The 57th Annual DPI/NGO Conference
"Millennium Development Goals: Civil Society Takes Action"
8 to 10 September 2004; United Nations Headquarters-New York City
A Summary Report With Some Thoughts and Reflections1
The image on the agenda booklet of the 57th UN/NGO Conference, posted at the end of this message, is a most telling and symbolic statement about this year's NGO conference. It depicts a chain of people efforting to raise the globe of earth up a set of stairs; concerned humanity—cooperatively striving to uplift Earth up the stairs of consciousness, thus lessening and eliminating the suffering, the darkness and the despair. (The image can also be found at the following web site: http://www.un.org/dpi/ngosection/57conf.htm)
One newspaper publication of the Millennium Campaign (www.millenniumcampaign.org) made available at the literature table of the Conference put it this way,
The newspaper concludes, "Meeting the 8 Millennium Development Goals by 2015 will require all of us to hold our governments to their promise. Lend your voice [this author would add, 'your heart and your mind'] for this unique opportunity." (A list of the 8 Millennium goals can be found at the following web portal: http://www.un-ngls.org/mdg.htm)
Making their way through an unusual downpour of rain which incapacitated several of the New York City subway systems for hours—a result of the effects of hurricane Charley—and putting up with the inconvenience and frustration of the long lines created as every single person went through strict security procedures, 2700 plus representatives from over 700 Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) from 90 countries came to participate in an extraordinary conference.
In this my 14th year of participation, I was struck by what seemed to me to be a yearly climaxing depth of commitment, focus and a positive, cooperative and collaborative "can do" attitude that refuses to entertain the word, "can't." Civil society, government representatives, faith based representatives, media representatives, UN diplomats, UN staff, youth and more were all applying heart and mind energies to the question of how can we best achieve the 8 potentially world transforming goals, now agreed upon by all 191* member States of the United Nations.
These 8 goals—the Millennium Development Goals, the "MDGs", referred to by Shashi Tharoor, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, as an acronym for "Making A Difference for Good," are, according to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, a test for all of us." Further quoting Mr. Annan, Mr. Tharoor stated, "We have an historic opportunity to end extreme poverty and to set the world on a safer, more just and humane path, but there is no time to lose. Every day we don't act, people suffer. And if the goals are not met, we will all be poorer and less secure."
Those of you reading this summary who are familiar with the wisdom of the Tibetan Master, Djwhal Khul as put forth in the books of Alice Bailey and published by Lucis Publishing Company will be familiar with the following quotations:
In the book, The Problems of Humanity, The Tibetan Master explains:
To my mind, this is exactly what we witnessed at this year's NGO Conference. Men and women of goodwill coming together to call upon and engender the political will necessary to ensure that indeed, with the help of the United Nations, we can and *will* achieve the MDGs to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom-for all the world's people.
Eveline Herfkens, Executive Coordinator of the UN Millennium Development Goals Campaign, energetically and enthusiastically underscored the importance of civil society in both articulating the goals and in ensuring their realization:
Ms. Herfkens addressed two criticisms of the goals: one, that they are not ambitious enough. For those who thus complain, she encouraged: "Please, raise the bar!" The second criticism is that these goals cannot be achieved. To this she responded, "I want you to join me by simply not accepting that these goals are not going to be achieved!! The world has the resources. We've never been richer. We know what to do; we know what the solutions are and please don't get disheartened by so many reports, including from the UN system that so many countries are off track of so many of the goals, accentuating the negative, the glass is half empty....Please reject this undue pessimism because these goals *are* doable."
She made her point by referring to several countries in Sub-Saharan Africa where the situation is "quite worrisome" indicating that even there some success is occurring. For example, "Malawi and Rwanda are meeting the education goals and Tanzania is on track in meeting the water goals and Uganda and Senegal have reversed the AIDS pandemic, and in Mozambique, the child mortality goal seems to be in reach...."
Joining every speaker at the conference in her affirmation of the need for unprecedented cooperation and collaboration, Ms. Herfkens encouraged the creation of "grand alliances" and the need to "act locally while thinking globally." She quoted Secretary-General Kofi Annan who often underscores the necessity for local/national/UN cooperation: "Political will shifts only if there is national and local mobilization by the public and only when national leaders are held accountable." The UN, as Mr. Annan often reminds us, "is only as strong as its members allow it to be."
Necessary to the realization of these goals is a recognition of "the division of labour" required between the developing and the developed countries of the world: "We have all agreed that it is the responsibility of the developing countries to achieve the first seven goals, but [we also] acknowledge that rich countries must support poor countries in order for them to do so…The MDGs are a global compact built around mutual commitments and they demand mutual accountability by all countries." The enumerated responsibilities of the "rich countries" are to "increase aid, increase aid effectiveness, provide more debt relief and more trade opportunities and put an end to agricultural subsidies that destroy the markets of poor farmers."
