (at lowest cost to those based there)? Again
no reference is made to the manner in which the challenges of this interface
could be reframed though more appropriate use of the Internet to allow more
effective involvement of many bodies and notably those in countries distant
from the meeting location?
Proposal 20: How are such proposals to
reconcile the provisions of Article 71, the existing pattern of accreditation,
the broader pattern sought, the claims that any civil society body is
meaningful to the United Nations, with the restrictive provisions of the
accreditation process? Given the challenges in ensuring any form of
"system-wide effort" amongst the Special Agencies within the "United Nations
system", why is this proposal expected to be taken seriously by those expected
to implement it rather than as a cosmetic exercise to dupe a wider audience for
public relations purposes?
Proposal 21 and 22: To what extent is the effort to
"foster enhanced coordination and support for the accreditation process"
designed to create a two-level civil society, replicating the separative thinking
of the apartheid mindset? Will the "consultative review"
simply institutionalise such separation in a dangerous way? Is there the possibility
that many civil society bodies may prefer not to by into such an apartheid
process whereby some are defined as "relevant" to the United Nations
and its issues - and others are not? Again, why is there no mention made
of the use of the Internet to facilitate any such accreditation processes
to allow a richer multi-level formula, possibly stressing the multi-facetted
nature of civil society bodies rather than institutionalizing an organizational
caste system - with its pool of "untouchables"?
Proposal 23: Why is there no concern on the
part of the United Nations regarding the civil society bodies that do not get
selected by accreditation procedures? Should the United Nations clarify its
sense of an "accredited civil society" as distinct from a "non-accredited civil
society" or perhaps even a "discredited civil society"? Given the increasing
level of distrust of authoritarian structures recognized by the Report (para
7), and the publicized scandals with those most involved, should the United
Nations not reflect upon the challenge it faces in renewing its accreditation
to "We the Peoples"? Is there no concern that civil society bodies conscripted
to provide "quality assurance" may be precisely the bodies with some overt, or
covert, motivation to exclude those reflecting alternative perspectives? Does
the United Nations have no concerns that it may be reinforcing such
oversimplification of the range of civil society interests it is prepared to
consider as relevant? Should these matters not be explored at length to avoid
creating a non-transparent process that will further alienate many civil
What the proposals mean for staff, resources and management
Proposals 24 to 27: Given the extreme
difficulties over past decades experienced by the United Nations in managing
the interface with the limited number of bodies associated with it through the
consultative status or DPI processes, why is it imagined that an administrative
reshuffle will improve matters? And again, why is no mention made of the ways
in which the Internet could reframe this challenge, at far lower costs, and
ensure a far greater level of interaction worldwide with many bodies concerned
with issues recognized by the United Nations?
Proposal 28: Has this effort not featured in
United Nations intentions over many years?
Providing global leadership
Proposals 29: Has this effort not featured in
United Nations intentions over many years? The question is why has so little
been achieved and why is greater success now expected - especially at a time
when repressive legislation will increasingly marginalize many civil society
Proposal 30: Why is no mention made of the initiatives with respect
to civil society of regional intergovernmental organizations, notably Europe
- reinforcing a pattern of denial dating back through the Cold War years?
Is there not a case for avoiding duplication with the initiatives of such bodies
and seeking a more fruitful interface with them than one based on denial?
Constitution and operation of the Panel
Question 1: Whose agenda was the report designed to advance?
In a period of considerable scepticism regarding the transparency and integrity
of international institutions, what information is provided regarding the
forces that brought the Panel into being? Is it a cover for some unstated
agenda? Is it a manipulative reframing of civil society and the bodies relating
to the UN under Article 71. How can the Panel prove the impartiality of its
conclusions - or in a time of well-documented, high-order duplicity in
the UN Security Council - should its integrity be taken on trust? What
is the real story behind the Panel initiative?
How transparent was the
process of appointing the Panel? Panelists are stated as having been
appointed as "independent experts, representing only themselves. The selection
ensured balance across geographic regions and genders, and the panel
collectively has experience in politics, government, the United Nations, civil
society, academe and business" (Preface).What stated, and unstated,
influences were brought to bear on its composition? Where is the information
indicating how that selection was made? In the light of long-standing UN
concerns about NGO representativity, was the Panel and its inputs adequately
- By political tendency?
- By nationality?
- By race?
- By age group?
- By gender?
- By class (and income level)?
- By language?
- By belief system?
