How can multilateralism lead the path towards equity?

Civil society debated with Ambassador Courtenay Rattray, Chef de Cabinet of the UN Secretary-General, the need for reform of the multilateral institutions, food security and food sovereignty, the role of the financial system, the pandemic, trade and the development-human rights nexus. All the simultaneous crises lead to the need of reforming global governance

By Roberto Bissio*

“When you listen to the UN Secretary -General talk about the world in which we live today, it's a scary message,” Ambassador Rattray told participants at the Civil Society Forum.* He quoted his boss as worried about the COVID-19 pandemic and the supply side shocks that resulted, the inflation that resulted, the fact that we are in a situation where a lot of countries have unsustainable debt, with 25 LDC countries that spend 20 percent of everything that they earn on debt servicing. Can you imagine that?”

Commenting on the topic of the round table, “equity in multilateralism”, he noted that “the topic sounds weird. Because multilateralism is under threat today. And the people that are feeling it the most, I believe, are these 46 LDCs and their inhabitants that are really suffering.”

He added that “there were 25 LDCs when this category of countries was created in 1971. And today there are 46, so we're not doing too well on that front. We're talking about around one billion people, 13 percent of the global population, but only 1.3 percent of global GDP and less than 1 percent of global trade. Those indicators are really, really damning in terms of the progress that we have made over the years.”

“Because of this crippling debt burden, we're living in the age of a policy crisis, just myriad global crises with spillovers in every country of the world. So the question that I'm going to ask the panellists is, in your context and experience, how can multilateralism lead the path towards equity that is so greatly needed to ensure the right to development for the LDCs. Do you see any promising examples or have specific areas that you think should be positively encouraged?”

Unite and stand up for your rights

Meena Raman:  “A lot of us have been following the Conference of Parties, have gone to the UN in New York, have been to the WTO in Geneva following those negotiations. We come from grassroots work with indigenous peoples, forest communities, farmers and so on, bringing their voices to the international arena and then going back to report what we delivered. Very little. Is multilateralism alive? We always hope and pray that multilateralism will prevail. Unfortunately, those of us who have been engaging, we see that we are really at a huge, huge crisis.”

“This morning I googled the Doha Programme of Action (DPoA) looking for the term ‘common but differentiated responsibility’ and I did not find it. I was horrified. Because in the Convention on Biological Diversity, coming from the Rio 1992 days and in the Paris Agreement, in the Framework Convention on Climate Change, the obligations of parties is premised on the ‘common but differentiated responsibility and respective capabilities’ and this is foundational because of the historical responsibility of the North. The ODA that we talk about, is not charity. It's about the history of colonization.”

Raman added: “a lot of the North, the developed world, even in the Paris Agreement, negotiated whether equity and CBDR should continue to exist. And then they introduced a comma, and then they have a ‘national circumstance’, and then to Glasgow for the climate talks, the comma disappeared, the ‘common’ disappeared and ‘differentiated’ disappeared. And now you have everywhere ‘shared responsibility’. Since when did those of us who were not the cause of the problem have to share the responsibility? There is a very deliberate attempt by the North to slash, to decimate their historical responsibility for a lot of the crisis we are in, and there is this attempt to also renegotiate everything that we have agreed to from all the different treaties. The Paris Agreement is a treaty, the Framework Convention on Climate Change is a treaty. There was the whole fight in Montreal over the Convention on Biological Diversity over whether CBD also has to recognize common but differentiated responsibility.”

“Where is equity in the multilateral process? The developing world succeeded at the COP in Sharm Al Sheikh to create a loss and damage fund. It is empty at the moment, but we got it. And thanks to the UN Secretary-General, who really said very strongly that the climate crisis is the highway to hell and those who are the least responsible, like the LDCs, are facing the most impact because of their vulnerability. And the only reason we managed to get a loss and damage fund was the unity of the G77 and China and the pressure from civil society. In the USA in particular, they went to Congress, worked with the Progressive caucus, worked with the administration there in terms of shaming them. And now we have got the loss and damage fund, but we don't have money in the fund. We have the Green Climate Fund that the developing countries managed to get approved in 2010 in Cancún, and there, the USA again has not kept up with its pledge. So we have to fight the world superpower, and that only can happen if we are united as a society. Not just our governments standing up, but also as society of the North and the South, and that's the only way we will hold them to account.”

