World Social Forum - Porto Alegre, Brazil, 25-30 January, 2001


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DEVELOPMENT: NGOs Denounce Kofi Annan's Poverty Report

By Gustavo Capdevila

GENEVA, Jun 27 (IPS) - United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan's report on poverty, presented at the Social Summit underway here, known as Copenhagen Plus Five, set off a wave of protests by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) against the inclusion of multilateral financial institutions in the preparation of the document.
Civil society groups represented at this special General Assembly of the United Nations (UN) held a parallel meeting Tuesday in which delegates voted to draft a declaration to criticise the UN chief's report. They predicted protests against the document would spread.

The NGOs' negative reaction is due, in part, to the fact that Annan signed the report alongside the leaders of three international financial organisations that are dominated by the world's industrialised countries.

The civil society groups interpret that Annan has shared the document with ''the perpetrators of the problems of poverty and inequality in the world,'' said Meena Raman, a Malaysian activist in charge of the committee to draft the declaration to censure the UN secretary general.

Annan drafted his report in collaboration with the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a forum of the world's 29 wealthiest nations.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank also participated. Both institutions are controlled by virtually the same countries as the OECD through a selective voting system based on total national assets.

Annan presented the report at the opening session of the General Assembly on Monday. The delegates gathered in Geneva are to spend this week assessing progress made on commitments to eradicate poverty, unemployment and social exclusion, signed by the international community in 1995 at the Social Summit in Copenhagen.

The document, known as ''A Better World for All,'' is more propaganda than a report, charged Roberto Bissio on Monday, co- ordinator of Social Watch, a coalition of NGOs that monitor work done towards compliance with the Copenhagen commitments.

At an assembly of NGO delegates held Tuesday at the UN headquarters in Geneva, some activists questioned the right of the UN secretary general to sign a document of this type without consulting other sectors of the institution.

Chilean diplomat Cristian Maquieira, president of the special session organising committee, explained before the NGO delegates gathered that Annan is not required to consult with others before emitting reports on issues of this sort.

The NGO leaders, however, pointed out that there are contradictions between the content of the document in question and the commitments made in Copenhagen five years ago.

Atila Roque, of the Brazilian Institute of Social and Economic Analysis, said these contradictions are even broader because they involve ''our perspectives on what we expect of the UN.''

Maquieira said the issue could be taken up at the ordinary General Assembly to begin its annual period of sessions in New York in September, acknowledging that several countries would likely have reactions to be expressed about Annan's report on poverty.

The Chilean diplomat stressed that the problem with the report is it ''is focused solely on what actions have to be taken at the national level by developing countries.''

''Whereas the whole process of Copenhagen look towards commitments and obligations to be adopted by industrialised countries and developing countries, and not solely focused only on the latter. And in that in that approach, their report is imperfect,'' commented Maquieira.

The NGOs emphasised that the report was presented without any consultation with civil society or even leaders within the UN itself.

At a meeting Monday, an IMF official acknowledged that the report had been drafted originally for a meeting of the Group of Seven (G- 7) most industrialised nations.

Which is exactly why, Raman pointed out, ''there must be a voice of the South, a voice of the developing countries must be present there. The report is highly unbalanced and controversial,'' and lacks the consensus required for an international document, she said. (END/IPS/tra-so/pc/mj/ld/00)

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