- By discipline (sociology, psychology, political science, anthropology,
- By mode of action?
technology (intermediate, information systems, emergent)
Question 3: What dimensions are inadequately represented by
the Panel? Were they deliberately excluded?
Question 4: To what extent was the Panel an exercise in cronyism
and how can the contrary be proven to a civil society that has every reason
to be suspicious? What did the funders and sponsors get out of it - and
how representative were they of the concerns of civil society worldwide?
Question 5: In a spirit of transparency, how did unnamed persons,
including support staff and researchers, influence the conclusions -
especially given the practice at the United Nations of providing such staff
to harmonize the language into a United Nations style report? Who commented
on the draft? To what extent did panelists rubber stamp a report written by
Question 6: What were the inputs to the Panel? Where are they?
How was the commissioning of inputs handled? Who did the commissioning and
how was the scope framed? Are they confidential? Why does the document not
point to websites from which they may be obtained? Were all submissions acknowledged?
Question 7: How were insights articulated at
consultation meetings captured? What happened to those that were designed out
of the process? Does the process of invitation, and the treatment of insights
expressed, reflect the dysfunctionalities of the outmoded system or recognition
of the challenges of the new mode of organizing such relationships? Is it a
case of consultative "business as usual"?
Question 8: Who was invited to consultation meetings? By whom?
How were they identified?How did the Panel determine whom it was appropriate
to consult?Did it only consult those who promoted their own agendas? Who did
they decide not to consult? Is this a fundamental metaphor of the United Nations
challenge in relating to civil society?
Question 9: What issues raised got excluded and why? What was
ignored and under pressure from whom and by what criteria?
Question 10: Was the Panel process monitored and subject
to critical evaluation? By whom?
Question 11: Was it based on a token consultation procedure?
To what extent is the Panel's processes subject to the criticism that
it was simply going through the motions? Does the Report distinguish adequately
between genuine consultation and going through the motions?
Question 12: How have the advisors cited,
framed and constrained the scope of the report and its conclusions?
Adequacy to challenges of 21st Century
Question 13: Is the Report adequately oriented to future challenges?
To what extent might it be understood as a addressing the issues of the 20th
century for the 21st century? (see Updating the Nations to Confront
21st Century Threats: the Challenge to the High-Level Panel
(Conference sponsored by the Stanley Foundation, June 2004). To what extent
are the Report's conclusion too timid? As the Report itself notes with
respect to the United Nations: "Is it seizing opportunities or is it
a captive of the past?" (para 21)? Does the Report "err on the side
of boldness" as suggested by the first recommendation of the Stanley
Question 14: Does it reflect and reinforce an outdated simplistic
vision of civil society?
Question 15: To what extent does the Report take account of
the acknowledged global "failure of intelligence" and "failure
of imagination" that has characterized intelligence communities at the
service of Member States in since 2001? Does it recognize the groupthink tendency,
acknowledged in the case of Iraq, to which it may have been subject in reflecting
on issues touching on the civil society implications of dissidence and democratic
Question 16: Is the Report excessively characterised by "political
correctness" and naive positivism - to the point of being unable
to acknowledge what has not worked and may well be unlikely to work? And why
it is considered counter-productive to acknowledge this? Is the Report characterized
by tired concepts and received ideas - even in contrast to the language
of the Stanley Foundation conference report? Is there a serious danger of
buying into a process of "more of the same" and "business as
Question 17: Is the report an inspiration for
future UN-Civil Society relations? For whom? Given the United Nations
increasingly cultivated interface with the agendas of the World Economic Forum
(Davos), notably through the Secretary-General and the Global Compact, does the
Report effectively engage with the concerns of civil society articulated
through the World Social Forum?
Question 18: To what extent does the Report
matter? To what extent does it reflect a failure to engage with processes that
have already superseded its framework and proposals? Can it be simply ignored?
Conceptual and legal issues
Question 19: Given the much to be appreciated call for a new
paradigm, are the conclusions nevertheless trapped in impoverished metaphors?
Is the Panel exercise its own metaphor? Where are the new metaphors to carry
the collective imagination and ensure comprehension of new opportunities and
Question 20 : Given recognition that "the
medium is the message", to what extent does the standard form of a United
Nations report preclude the emergence and recognition of new thinking? To what
extent are the well-defined norms of the very language of United Nations report
writing counter-productive to the articulation and emergence of new thinking?
Question 21: Given the recognition of the
challenge of one- and two-dimensional linear thinking, as in the adage "if all we have is a hammer, every
problem looks like a nail", how would new thinking emerge in a dynamic and
highly diverse networked society "if all we have is a panel"?
