Religion & the Pandemic: A Call Beyond the Here & Now

Civil Society, Featured, Global, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, Humanitarian Emergencies, Inequity, Religion, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

Prof. Azza Karam is Secretary General, Religions for Peace International

Religions for Peace Interreligious Council of Albania distributing Covid relief supplies from the Multi-religious Humanitarian Fund. Credit: Erzen Carja

NEW YORK, Aug 4 2020 (IPS) – — I have never been interested in religion or spirituality before, but I found myself tuning in to all sorts of on-line religion and spirituality related forums “in search of something.”


These are the words of a 30-something single young, middle class man (born into a Protestant-Catholic family background) in a European country.

The latter is known more for turning several churches into museums or shopping centers, prior to the Covid-19 pandemic. When people are afraid, lonely and alone – they tend to seek “something” beyond science.

A quarter of Americans say their faith has become stronger because of the pandemic, according to a Pew survey conducted during April 20-26, 2020, of 10,139 U.S. adults.

But this is to be contrasted with the experiences of those from an older generation (60+) in the southern hemisphere, like my own 85-year old Muslim father, who lives to pray. For him, the mosque has, over the last decade since my mother’s death, become both his spiritual hub and social club.

His cohort is differing ages of retirees, who, in spite of very different political perspectives in a Middle Eastern country reflecting the now normal of intense polarization, treasure their prayerful community spaces. This middle class (an endangered species to be sure) of retirees, share a sense of deep faith informing their social and political convictions.

For many of them, the lockdown was experienced primarily s an inability to go to the mosque, and thus as almost physically painful. None of them countenanced the idea of on-line prayers, that doesn’t make any sense, they maintained. Their sense of depression was almost palpable throughout the lockdown period, as was their joy at the reopening of some mosques.

The coronavirus presents barriers to caring for the sick and to performing certain death and burial rites which are core religious practices, and especially needed in a pandemic that has already claimed nearly hundreds of thousands of lives.

In Sri Lanka for example, public health measures for safe burial practices have already challenged traditional rites, wherein authorities mandated cremations for Covid-19-linked deaths, despite the fact that cremation is supposed to be forbidden in Islam.

Covid-19 also complicates Jewish and Muslim burial practices of washing and cloaking bodies before burial, given concerns about transmission. Innovative religious responses seeking to reconcile public health policies with traditional burial practices have been taking place.

In Israel, for example, bodies are wrapped in plastic before burial, and before that, ritual washing is completed while wearing full protective gear. Some Islamic scholars are providing exegesis and guidance on how the ritual of washing the body prior to burials, could be conducted safely whilst following Islamic principles.

Religions for Peace Interreligious Council of Albania distributing Covid relief supplies from the Multi-religious Humanitarian Fund. Credit: Erzen Carja

This echoes what occurred during the Ebola crisis in West Africa. In fact, while COVID-19 differs from HIV/AIDS, Malaria, Tuberculosis, and Ebola, there are nevertheless some important similarities.

In cases of dealing with diseases where transmission affects large numbers of people, and vaccines and medication remain relatively hard to find and/or provide to all affected, beyond the health inequities which are underscored during such times, there are critical lapses by national and international authorities in acknowledging and supporting the role of religious leaders.

In fact, during previous outbreaks of HIV/AIDS (around the world), and of Ebola in Central and West Africa, the strengths of religious communities were rarely incorporated into public policy – until national and international secular authorities lose the plot.

In Religions for Peace (the only multi religious organization representing all religious institutions and communities around the world with 90 national and 6 regional Inter-Religious Councils/IRCs), a founding mantra is that caring for the most vulnerable is deeply embedded in all faith traditions.

As a result, religious institutions, communities, and faith-inspired/based NGOs (or FBOs as they are often referred to), have historically served as the original providers of essential social services. In fact, FBOs are the first responders in most humanitarian emergencies. Their work includes providing spiritual sustenance for sure, but also hunger relief, heath care, and shelter.

This is not only a feature of the developing world. Samaritan’s Purse set up a health center at the height of the pandemic in Central Park – an icon of New York city. Caritas, at one point, was feeding 5,000 people a day, in Geneva, Switzerland.

For 50 years, Religions for Peace worked to equip its IRCs (through the respective religious institutions and services) to seek peace through advocating for human rights (including the rights of Indigenous Peoples, as well as women, religious minorities, the disabled, elderly, and youth), mediating conflicts, providing emergency humanitarian relief, and contributing to sustainable development efforts (including health, nutrition, sanitation, education and environmental sustainability).

The defining feature of Religions for Peace IRCs is multi-religious collaboration. The main principles of this collaboration are representativity and subsidiarity. In the case of the former, each IRC earns Religions for Peace affiliation by ensuring its governance represents each and all of the nations religious institutions, and communities. In return, each IRC is guaranteed its independence to determine its national/regional priorities, and its modus operandi.

Half a century of collaboration with several United Nations entities at different moments in time, provides a comparative context to enable an assessment of how the UN works with some religious actors.

At the very least, this historical time-line of partnership efforts on peace and security, sustainable development and human rights, provides a learning context. It is with that in mind that we can say that UN efforts in seeking partnerships with faith-based NGOs in facing the Covid-19 implications, are noticeably on the increase relative to pre-Covid dynamics.