With regard to the need of the rich countries to take up their planetary responsibility by increasing the amount of aid assistance they provide, Ms. Herfkens pointed out that it was 34 years ago in the same hall of the General Assembly in which we were meeting that the target of 0.7% of gross national product (GNP) was set by the rich countries of the world as the portion of aid that they would contribute to the developing efforts of the poorer countries. For 30 of those years, as she said, "it is only four little countries in Northern Europe that did so." These countries are Sweden, Denmark, Norway and the Netherlands. However, as a result of the MDGs, in the last four years, Luxembourg has surpassed the 0.7% and five other countries have agreed to meet the target date by the year 2015. Ireland has promised to meet its target by the year 2007; Belgium by the year 2010; France and Spain by the year 2012 and the United Kingdom by the year 2013. Needless to say, participants at the conference were encouraged to mobilize and petition their home governments to meet their responsibility and honor their commitments.
Encouraging and inspiring the 2700 participants, she reported on the large global North-South coalition coming together under the banner, "Make Poverty History." This global mobilization effort demonstrates that citizens do care and want to put an end to poverty. We have in front of us a unique window of opportunity. The suffering of children in developing countries necessitates immediate action and the children of rich countries can no longer afford to ignore how their counterparts in the South live. The children in rich countries cannot continue to be "illiterate on how their own societies share responsibility" for current world conditions.
Pointing to the dilemma caused by the clash of the competing demands of nation states at the UN, Shashi Tharoor referred to the results of the "prestigious Pew Report" of last summer that found the UN standing had come down in all countries. Those who supported the Iraq war were criticizing the UN for not supporting the war and those who did not support the war were castigating the UN for not being able to prevent it. As a result, a "High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change" has been appointed to examine the major threats and challenges to international peace and security, including those threats arising from economic and social issues. Mr. Tharoor reported that the challenge before this panel, "is nothing less than reviewing the entire architecture of the whole system that we have built up in the last 59 years" and next year on the 60th anniversary of this organization, in December, the report of this panel will be fully discussed.
As he indicated, the need for greater planet-wide peace and security cannot be overly estimated: "It is axiomatic that the MDGs will NOT be met in a world marred by instability and conflict. [The MDGs] are inextricably linked to the need to build international peace and security!"
Next year will be a pivotal year for the UN. Three major events/issues will be addressed by the General Assembly: 1) The fifth anniversary of the signing of the Millennium Declaration, establishing the 8 MDGs will assess the progress made in achieving those goals; 2) The report of the High Level Panel on the Future of the UN and the International System will be discussed; and, (3) The 60th birthday of the UN will be celebrated. Mr. Tharoor, with characteristic good humor and insight pointed out that although many individuals contemplate retirement at age 60, the UN instead, would contemplate RENEWAL,
Quoting from the Millennium Declaration, (http://www.un.org/millennium/summit.htm), Joan Kirby, Chair of the NGO Conference emphasized that in signing the Declaration, the countries of the world recognized that in addition to their responsibility to their individual societies, they also agreed that they have "a collective responsibility to uphold the principles of human dignity, equality and equity at the global level."
All of the 191* member states who now have signed on to the Declaration acknowledge their duty to all the world's peoples, especially to the most vulnerable and in particular to the children of the world to whom the future belongs. They solemnly affirmed that the United Nations is the COMMON HOUSE of the entire human family and they pledged unstinting support for their common, universal aspiration for peace, cooperation and development and their determination to achieve them.
Repeating what most, if not all of the speakers emphasized, Sister Kirby, a Religious of the Sacred Heart and the NGO Representative to the UN of the Temple of Understanding, emphasized that it is the role of civil society to bring public awareness to these MDGs and she affirmed, "Everything is connected. This is a world-wide millennium effort to improve the conditions of humanity."
She ended her remarks by citing a prayer that will be well-known to those of you who are reading this summary: "For as long as space endures and for as long as living beings remain, may we too abide to relieve the misery of the world."
Putting in perspective the goal of the United Nations and the present reality, Jacques Attali, President of "PlaNet France" and featured keynote speaker sharply contrasted today's UN, which functions mainly "as a multilateral organization where nations are competing to get the best for their own interest" and the UN needed to solve today's global problems. As he emphasized, there is a need to shift from "national priorities to mankind priorities." He lamented the fact that the world today is sadly lacking in statesmanship and in "worldmanship." He referred to the national defense budgets as "budgets for the protection of national interest." He stressed the need for world consciousness and speaking on the last afternoon of the conference, he asserted what had been evident throughout the three-day proceedings: "It is only in a room like this one where we see people interested by issues without borders, without any national, selfish interest; and this makes a dramatic difference in terms of ethics and dreams."
Mr. Attali called for the creation of a Dow Jones-like index that would daily measure and publicize "a survival index to see if humanity is progressing along the path to its own survival." And he called for the need to hold people accountable if the MDGs are not being met.