Raman concluded, “We have to keep multilateralism alive. We cannot depend on the IMF and the World Bank or the WTO, which are designed to keep us where we are. We cannot have incremental change in them. Mia Motley, Prime Minister of Barbados, made an eloquent statement about the need for special drawing rights. But you cannot rechannel SDRs through the IMF, because the IMF was the one that got us where we were in the first place.  We have to go back to the UN, where every voice counts, and we need to reinvigorate the UN. We look at the UN as the place where we hold the governments to account. And the only way we can have any hope in hell is to be together and united and as Bob Marley sang, stand up for our rights.”

The financial construct is archaic and anachronistic

Rattray reacted immediately, saying, “And don't give up the fight!  Finance is indeed a central issue. If you look at the global stock of assets under management. It's north of US$ 112 trillion, so it's not a dearth of finance. It's how do you get access to finance? How do LDCs access capital markets at these exorbitant interest rates? It's very difficult to service your debt if you have sub investment grade ratings and so access the market at double digits, and then you're paying sometimes 50 percent of everything that you're earning. And on the SDRs, there is an emission equivalent to US$ 650 billion. Because it's all based on the IMF quota system, the rich countries have the highest quotas, so they got most of the US$ 650 billion. The rich countries get the SDRs, which they don't really need. So they should reallocate it to the developing countries. Well, how did that turn out? No reallocation. They just pocketed that US $650 billion in SDRs.”

He agreed that the North does not live up to its obligations well. “LDCs were supposed to get from developed countries 0.15 to 0.2 percent of GNI. That never happened. And in the 2009 Copenhagen COP, we were all supposed to get US$100 billion a year. Thatdidn't happen either. So, we have to restructure the whole system, and the Secretary-General has been calling for a reform of the international financial architecture, which was not created in the interests of developing countries and at a time when many developing countries didn't even exist. So we are trying to fix our current problem on the basis of a construct that is archaic and anachronistic.”

Northern governments pushed the interests of their big pharma

Gita Sen introduced herself saying, “I also work with a network called Feminists for a People's Vaccine, active in the fight for vaccine and medicines equity in the global system. There are those today who would like us to believe that the pandemic is over, and I don't believe it is. And I'm actually a public health expert. And that it really didn't affect African countries very much. Neither of those things is true. In particular, while having a relatively young population may have provided some protection from high mortality rates in Africa, the effects of the pandemic have included extreme and inequitable economic hardships. Severe pressure on already creaking health systems, and huge burdens on poor people, on migrants, on women, as the first line givers of care, girls lost to educational opportunities, people with disabilities and more.”

“There are three critical course corrections that we can actually fight towards, and it's extremely important that the LDCs and the African countries work together. The first, which the Secretary-General has called for, is well known. As the pandemic was recognized as a major global crisis, South Africa and India proposed a waiver on intellectual property rights in the WTO. Over 60 other countries joined as sponsors and cosponsors, calling for a temporary waiver, of only three years, on the intellectual property rights of pharmaceuticals, which would mainly affect big pharma, as a requisite for equitable access to pandemic medicines. Not just vaccines, but drugs, therapeutics, equipment and testing kits. Current WTO rules on intellectual property rights make it impossible to get equitable access to them.

