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Sign now for global justice


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Sign now for global justice

Saturday October 23 1999

The Guardian

It is easy to mock idealists, especially those who dare to believe in international idealism. We all know the brute political reality. The world is made up of self-interested nation states which jealously protect their sovereignty; their governments pay only lip-service to democracy, accountability and justice. They get away with what they can, and as The Observer 's Human Rights Index discloses today, repression, torture, despotism and genocide are, if anything, increasing. Idealists may be well-intentioned, but they are softies. This is a world where the US Senate throws out the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Campaigning for better is simply to ignore reality; it is a waste of time and effort.

Such cynicism is widespread, but it is wrong, both morally and practically.

Today, Charter 99 is launching itself across the world - in Britain with a full-page announcement in The Observer - urging people to sign up to demand global democracy. At face value, the demand seems absurd. Yet, as Charter 99 argues in its manifesto, the Nineties have seen a growing and successful internationalist movement even as the pace of globalisation and the power of supranational institutions mount. This has been the decade of Jubilee 2000, the establishment of a charter for an International Criminal Court and the Earth Summit in Rio. But it has also been the decade in which Nato has fought a war in Kosovo and the IMF has organised so-called bail-outs across Asia, Africa and Latin America that have caused untold suffering. The power of gigantic private corporations and the global financial markets grow. There is a scarcely controlled arms trade. Environmental depredation is exploding. Money salted away in tax havens runs into hundreds of billions.

In short, whether we like it or not, globalisation is happening; private power is mounting and public institutions, like the World Bank and World Trade Organisation, take unaccountable decisions with global consequences. Social distress is increasing and human rights are in peril. If there is not to be some global response and some global attempt to improve accountability for decision-making, then what? Is doing nothing and clinging to the current structures and practices the only alternative?

Last week's visit to Britain by President Jiang underlined British ambiguities over democracy and human rights. China's record is indefensible, yet there is no international framework in which the country is held to account. Instead, it can play its trading partners off against each other, so that each country colludes in China's record for fear that condemnation would mean trade being lost to another country. In Britain, the anxiety goes so deep that, as we report today, we compromise our citizens' democratic rights to free protest by over-zealous policing. What happened was disgraceful.

If we want better, we must act. If we want less repression and torture, we must have effective and accountable systems of international criminal justice. It's the same story for financial regulation, controlling the spread of land mines or closing down tax havens. And, as Charter 99 argues, the first thing to do is to make the existing system of world administration and governance accountable. And the time to start is at the UN's Millennium Assembly next September. The Observer was proud to help launch Amnesty in 1961. We offer the same support to Charter 99 today.

Sign.

Copyright Guardian Media Group plc.


On 17 December 1998, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted resolution 53/202 by which it decided to designate the fifty-fifth session the General Assembly to be opened on 5 September 2000 as 'The Millennium Assembly of the United Nations' and to convene a 'Millennium Summit of the United Nations'. In endorsing the proposal for the Millennium Assembly and Millennium Summit, which has been put forward by the Secretary-General, the General Assembly decided that the turn of the century constitutes a unique and symbolically compelling moment for the membership of the United Nations to articulate and affirm an animating vision for the United Nations in the new era.

When the Heads of State and/or Government of the Member States of the United Nations converge on the Headquarters of the United Nations in New York to participate in the Millennium Summit starting on 6 September 2000, is likely to be the largest single gathering of Heads of State and/or Government ever held in the world. The Summit will be a historic opportunity to agree on a process for fundamental review of the role of, and challenges facing the United Nations in the new century.

As a companion event, and further to the Secretary-Generalís recommendation, civil society organizations will organize and hold on 22-26 May 2000 at United Nations Headquarters a 'Millennium Forum'.

In preparation for the Millennium Assembly and of the report to be submitted by the Secretary-General to the Millennium Assembly, five informal regional hearings have been held in Beirut for Western Asia, in Addis Ababa for Africa, in Geneva for Europe, in Santiago de Chile for Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Tokyo for Asia and the Pacific, to elicit the views of civil society with respect to the Millennium Assembly. A sixth regional hearing for North America will be held in Chicago in January 2000.

"The occasion of the third millennium presents a timely opportunity for the only global organization, in terms of its membership as much as of its areas of work, to identify the challenges that it will face in the future and to engage in an imaginative exercise to enhance and strengthen a unique institution".

Secretary-General Kofi Annan

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