Responding to a question posed by Zin Verjee, Anchor of CNN International, Mark Malloch Brown, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) referred to the fact that the 9/11 tragedy caused a change in political consciousness. "We have learned," he said, "that not only can the rich hurt the poor, but that the poor can hurt the rich," and a strong national defense cannot make life safe for its citizens. In fact, he stated, "the stronger your defense, the richer your citizens, the more powerful you are, in some ways, the more vulnerable you are and I think these ideas are penetrating into our world, which means with the help of civil society, we will within a short generation understand a genuine sense of global responsibility and [the need for] global action." He acknowledged, "we are at a moment of moving signposts in the global conversation," and in a few years, we will talk in different terms about security and development and eventually, we will recognize the need for pro-active development strategy as just something you expect from your tax-payer dollar wherever you live.
This theme of important changes wrought in consciousness by the 9/11 tragedy was further addressed by Kavita Ramdas, President of the Global Fund for Women who referred to the "gift of 9/11": "We are all in this world together vulnerable. We all suffer terror of all different kinds. The privilege of living in a wealthy country does not necessarily protect you from being exposed." She referred to the terror experienced by those who watch their child die of starvation; the terror of not being able to make ends meet even though you work so hard from sunrise to sunset; the terror of watching both of your parents die, leaving you with only a legacy of being HIV positive. She declared that the citizens of the world are only secure when for example, "the children of Fallujah are fed and secure and not fearful that cluster bombs can, at any time, fall on their heads."
As I mentioned in last year's report, increasingly the concepts of universal ethics and spirituality are embraced and openly articulated at these gatherings. For example, this year, two of the midday workshops referred to the role of spirituality in addressing global problems. One workshop whose theme was, "The Role of Spirituality in Peacemaking and Conflict Resolution" called for the creation of a global day of reconciliation. The presenters of this workshop recognized that violence is a response to a deep wound and the world community must seek alternative ways of addressing wounds, based on forgiveness and love rather than on punishment and violence.
Another midday workshop entitled, "The Ethical and Spiritual Dimensions of the Millennium Development Goals" created a statement, part of which is excerpted below and which was then submitted for the final report on the overall conference proceedings: "In order to best implement the MDGs and insure sustainability of the goals, we must explore and include the ethical, moral, and spiritual dimensions of friendliness, love, compassion, respect for diversity, generosity, justice, fairness, peace, kindness and acceptance. The real power of the United Nations is the moral force that distinguishes humans from other living beings. It is the ethical, moral, and spiritual forces, the foundations of the world's religious and spiritual traditions, which can transform political inertia into the political will necessary to achieve and surpass the Millennium Development Goals."
There is much more to report about this extraordinary conference; however, I will leave the reader to further explore the proceedings via the following resources, inviting responses and feedback to be sent to UN@aquaac.org.
For a transcript of the available conference speeches, please see, http://www.un.org/dpi/ngosection/57speech.htm.
For web cast of the conference, please go to the "UN Webcast Archives" at the following web address: http://www.un.org/webcast/2004.html.
For an organizational chart of the UN with active links, please see, http://www.un.org/aboutun/chart.html.
For an article on the United Nations as the symbol of humanity's opening heart center, please see the Diamond Light article, "The United Nations and the Age of Aquarius".
For an article on the Aquarian values and attributes exemplified by the United Nations, please see the transcript of the talk, "The United Nations and the Destiny of Humanity" .
You are also invited to visit the web page, "The Spiritual Foundations of the United Nations" at http://www.aquaac.org/un/found.html.
The Symbol of the Aquarian age, as it appears in all the ancient zodiacs is that of a person bearing a jar of water which the Aquarian pours out as needed in order to sustain and enrich all life. The message of this emerging age is one of unity, communion and a relationship of brotherhood derived from the fact that we all gain our sustenance from the same cosmic source. The keynote of all spiritual progress in this evolving age is the love of humanity. It is this fact that will indicate the awakening of humanity's collective heart center. And, it is this symbol and this fact that I believe are increasingly being demonstrated within the common house of humanity that we call the United Nations.
We exist at a pivotal point in the history of humanity and the planet. As many of the NGO conference participants repeated, the problems on our planet are huge, yet so is the opportunity! May we therefore all play our part with stern resolve and with earnest aspiration; may we, in the stress of pain, lose ourselves and find the greater Self—the Soul—and thus, enter into peace; may we strive towards our higher spiritual possibilities, dedicating ourselves anew to the service of the Coming One, doing all we can to prepare men's minds and hearts for that event. May we each consider ourselves as Ambassadors of goodwill, helping to usher in the new Age of Light, Love and the Will-to-Good so that the inner kingdom of the Soul may be reproduced upon the plane of earth.
This image comes from the following web site:
* As of 28 June, 2006, Montenegro became the 192nd Member State. A full list of all 192 Member States of the UN can be found at the following UN web site address: http://www.un.org/Overview/unmember.html
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