Not only COVID-19, but climate protests, struggles for more inclusive politics, human rights and waning public trust, have put a magnifying glass to the social and economic injustices plaguing societies, the UN Secretary-General said on Friday.
Speaking at the end of the annual high level week, Secretary-General António Guterres warned that such crises are an “enormous governance challenge” for all nations, and overcoming them requires approaches driven by unity, solidarity and compassion.
Meaningful participation is "a major asset to governments" – UN Human Rights Chief @mbachelet says strengthening inclusive and effective participation is "a concern of deep global urgency".— UN Human Rights (@UNHumanRights) September 25, 2020
Full speech: https://t.co/UAn22UdlCy #UNGA pic.twitter.com/wUBRRTOSIn
“For that, we need governance models and structures that work for the common good, with an intergenerational perspective. We need to prioritize the rebuilding of trust between people, institutions and leaders,” he highlighted.
Lead through equality
The UN chief called for leadership that is gender equal, noting recent studies that show women leaders have responded faster to COVID-19, adopted well-informed positions, led with empathy, and built inclusive coalitions that delivered better results.
“The key to reinvigorated and reimagined governance lies with truly meaningful participation of people and civil society in the decisions that affect their lives”, he added.
The high-level event, held on the side-lines of the UN General Assembly’s high-level annual debate, deliberated on the importance of participation as a human right and a vital tool for multilateralism, as well as how to address major global challenges, from the COVID-19 pandemic to the climate crisis and development.
Participation ‘an under-utilized tool’
In his remarks, delivered via a video link, the Secretary-General highlighted the importance of participation in public affairs as a fundamental human right and an underutilized tool for better policy making.
Meaningful participation of all segments of society in decision-making can address daunting challenges and it is a key element of the inclusive multilateralism needed for 21st century global governance, said Mr. Guterres.
However, participation is being denied and civic space is being crushed in many places around the world, he warned.
“A global pushback on human rights has placed participation in its crosshairs,” said Mr. Guterres, adding that repressive laws are impeding the work of journalists and human rights defenders – especially women – and governments, are employing broad definitions of terrorism and abusing new technologies to curtail freedoms of civil society groups.
Make participation and inclusion a reality
Mr. Guterres called on everyone to “take a hard look” on how such alarming trends be reversed, and participation and inclusion – online and offline – become reality.
He also reminded that the decisions today have implications in the future, and therefore, urged ways to allow future generations be represented in decision making, at both the national and international levels.
“Let us nurture and draw on the knowledge, creativity and diversity of our communities,” added the Secretary-General, stressing: “Participation is critical if we are to strengthen societies and meet the urgency of our times.”
Beware ‘tokenistic’ participation
Also speaking at the event, Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, underlined the need to ensure that participation is not merely formal or tokenistic, but in fact truly “meaningful and effective.”
It must, therefore, have an actual impact on decisions; and be timely and sustained: “Crucially, participation must be inclusive, extending participation most especially to marginalized and vulnerable groups,” stressed the top UN human rights official.
Ms. Bachelet outlined five key messages regarding participation. Firstly, it should be seen as an essential principle of governance; and it is key to achieving the core purposes of the UN – sustainable development, preventing conflict and promoting human rights.
Third, not only is participation itself a human right, it also supports and is dependent on other rights that are essential to effective governance, development and peace; and when people are prevented from taking part in shaping decisions that affect them, the consequences for governance can be severe.
And lastly, it should be considered an urgent priority.
The world is at a “governance cross-roads”, explained the High Commissioner, the pandemic has exposed and found fuel in the inequalities that result from weak governance of development, climate change, and peace and security.
No government “can afford to ignore these powerful demands for change,” she said.