“Northern governments pushed the interests of Big Pharma. Despite extreme vaccine inequality, they built up huge stockpiles of unused  vaccines, shamefully dumping in the garbage unused vaccines as they ran out of their use-by dates. Unfortunately, the WTO Ministerial Conference, MC 12, in June 2022, did not approve the waiver. But it did make an important change in relation to compulsory licensing. WTO rules actually allow for compulsory licensing of medicines under certain conditions, like national emergencies, situations of extreme urgency, or only for non-commercial public use. A government can use compulsory licensing to produce domestically under those conditions, but it can also use compulsory licensing on a wider range of grounds, including public interest, health security or food security. Of course, there's enormous pressure from the North, from Big Pharma, to prevent countries from doing this. And suddenly we found that in the Ministerial Conference negotiations, in order to avoid pressure for the waiver, the countries which had been saying ‘no, no, even if it's in the IP rules, you can't use compulsory licensing’, suddenly were saying ‘compulsory licensing is there’. The important change is that countries now can export what was produced under compulsory licensing. Lower-middle income countries (LMICs) and LDCs must make full use of this change, given that there are many countries in the global South that have the production and export capacity

Public health emergencies of international concern

Second; the Northern countries refused to talk about anything except vaccines in the Ministerial Conference last June. What about drugs for treatment? What about equipment? The can was kicked down the road. ‘Within six months, we'll talk about those things’, they said. Of course, those six months had come and gone. What is happening right now is that Member States of WHO, the World Health Organization, are negotiating amendments to the international health regulations to address the challenges posed by what are called ‘public health emergencies of international concern’, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. The proposed amendments to the International Health Regulation include key elements dealing with equity in production and access, which are now being reviewed by a committee with a mandate to provide technical advice to the WHO Director-General. So this is now under the WHO, not under the WTO and the WHO is much more equity friendly, however complicated its funding and other challenges.

LDCs and LMICs must ensure that in these negotiations, equity remains front and centre, and that the Technical Review Committee's report remains technical. Because there is a tendency for that committee to stray from what is technically feasible and start talking about what is appropriate, etc., which is not their mandate. That's a political mandate that belongs to Member States, and Member States must assert their right to make those decisions.

Third, a so-called pandemic instrument was introduced some months earlier by some North Member States, before the discussions on the waiver. Some of us had argued at that time that this is a red herring. Why, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, would Member States spend their time discussing a treaty about future pandemic? Which had nothing to say about the pandemic within which we were drowning at that time. However, it is now being negotiated seriously, and while this is perceived as a potential instrument, dedicated to the prevention response, preparedness and recovery of health systems, and it's supposed to include equitable access, there is concern that its scope will be much narrower than what is being discussed by the WHO under the amendment to the International health regulations that I just talked about. And one fear is that somewhere there will be a fight between what is going on under the pandemic treaty and what is going on under the International Health regulations, and we'll be left holding an empty sack which has nothing serious in it.

It's also a challenge because there's a risk of huge transfers of data and information from the global South to the North in the name of better health surveillance. You give us your data because this is all a pandemic, so of course you LDCs cannot analyse that data. We'll do it for you. And they're doing this data grab under something called One Health. Sounds wonderful, but as we know, there are lots of weasel words in the system.”

LDCs are at the heart of these challenges, not only at the receiving end, but I've tried to point the ways in which we can fight back and challenge this system. Civil society is ready to stand shoulder to shoulder, with governments, to address them.”

The Security Council is not fit for purpose

Rattray replied that “we see a lot of what you're talking about, playing out in the United Nations, principally in the General Assembly, where all 193 countries have a voice. Not so much in the Security Council, which to use some of the words that we have heard from the panellists, is rigged in its construct, with 15 members of which five are permanent and have a veto over any resolution that they don't like. That construct is just not fit for purpose. In the General Assembly, we see a sort of growing mistrust and even resentment between the North and the South, with the countries of the South really demonstrating a deep-seated resentment to the countries of the North. Many of the Northern countries, would come to the Secretary-General and say, why are we not getting the level of support that we anticipated from the global South?

