Civil Society Forum (WCSF)

01 July 2002

Three CAMDUN partners participated in this ground-breaking event in Geneva - Karin Leonhardt from Paris (former Head of Information and Documentation for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Western European Union) who was CAMDUN's registered representative, Rudolf Schneider representing the Institute for Planetary Synthesis, Geneva, and Jeffrey Segall from London representing UNGA-Link UK.

The World Civil Society Forum (WCSF) was in session from 14 to 19 July 2002, but together with parallel activities the event took place from 8 to 20 July. It was held in the International Conference Centre of Geneva with some sessions at other venues.

The stated purpose of WCSF is "to promote the role of civil society in international cooperation", not to be politically prescriptive. The parallel activities included practical training sessions, for example in journalism and Internet access, particularly for delegates from the developing world. There was also a Youth Forum. Rightly, Geneva's Le Courier headed its report on the event as "Un forum plus pragmatique qu'utopiste".

Support for the Forum from the UN was spelt out in a message from Secretary-General Kofi Annan which was presented in the Opening Session (15 July) by Sergei Ordzhonikidze, Director of the UN in Geneva: "Civil society organizations are vital partners of the United Nations.., indispensable allies in pursuing our common agenda for peace and development..set out in the Millennium Declaration - I know that at this Forum you will be looking for ways to make that partnership as fruitful and effective as possible,and I hope that many more will follow your example".

Sergei Ordzhonikidze also spoke in the Welcome Ceremony on 14 July. Other plenary speakers included Dr Boutros Boutros-Ghali (UN Secretary-General 1992-1996 and now Secretary-General of the International Organization of the Francophonie); UNCTAD Secretary-General Rubens Ricopero; the President of the Republic and Canton of Geneva; and Ambassador Walter Fust (Director of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation) whose contribution included the comment that "to be considered as partners, NGOs should fulfill the conditions of legitimacy, transparency, complementarity and efficiency".

The Keynote speech was given by Dr Boutros Boutros-Ghali, who emphasized that the role of civil society has become crucial, particularly in the context of globalization, calling for a re-think on civil society ties between local and global, and on how to achieve a civil society body which is representative and has a balance of North and South. He hoped that WCSF would open the way to the participation in international cooperation of civil society as a whole.

The Forum was conducted in three languages - French, English and Spanish - the simultaneous interpretations being provided mainly by Geneva's International Conference Volunteers. The core programme was composed of eight sessions held by each of 10 Working Groups, together covering the main themes of world concern. There were also information/discussion sessions, workshops and round-table groups to choose from. In all there were nearly 200 sessions with about 300 presenters.

The Working Group on Civil Society Cooperation with the UN and other International Organizations adopted seven recommendations. One of these was for the Forum's participating organizations to reach out to government, locally and nationally, to "promote transparency and democracy in decision-making processes following the example of the Swiss system of direct and participatory democracy".

Three other recommendations were based on proposals of UNGA-Link UK (a network of 40 organizations which includes CAMDUN). These proposals are:

(1) A World Civil Society Liaison Body should be set up by international civil society structures concerned with global governance, such as the Geneva WCSF, Association of World Citizens/World Citizens Assembly, CIVICUS, CONGO (Conference of Consultative UN-NGOs), Forum for World Peace, Millennium/Global Peoples Assembly, Montreal International Forum, The Peoples' UN, Ubuntu, WANGO (World Association of NGOs), World Federalist Movement, WFUNA (World Federation of UN Associations), World Social Forum.

(2) WCSF and other international civil society structures such as mentioned above should seek observer presence at the UN General Assembly and its Main Committees of accredited representatives, to monitor progress in implementation of the commitments in the Millennium Summit Declaration, and to report their observations back to civil society through their respective networks.

Observer presence status could eventually lead to the representatives being constituted as a subsidiary organ of the General Assembly under Article 22 of the UN Charter. (The historical background to this proposal, going back to 1945 and including the work of CAMDUN, was presented in a WCSF Workshop on Local and Global Governance.)

(3) WCSF should initiate inter-sectoral discussions on forming a Global Policy Network on the prevention of armed conflict. (Such Networks are described by the UN Secretary-General as "coalitions for change" which bring together "international organizations, civil society and private sector organizations, and national governments in pursuit of common goals").

In the Concluding Plenary Session, the principle that WCSF should become a Permanent (or Continuing) Forum was agreed by a large majority in a ballot. It was also agreed that the WCSF Steering Committee should be replaced by a larger representative Coordinating Council, and that "strengthening and democratization of the United Nations system" should be a main theme of the next Forum.

A full report on the Forum is available at www.worldcivilsociety.org

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