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W. Lichem: Global Governance: The Needed Contributions from Religious Communities

Our global agenda has increasingly been marked by a societal dimension of both challenges and needed responses. The traditional role of sovereign states and national governments has been complemented by a rising impact of the citizen, civil society, the private sector and academia as non-state partners in addressing our global issues. Societies in all regions of the world suffer multi-dimensional processes of disintegration. Even within OECD countries, the cleavage between high and low income has risen to 1 : 26, and at global levels to 1 : 180. The peace and security agenda is today to be addressed within states and societies. More than 99 percent of victims of war are victims of internal conflicts and civil wars. Local authorities are facing the complete spectrum of global issues in their communities, from peace and security to development, health, education, sustainable use of natural resources etc.

The rule of law, once the expression of governmental authority, today depends ever more on an understanding by citizens of the common good to be achieved by an effective system of legal protection. Organized crime, neo-slavery, and the denial of human rights have become increasingly defined by societal values, patterns of behaviour and capacities for inclusion and acceptance of otherness.

Sustainable development requires the internalization of intergenerational externalities into the multitude of decisions taken by citizens, governments and the private sector on the basis of certain societal values. There is a rising need for societies to be capacitated for our common future.

Religious communities have traditionally provided societies with core values related to societal cohesion, inclusion and protection. Religious norms have not only addressed social inequities but also basic rights in the use of natural resources (e.g., the Islamic water law).

International affairs have been characterized by the development of certain political processes at global levels with the different non-state partners contributing to the identification of issues and the definition and implementation of responses at global, regional, national and local levels. As human and societal values are gaining significance in a system of fractal responses by every citizen, consideration should be given to invite the various value-bearers in our societies, including religious communities, to participate in these international governance processes of issue identification and articulation and to contribute to the definition of needed action by governments, citizens and the other non-state partners in shared responsibilities.

Over the past half-century the following frameworks for providing non-state partners with opportunities to contribute to the international/inter-governmental processes of defining and implementing our global objectives and programmes of action have emerged:

  • Observer status without a right to speak – e.g., UN Human Rights Conference, Teheran, 1968
  • Observer status with a right to speak – e.g., the observers admitted to ECOSOC and its subsidiary organs, World Summit on the Information Society, Geneva 2003 and Tunis 2005
  • Meetings/deliberations/conferences of non-state partners preceding intergovernmental events – e.g., scientific preparatory conference ASCEND 1991 in Vienna for the 1992 Rio Summit on Environment and Development; the Conference of the IPU related to the 50th anniversary of the United Nations; meetings of the World Business Council on Sustainable Development in relation to the Rio and Johannesburg conferences on sustainable development
  • Meetings parallel to intergovernmental conferences – e.g., the conference of civil society and academia on human environment, Stockholm 1972, and the civil society meetings in parallel to the 1995 World Conference on Women in Beijing
  • Integration of representatives of civil society and academia into national delegations – e.g., the UN Conference on Environment and Development, Rio de Janeiro 1992 with parallel events attended only by CS delegates

Defining elements of non-state partners’ contribution to and participatory role in Global Governance processes are:

  • Non-state partner delegations disposing of their own platform for developing shared common positions and deciding on shared objectives, values, initiatives, action etc. Single non-state partners have no weight and hence no impact
  • Access to the negotiations context (conference/UN organ meetings) and to the governmental delegations: diplomatic positions and negotiating objectives are increasingly enriched in informal contacts, information flows and consultations – e.g., Arria formula meetings of the Security Council with civil society (originated by a meeting of the Security Council president with a Bosnian priest), the informal gathering of governmental delegates in the Coffee Club of the General Assembly etc.
  • Access of governmental delegations to non-governmental delegations, platforms, discourse – e.g., historical role and fundamental impact of the civil society conference convened in parallel to the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm 1972
  • Agenda-related plurality of non-state partners collaborating towards achieving certain objectives, action, norm-setting – e.g., differently composed joint undertakings of civil society, academia, private sector, local authorities

The idea of having certain non-state partner participation institutionalized in the form of a subsidiary body of the United Nations cannot be realized. The Interparliamentary Union, which, as an “interstate organization,” has been granted observer status in the General Assembly, pursued in vain its idea of having a parliamentary assembly of the United Nations established as a subsidiary organ of the General Assembly. The Charter of the United Nations has left the negotiating roles and powers exclusively to member states and their representatives. The governance processes, however, based on partnership interactions between state representatives and the different non-state partners have been quite successful with civil society and academia and lately also the private sector exerting influence and having an impact on global negotiations. A historical example is the political process led by Jody William’s International Campaign to Ban Landmines in partnership with “good citizen countries” regarding the Ottawa Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention which, against the will of certain major powers, has become effective international law. Jody Williams was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

The integration of representatives of religious communities into national delegations to the United Nations does not seem to be an effective way of having their core values effectively represented in international negotiations. Inter-religious dialogue and interaction would not necessarily be fostered by national delegations being marked by including representatives of religious communities. The question will also be which one to select from societies marked by a plurality of different faiths.

For the religious communities and their visions of society and the world to be better related to the Global Governance processes, the following steps should be considered:

  • Establishment of an international civil society platform (“Pluri-religious Council”) which would bring together all major religious communities of the different regions of the world
  • Achieving accreditation of this platform as observer –general, special or roster –with the UN Economic and Social Council. In view of the all-encompassing relevance of societal values, general status should be attained.
  • Launching an inter-religious dialogue and processes of interaction in relation to the key agenda areas of the international community
    • peace and security
    • economic development
    • social development – poverty, health, education
    • environmental sustainability
    • societal disintegration in pluri-identity societies
    • human rights and freedoms
  • Development of shared positions on these issue areas and their articulation in documents available for presentation to governments, inter-governmental institutions and Global Governance processes
  • Interaction with other non-state partners and institutions committed to addressing global issues; contribution to their deliberations and participation in joint statements
  • Participation in UN conferences, deliberations of the different UN organs, participation in thematic debates

The special role and quality of the contributions of a platform of religious communities to our global concerns would rest in the basic peace and development approach articulated by the religious communities, whose shared commandment of affection would become the quoted antitheses to the language of wars and violence and to the ego-focussed culture of “now” ignoring otherness and our common future.

Ambassador Dr. Walter Lichem, Former Austrian Ambassador to Canada and former Visiting Professor, University of Alberta, started his professional career in 1966 at the United Nations Secretariat in New York in the field of International Water Resources. He served as Austrian Ambassador to Chile (1980-84), and to Canada (1993-2000). He has extensive experience as Director of the Department for International Organizations for the Austrian government. His primary focus was human rights, cultural relations, democracy development, peaceful uses of outer space, and information societies. During his assignment in Vienna, he contributed as lecturer at the Diplomatic Academy and International Peace Academy Seminars on UN peace-keeping. He wrote several articles and books which address the challenges of environment and development, the development and use of international water resources, cultural and identity plurality and the challenges of societal development through human rights learning.