They are talking about not getting the support that they want for resolutions that are condemning the invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation, something that is such a clear violation of the principles of the UN Charter, the principles of sovereignty and of territorial integrity. Some of these countries in the global South are either abstaining on these resolutions that condemn Russia, or just plain out voting against them.  And of course, the war in Ukraine is  sucking all the oxygen out of the air and some developing countries are saying, listen, we have been in conflict situations for years. They look at the resources that are going into Ukraine, and ask what about us? Now developed countries are scratching their heads saying ‘Why did this country abstain? Why did this country vote against us?’ The seeds of what we're talking about were sowed in this pandemic. You reap what you sow. It's a very tense dynamic right now amongst Member States. This system of inequity, even with respect to something where people's lives are at stake. A global pandemic is affecting us all and drug companies, Big Pharma, are allowed to act in the way they acted.

It started with slavery and colonialism

Million Belay quoted Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song”: “Emancipate yourself from mental slavery”, and added, “this very song goes with the reason for the decline of agriculture in Africa now. Because the decline in African agriculture, in African development, started from slavery. From the first arrival of European ships on the shores of Africa. And it continued during colonialism and post independence, and the result is, as someone quoted earlier, that “Africa produces what it does not consume and consumes what it does not produce.”

We haven’t mentioned a growing number of philanthropy capitalists. In 2003, at Maputo in Mozambique, African governments came together, and came up with a comprehensive African agricultural development programme, CADAP. In about 2006, Bill Gates and the Rockefeller Foundation came and said ‘We want to support CADAP’. And they created an organization called the Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa, AGRA. Bill Gates claims to have allocated more than US$ 6 billion for Africa. But if you assess how much of that money came to Africa, it is less than 20 percent. Over 80 percent stayed in North America and Europe. But what is the influence of Bill Gates and AGRA in the African agricultural context? They have failed in what they say they would address, like improving the income of people or decreasing malnutrition or increasing food production. Where they have succeeded is in changing our laws. The agricultural strategies of some African countries were produced by AGRA. The fertilizer laws in some countries, laws related to seed, biosafety laws or regulations. They have money to change those critical elements in our food system, and they have become a door for controlling our food system.

Debt and agriculture

“After CADAP they've come up with another mechanism which they called the Malabo Declaration, and they have identified seven areas of work and in all of them they have failed. I have participated in the biennial review. They put the map of Africa and the countries in Africa where these seven programmes have succeeded and where they have failed. Probably there are one or two countries where they have succeeded. The rest have failed. Countries have not managed to allocate 10 percent or more of their GDP for agriculture. And this is because of the debt issue. How can a country which pays 20 or 30 percent of its annual income to debt servicing allocate 10 percent of GDP to agriculture?  It's impossible for most African countries to invest in agriculture. Recently, the African Development Bank called a meeting in Senegal, in which over 30 prime ministers or presidents participated. The Bank said it has raised US$50 billion now and 40 countries have signed a compact. Basically, that agreement is based on industrial agriculture. Why are these 40 countries running to the ADB to sign these contracts? The debt issue again explains it to some extent. They don't have money. There's US$50 billion dangled by ADB, and which country will refuse to sign this compact? It's impossible.”

Right to food at the centre

“I am the general coordinator of the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa, the biggest social movement in Africa, working in 50 or 55 countries, our constituency is close to 200 million Africans. They are farmer organizations, fisherfolk networks, pastorals networks, indigenous peoples networks, faith-based institutions networks, consumer networks and also the bigger civil society women networks and youth networks are members of AFSA. One of our key proposals is agroecology, based on research that we have done ourselves.”

Belay concluded that “agroecology is the way, because at the centre of agroecology is the right to food agenda. Everybody has to eat. And agroecology is based on diversity. Diversity of crops and healing the soil or the land, regenerating the land. It's based on addressing the nutrition of people. It's produced without impacting the environment. So for that reason, it's the best way forward for adaptation to the crisis that we are facing due to climate change.”

“Our only recourse was the UN”

Kumi Samuel stated: “I work with DAWN, and I also work with human rights and women's rights institutions since the late 1970s, when Sri Lanka was in conflict. We've come out of a 30-year war. And most of us concentrated on civil and political rights because of disappearances, torture, a whole range of actions by the state. And our only recourse for much of those 30 years that we were under authoritarian States and militarization, was the UN. We went again and again to the Treaty bodies, to the special procedures, and we had almost every special rapporteur of the UN come to the country to try and hold the state accountable, to make recommendations, to name and shame at times.”

