Global Policy Forum

The WSF As The UN's Second Chamber?


By Kalinga Seneviratne

Inter Press Service
January 28, 2003

If you want to change the world, start with the United Nations. And to change the world body, maybe what is needed is a second chamber of elected representatives from each country.

These suggestions came out of a workshop of UN reforms yesterday at the WSF. Peter Hesse of CONGO (the Conference of NGOs in consultative status with the UN) said his organisation had drawn up a proposal that could go a long way toward UN reform. "The UN is not integrating the people themselves. What is happening at the UN is country representation. What is lacking at the UN is direct representation of the people of the world," he said.

Hesse outlined the CONGO proposal to the workshop, which was attended by a small group consisting mainly of youth delegates from South America. "Every country will have one representative, but, those with 10 million or more people will have extra representatives for each 10 million," he said.

The proposal had several critics, who noted that the issue of representation was bound to be problematic. Geraldo González Cortes, a Chilean who spent 27 years working at the UN, said problems such as indigenous peoples whose community was divided by national boundaries may find themselves without representation under this plan. Additionally, it would be difficult to attach religion to any one country and so many religious entities would similarly not be represented.

Cortes noted that the way the UN functioned needed to be changed in order for changes to be effected in the world. Very often good intentions get watered down at the UN, he noted, pointing the attempt by indigenous peoples to set up their own assembly at the world body. "The UN created a commission for indigenous people when they wanted an assembly," he pointed out.

Hesse admitted that the issue of adequate representation could pose a problem for the CONGO proposal, but, he continued, "the idea is to raise consciousness" around the issue of direct representation. Jennifer Opiyo from Kenya suggested that popular education across borders could be used to jump start the process to change the UN system. "We need to build strong networks with a focus," she said.

"We need to change the power of rich countries to control the UN. Missing is a system to get a process going, something of a road map of systematic change," said Jonah Wittkamper of the Global Youth Action Network. Perhaps the WSF may be developed into the second chamber of the UN? Hesse thinks it is a possibility. "If the idea of the Social Forum can develop around the world, it's one of the models that could forward such ideas. People here are engaged in changing something mostly the peaceful way," he noted. "What is particularly good about it is that it is so open."

The discussion also focused on how to fund the UN so that the opportunities for rich countries to manipulate the world body are reduced. Cortes explained the idea of the Tobin Tax and making the UN the beneficiary or the owner of the exploitable natural resources outside national borders such as in the sea bed or in the Antarctic.

Many of the participants, however, felt that these ideas for raising independent revenue for the United Nations would not work unless the body is first reformed so that poor countries are able to benefit from the system and the rich countries will not be able to block it. "The UN is too weak, so we can't use it to initiate change. We need to give the UN power first for it to be able to do it," said Opjiyo.

A Brazilian youth suggested that Porto Alegre may have a solution to that dilemma and he explained how the local councils call up the community to gather at the local council hall todecide how to use the annual budget for the area. Still, he conceded that sometimes the more vocal and macho members of the community got their way.

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