Proposals for improving citizen participation and representation at the United Nations took center stage at an event in New York that was part of this year’s Global People’s Assembly, a gathering organized by numerous civil society organizations.
Nudhara Yusuf, executive coordinator of the Global Governance Innovation Network hosted by the Stimson Center in Washington, D.C., at first presented the idea of a UN World Citizens’ Initiative (UNWCI). She pointed out that this instrument would enable people to put forward proposals on key issues of global concern and those with sufficient support would be put on the agenda of the UN. She highlighted that this could be of particular use for people in low and middle income countries and allow for grassroots mobilization beyond civil society groups that are “present in New York or Geneva for most conferences and summits”.
Mobilization beyond the usual groups present at the UN
On the issue of the UN advancing democracy, Yusuf introduced the proposal that the UN’s Human Rights Council appoints a UN Special Rapporteur on Democracy. The mandate could be based on democratic rights already expressed in a variety of UN resolutions, making it clear that this was a global initiative. “Civil society has a key role to play in helping correctly set up this mandate”, she said.
Jo Leinen, a former member of the European Parliament, reminded the audience that the UN Charter begins with the words “We The Peoples” but that the UN was only an exclusive club of governments. For this reason, he argued, “the UN has no real democratic legitimacy”. A UN Parliamentary Assembly (UNPA), he suggested, would address this by giving elected representatives a say and thus would make the UN more inclusive. Members would establish transnational parliamentary groups that break through traditional national and geopolitical formations, he said.