She recognized as “one of the major shortcomings of our approach” to not look at the indivisibility of rights, and to neglect socioeconomic and cultural rights concerns. “This crisis has propelled us in civil society to begin a process of looking at other multilateral institutions, like the Bretton Woods institutions. Can we hold the Bretton Woods institutions to account? This is a very important piece of work, and maybe not something that Sri Lanka can do by itself. We need to work across sectors, but we absolutely need to work across other countries, particularly with regard to debt and debt cancellation. The IMF promised us a bailout package of US$2.1 billion, which is just peanuts, but with many conditionalities and austerity measures. Even before we've signed that agreement, a lot of subsidies are being removed, taxes are going up, but wealth is not taxed.”

“There's hardly any space for civil society in the negotiations with the IMF, which are very confidential. But the roots of the economic crisis were the corruption of successive regimes post independence and then the economic liberalization starting in 1977. We became the poster of the international community, so we had virtually unlimited access to debt. And then when we were moved into middle income status, we didn't change fiscal policy, but started borrowing from private sources. This debt is now much bigger than the debt we have with other States, and the debt service ratio now is almost double the export earnings. Foreign reserves dropped and basic goods, services and medicines cannot be imported any more. This serious economic crisis propelled the middle class and a lot of youth onto the streets for the first time. The new government has constitutional legitimacy but lacks moral legitimacy. The uprising is being crushed and negotiations with the IMF are going on while we need to have elections.”

“The IMF doesn’t respond to human rights concerns”

“The opposition is completely focused on elections, which were just postponed, and civil society groups are actually focusing on the economic crisis and the negotiations with the IMF and wondering how best we can influence that process. We are saying that this is not the moment to pull out subsidies, social provisioning has to be maintained and that the IMF negotiations must have a human rights framework. We had one meeting with the IMF. It doesn’t respond to human rights concerns, but one of the things that they did respond to is the issue of corruption, including Parliament and so-called independent institutes. Many of these, the Human Rights Commission, the police commission, the elections commission, are no longer independent, they have been politicized by the political elites. In this context, some people absolutely don't want to engage with the IMF,  saying ‘we need to engage, but we want to hold the state accountable for what it is doing, so we are using the treaty bodies and the special procedures, because for us this seems to be the only way in which we can leverage some rights protections. But these are in the long term, and the immediate necessity is food security. Many civil society groups who had not thought about food security before are now looking at innovative ways in which we can ensure food, thinking about community food production, food kitchens and so on in trying to deal with immediate needs while we try to negotiate with the multilaterals for longer term solutions. What's happening in Sri Lanka might be a useful experience for LDCs, as we've fallen back to virtually LDC status.”

“Trade agreements are not about trade”

Deborah James explained that Our World Is Not for Sale is a global network of civil society from the North and the South that works on trade and development and against the expansion of the WTO. She stated that “if you understand stealing resources, exploiting labour, and creating preferential relationships to the benefit of big powers, you understand trade policy very well.”

“Trade, of course, can be a source of fair exchange and development, but our current trade rules are not there. Most developed countries did not follow the trade policy prescriptions they are now demanding that you follow in institutions like the WTO. In the last three decades, it's developing countries that have been the most integrated with the global North, like for example Central America really integrated with the United States, you have had very little development, while developing countries that have done the best in terms of using trade for their own development have been more integrated with China, even given all the problems of that.

“Most trade agreements are really about giving transnational corporations in the Global North rights to operate in your countries and extract profit. And the rules are to prevent your state's ability to use trade for your own development, such as using industrial policy or food security policy. They also include maximal protections for patent holders. But patents increase monopoly, increase prices, and reduce competition, which is the opposite of what free trade is supposed to do. But if you try to use the same idea of protection for your domestic industry, it's as if the sky was going to fall. If you actually demand that your country receive a benefit from the presence of a transnational corporation trading in your country, it's like a cardinal sin.”