Question 22: Does the report effectively address the status of
dissidence and its expression in a highly diverse address civil society? Given
the UN's traditional support for "liberation movements", why
does it fail to address the highly challenging conceptual question of the
relation between "freedom fighters" and "terrorists" -
in a context in which UN Member States carefully select and define those of
which they wish to approve or condemn, whilst carefully avoiding the application
of international law to their own initiatives?
Question 23: Is their any detectable influence
of cultural and epistemological frameworks other than those acceptable to the
dominant western minority? As such, does it represent a change of perspective?
Does it present a "new song" - or a renewed effort to get "we the peoples" to
sing from the same hymn sheet, as designed by the UN?
Question 24: What consideration was given to the legal status
of international civil society bodies, especially subsequent to 9/11? Given
the existence and limitations of Article 71, and the failure of efforts to
accord any legal status or protection to international NGOs, why is no mention
made of this challenge (which has been taken up at the regional level in Europe)?
Why does the Report fail to address the legal status of NGOs, notably in relation
to the emergence of mercenary "nongovernmental contractors" who
could well be defined as "nongovernmental operatives" (NGOs)?
Question 25: Was the Panel trapped into a form of groupthink?
How could it prove the countrary?
Question 26: How is the challenge of
definitional game-playing addressed? Was there any critical recognition of the
extent to which concepts of organizations defined by Article 71 were being
manipulated with minimal discussion?
Question 27: How is the inter-sectoral challenge of
integrating perspectives envisaged? Given the increasing strategic concerns of
management in an era of complexity, to what extent is the challenge of arrays
of evolving issues (promoted by a variety of actors) addressed? How is
conceptual integration and coherence to be achieved under such circumstances
without dangerous oversimplification and reductionism?
Question 28: To what extent are the strategic dilemmas
addressed - as exemplified by the dynamic between opposing factions of civil
Issues of method
Question 29: How did the Panel identify, recognize and explore
the insights and outcome of previous initiatives defining UN-Civil Society
relationships? Or was it starting afresh, free from the constraints of history?
Question 30: What learnings from 50 years of consultative status
were presented? Where?How was the dynamic amongst civil society bodies in
relationship with the UN assessed?
Question 31: What questions were asked? What
questions were avoided? Did the Panel have a set of specific questions to ask
or was it primarily responsive to represernations?
Question 32: Was there any comparative analysis made of the dynamics
in relation to UN (NY, Geneva, or Vienna), other regional UN secretariats,
and Specialized Agencies? Were there submissions from such?
Question 33: To what extent did the Panel benefit from insights
in relation to other patterns of IGO-Civil Society relations: Council of Europe,
European Community, OAS, etc? Were inputs sought - especially given the
importance of some of these groupings to new involvement of civil society
(eg the European Constitution)? If not why not? How is the relation of the
UN to civil society to be integrated into the relation with other IGOs addressing
the same issues and having extensively overlapping memberships.
Question 34: Does it recognize the challenge of ethical issues
in UN-designed processes and a degree of complicity in corruption (eg the
Question 35: How does the Panel address the preponderant influence
of business interests through civil society "front organizations"
- notably as demonstrated at the World Summit on Sustainable Development
Question 36: Were the implications of
increasing electronic surveillance considered, notably in the light of the
bugging of delegations and the Secretary-General's own office? To what extent
will the proposals to rationalize relations to civil society facilitate any
security monitoring of their activity? How would use of Internet facilities be
jeopardized by surveillance of such communications?
Question 37: How does the report address accountability
in civil society in relation to the accountability of governments in the light
of the false information advanced in the United Security Council justifying the
invasion of Iraq?
Issues of democratic process and governance
Question 38: Are emerging challenges to democratic processes
recognized? How are democratic institutions to handle the thousands of civil
society bodies seeking to interact with them in some way? How is provision
to be made for substantive interaction with either a single official or with
an intergovernmental session? Does the formula of "briefing sessions"
completely undermine any sense of "participative democracy"?
Question 39: Given that the number, variety
and interconnectedness of issues that fall within the mandate of
intergovernmental bodies continues to increase dramatically, why is the latest
technology not considered to ensure that these can be handled by disparate
intergovernmental sub-groups in relation to to concerned civl society bodies,
especially when all concerned are overburdened and face scheduling conflicts?