“They only have to win once”

“The other problem with trade agreements, of course, is that they are binding treaties. So you can get rid of your government, but once your government signs a trade agreement, it is very difficult to get out of it. So when you hear that multilateralism is in crisis in the WTO, the true crisis is that the current system of WTO and all interrelated bilateral and regional trade and investment agreements have not served the majority of workers, of farmers, it has not served the environment, while it has served the profit interest of global capital, big agriculture, big finance, big industry and big pharma. When you hear that multilateralism is in crisis because the WTO hasn't had new rules, it's those big industries complaining that they have not expanded the WTO's coverage. They haven't been able to extract even more profit, because developing countries knew at the foundation of the WTO that this was actually kind of a bad deal.”

But “it was the USA and Europe who made the rules, and kept much of their economies out of the WTO and since then big industries have been trying to get you more and more integrated into the global economy, which they now do mostly through bilateral agreements. Of the 46 LDCs, 35 are WTO members. There are eight more LDCs that are negotiating to join the WTO.”

“These accession agreements are very devastating. TWN, for example, and other organizations work to help LDCs in their process of accession. There are also nine LDCs that are not members of WTO. There is an LDC group within the WTO and LDCs are also members of the Africa Group and of the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific Groups. These are powerful groups. Unfortunately, sometimes they come under the influence of consultants who are paid by northern aid agencies. So since the inception of WTO, developing countries knew it was bad, and they said, we need flexibility from these bad rules, or  “special and differential treatment”. Developing countries have made proposal after proposal for more flexibility, but developed countries have not agreed to any proposal from developing countries to satisfy their development aspirations.”

Moreover, she said that while the “Doha Round” is stagnant, “developed countries are putting a WTO reform agenda on the table. They want each country to negotiate on its own if they want  flexibility. We all know we can negotiate collectively, but individually we beg. There is also a  specific proposal by LDCs to extend flexibility for 12 years beyond graduation. And that has met fierce resistance in the WTO. LDCs put that proposal on the table for the DPoA, and it was rejected too. There is a big proposal on food security to allow developing countries to finance their own food security, to use state resources to buy food from poor farmers and distribute it to poor people. This has been opposed in the WTO, so if you didn't have a programme like this in 2013, you're not allowed to do that domestic food security programme now.”

Big Tech is after your data

“Big Tech did not have an agreement 25 years ago when the WTO was founded. Now they are the most powerful industries in the world, and they want to get their hands on all the profit that can be made from your data and from digitalization. They want to handcuff your governments to not be able to use digitalization for domestic digital industrialization. There is a ministerial in February 2024, and they are going to try to get a moratorium to ban you from even being able to tax digital trade. But if LDCs had access to this tax money, each of your countries could have bought two vaccines for each person during the pandemic. That is how much money developing LDCs are losing from not being able to tax Netflix and Apple Music, while your own MSMEs have to compete. Our network would welcome more participation from LDCs and developing countries. They will tell you that you'll get more concessions if you don't keep developing countries in the room. But what we have seen in 25 years of WTO is that they will not give you anything as developing countries or LDCs unless you have all of your allies united, and that is what we need to see.”

Poverty is political

Asad Rehman stated that War on Want-UK “works directly with the social movements, frontline communities resisting extractivism fighting for food rights and workers rights, building power in the global North to challenge those drivers of trade, tax, debt, the corporate agenda and of course, government policy. Our name comes from a saying in English, the only war worth fighting is the war against want. And it's striking to me that our first report over 70 years ago was a plan for world development, which called for an end to colonialism for universal public services, for living wages, for economic and social rights, for 4 percent  of GDP to be redirected from the global North to the global South and an end to military spending. We've always said poverty is political and what we need is justice, not charity. The prerequisite is the need to rebuild internationalism, rooted in solidarity and cooperation, and one of the most important places where that needs to happen is in the global North. “

A War on Want report found that “companies in the City of London own US $1 trillion worth of Africa's mineral wealth, more than the entire GDP of every sub-Saharan country. Every discussion, whether it's climate and carbon colonialism, forgetting historical responsibility, the idea of sacrificing the global South for the interests of the global North still determines public policy. It used to be said by the Americans that everything is up for negotiation, apart from the way of life of the Americans. But now we know that consumption in the global North is unsustainable. And so what's really important is to get movements in the global North to take on that agenda, a  transformative agenda that says that everybody has to do their fair share of meeting the climate imperative, making food and energy a fundamental right for everyone, equitably shared. It means tackling inequality, making living wages, not talking about extreme poverty, but saying if we need US$10-15 a day in the global South to be able to live with dignity,, we have to do that: universal public services and social protection. We have to also talk about  planetary limits on material use of the global sites and undo those unjust systems.”

“Development is a Human Right”

Diego Valladares added: “development is a human right and an essential contribution to the enjoyment of human rights and the UN mechanisms on human rights can play a key role in advancing many of the struggles. The 1986 declaration on the right to development declares that every human person and every people have the right to participate in, contribute to, and enjoy a fair distribution of the benefits of development. And development here is not only economic development, but cultural, political, social and economic development, and this means development that is based on active, free and meaningful participation. This is the 1986 declaration, and right now Member States are negotiating a treaty to unpack how this right can be operationalized. There's a call for written submissions of contributions until 12 May, when the Intergovernmental Working group on the right to development will meet, and then from 15 to 20 May to discuss this legally binding instrument on the right to development.

Based on Resolution 4711 of the Human Rights Council, seminars were held in Geneva, Nairobi, Beirut, San Jose and Bangkok on The Contribution of Development to the Enjoyment of Human Rights. Topics included ODA, migration, etc., and the key recommendations will be submitted to the Human Rights Council in September. The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights will soon open the call for submissions and comments to a general comment on SDGs and economic, social, and cultural rights. That's a very strategic moment to engage, because these general comments solidify an interpretation of this committee and how it engages with States.

The duty to cooperate

The draft of the Convention on the Right to Development mentions the duty to respect, protect and fulfil the right to development, like most other human rights, but also to cooperate. Even if some Member State does not ratify a future convention on the right to development, the duty to cooperate will be analysed from different perspectives.

“The human rights system allows addressing the duties of both our internal elites and the extraterritorial obligations of countries that are seen as donors ‘partners’ and of transnational corporations. These are very strategic means to engage strategically with the UN system in an arena that might provide some victories”, Valladares concluded.

In his brief closing remarks, Ambassador Rattray listed the points that were made: “international trade as a tool for development, debt sustainability and the impact of borrowing conditionalities on social and political stability. Also, the need for reform of the multilateral institutions, food security and food sovereignty, the role of the financial system as a means to implement development commitments, the pandemic as a model of inequity and prospects for using the multilateral trade agreements to secure benefits for developing countries, and we spoke about the development-human rights nexus.”

Round Table:  Equity in Multilateralism: Peace, Sustainable Development and Human Rights
Doha, 5 March 2023

Moderator: Courtenay Rattray (Chef de Cabinet to the UN Secretary-General)

Speakers: Meena Raman (Friends of the Earth, Malaysia), Gita Sen (DAWN, India), Million Belay (African Food Sovereignty Alliance, Ethiopia), Kumi Samuel (DAWN, Sri Lanka), Deborah James (OWINFS), Asad Rehman (War on Want/UK), Diego Valladares (OHCHR)

See more about the LDC5 Civil Society Forum (Doha, Qatar, from 4 to 9 March 2023) here.


* This summary is based on notes and recordings. It has been edited for clarity and conciseness; subtitles emphasis and clarifications were added. Karen Judd contributed to the final editing.

Meena Raman (Friends of the Earth, Malaysia), Ambassador Courtenay Rattray, Gita Sen (DAWN, India)