Question 40: Are the challenges of insight processing in democratic
assemblies and complex networks addressed? Is there an expectation that the
most effective method of processing is to filter and limit the "small
front door" only occasionally opened with limited reception facilities
Question 41: To what extent will governments
be increasingly obliged to consider communications from civil society as a form
of "democratic spam" (or even "democratic viruses") to be filtered out as
efficiently as possible, without or without appropriate messages of courtesy?
Question 42: Given
the range and number of civil society groups, how is effective participation to
be ensured? How is the challenge of physical assembly of membership to
be handled in a financially constrained environment? Given the role of the UN in imposing geographical representativity on
financially constrained organizations, why is greater attention not devoted to
facilitating participation through the Internet, even using local United
Nations offices for that purpose?
Issues of information technology: web and internet
Question 43: How is the role, and potential, of information
technology for civil society and for UN-Civil Society relations acknowledged?
Why does the Report focus on face-to-face meetings (paras 46-7) and convening
"hearings" (para 61-63) and ignore the potential of computer-mediated
interaction with which so many in civil society are familiar? How can such
technology make the follow-up to hearings more transparent rather than, as
at present, reinforcing the sense that they merely serve as an innocuous safety
valve for some? Is there no suspicion that the United Nations uses its emphasis
on face-to-face communication to disguise its lack of ability to make effective
use of the modern communications technology increasingly used by young people
worldwide and available in internet cafes around the world?
Questions 44: Was the use of information technology considered
in order to capture ideas, insights and "inputs" considered relevant
by some, if not the majority (para 65) - without disrupting formal procedures?
Why is the focus on majority opinion when some vital issues may only be comprehensible
Question 45: Why was no attention given to the
possibility of computer (or other) simulations of its proposed innovations to
communicate the intentions more effectively and to explore their strengths and
weaknesses as a key to further innovation?
Question 46: While the emphasis on "networked
governance" is admirable (para 53), especially in relation to new
understandings of democratic participation, how is information technology to be
used to enable such processes to work effectively? Does it offer opportunities
for more effective processes that are impossible within non-computer-mediated
Question 47: Given the need recognized by the
Report for careful "selection", filtering and planning of participation by
civil society representatives and observers (para 67), why is this exceptionally
problematic selection process (subject to many unsatisfactory compromises and
vulnerable to many abuses) not reframed in the light of electronic inputs?
Question 48: Given the difficulties noted by
the Report to identify "specialized constituencies" (para 86), why is no
consideration given to the manner in which such constituencies can make
themselves evident though suitable information systems?
Question 49: Given the Report's recognition of
the United Nations "misaligned information strategies" (para 88) at the
national level, why do its recommendations fail to address this directly? Why
is there confusion between interactive use of electronic information technology
and the traditional United Nations public information programmes (para 93)?
Question 50: In seeking to advance the
relationship with national parliaments, why is the potential of internet access
between the United Nations and such parliaments and parliamentarians - not
effectively and ambitiously addressed (para 115)?
Question 51: Given that some United Nations
conference rooms have been "wired" for decades to enable official and others to
listen in, why is the challenge of extending this facility not considered? Why
is the associated vulnerability of enhanced communication to electronic
surveillance not addressed?
Question 52: Given the politicization of
accreditation for physical "access", the associated workload (paras 121-7), and
the cost of $26,000 per accreditation and $1 million per rejection (para
129), why is no consideration given to avoiding such costs through
well-developed Internet procedures and the emerging authentication technology
(para 130)? Why was no thought given to the variety of levels of accreditation
possible, possibly varying issue by issue in relation to the relevant expertise
of the civil society body? Why was no thought given to using Internet
technology to integrate accreditation with evaluation by other civil society
bodies (as is done in a number of commercial applications)? Would such
procedures not offer a suitably "arms-length" means of interrelating
accreditation issues of other bodies within the UN system possibly dealing with
the same applicant?
Question 53: How serious can a report on
United Nations - Civil Society relations be taken seriously when "access" is
only framed in terms of crowded seating capacity and debating slots (para 140)
- in an era of a rich pattern of world wide web facilities in response to the
many challenges of "access" to information and interactivity?
Related papers by the author:
Anthony Judge. Evaluation
of the Cooperation between UNESCO and Non-Governmental Organizations 1995
(Draft report of Evaluation Team Coordinator for UNESCO)
Union of International Associations. Yearbook of International Organizations:
Guide to global civil society networks. 41st ed. 2004-2005, 5 vols [info]
Union of International Associations. Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human
Potential. 4th ed, 1994-1995, 4 vols [info]