Entities like UNHCR, UNICEF, UNAIDS, WHO, and even non-operational entities like the Secretary-General’s own office, as well as UN Office of Genocide Prevention and Responsibility to Protect, have, respectively, issued statements specifically calling on religious leaders and actors to uphold their unique influences (noted above), sought religious input on and in Covid Guidance documents, and (are) hosting multiple consultations to strengthen myriad joint responses.

Working with multiple stakeholders, Religions for Peace research is revealing that while some religious charities are struggling to find resources to continue their services for communities, other FBOs are able to raise more resources for pandemic relief, than anticipated.

This is particularly the case for Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist organisations in countries in Asia, but also Muslim and Christian charities in Africa and the Middle East.

Almost 90% of Religions for Peace IRCs reported a 100% increase in engagement (asks) of their advocacy and messaging efforts from/by national governments, particularly as of May and June 2020 – as compared to this time last year.

This is evidenced through national campaigns during religious occasions and holidays, as well as local awareness raising efforts by religious leaders in particular, as opposed to faith-based NGOs.

Out of the Covid response efforts tracked by 25 Religions for Peace IRCs in 4 regions, thanks to the Multi-Religious Humanitarian Fund administered by RfP, multi-religious efforts are, on average, much harder to encourage than efforts administered by Ecumenical or single religion organisations.

A rough estimate shows that out of the nearly 100 humanitarian assistance projects being tracked by RfP in 40 countries in parts of Africa and Asia, only 1 percent involve multi-religious efforts. Several IRCs have also reported finding it harder to even advocate for multi religious collaboration to provide pandemic assistance (food and medicine packages) in conflict impacted countries (i.e. more than it normally is to seek to mediate some of the conflicts and/or work with governments in mediation efforts).

While it is now almost a cliche to call for more partnerships with religious, or faith-based actors, this is simply not good enough. FBOs, like many NGOs fully immersed in relief efforts, are finding several (good) excuses not to work together.

Faced with a global pandemic, even the FBOs – ostensibly inspired by religious calls for serving all, including the most vulnerable – are less keen on collaborating across their multiple differences (institutional, theological, structural, financial and political), as they continue to serve millions.

Is it enough to serve all who need regardless of religious affiliation (the current bar against which religious NGOs are often measured by the UN and other international entities), or should a pandemic inspire more, and better collaboration among multi-religious partners?

One can but wonder what the relative lack of religious NGO collaboration may foretell for social coexistence after the pandemic, not to mention what this lack of collaboration spells for the legitimacy of the so-called prophetic voice many of them speak of.

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Modern Tools, Age-old Wisdom: on India-Sri Lanka Relations

Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Featured, Global, Global Governance, Headlines, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, Peace, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

Prasad Kariyawasam was Sri Lanka’s one-time Foreign Secretary and High Commissioner to India

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Credit: V.V. Krishnan, the Hindu

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, Jul 31 2020 (IPS) – The unique India-Sri Lanka relationship, de jure, is between equals as sovereign nations. But it’s asymmetric in terms of geographic size, population, military and economic power, on the one hand, and social indicators and geographical location, on the other. It is steeped in myth and legend, and influenced by religious, cultural and social affinities.


This is an opportune time for Sri Lanka and India to nourish the roots of the relationship using modern toolkits, but leveraging age-old wisdom and experience.

Historical ties

History reveals that the advent of Buddhism to Sri Lanka during the time of Emperor Ashoka was the result of cross-border discourse. For many centuries in the first millennia, the ancient capital city of Anuradhapura housed an international community which included traders from India, China, Rome, Arabia and Persia.

Later, Buddhist monks from Sri Lanka travelled to India, China, Cambodia and Java leaving behind inscriptions. Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka, to this day, contain shrines for Hindu deities. The colonial expansion of European maritime nations reshaped the Sri Lankan economy. Labour from south India was brought to Sri Lanka to work in plantations.

The Indian freedom struggle had its influence on Sri Lanka as well. There was cross-border support for the revival of culture, tradition, local languages, spiritual practices and philosophies, and education. Both countries transformed into modern nations with constitutional and institutionalised governance under colonial rule.

Most aspects of today’s globalisation existed in a different form in the pre-colonial era with free exchange of ideas, trade and intellectual discourse. However, process engineering by colonial powers for identification and categorisation of people was a factor in the emergence of separatist ideologies based on ethnicity, language and religion.

This mindset is now ingrained and accentuated in politics. Episodic instances of communal hostility are referenced often to suit tactical political gain. Around the world today, and not just in South Asia, policies and thinking are becoming communally exclusive, localised and inward-looking.

The COVID-19 pandemic hit the world against this backdrop, allowing some leaders an opportunity to double down on insular thinking, ostensibly for providing local communities with better economic and social prospects, and security.

Meanwhile, governance models favoured by nations keep vacillating between fundamental freedoms-based democratic systems and quasi democratic, socialist authoritarian systems.

In this regard, the people of Sri Lanka and India have been served well by long years of uninterrupted democratic governance. This has provided long-term stability for both countries and must not be vitiated.

Sri Lanka’s strategic location makes it apparent that not only economic fortunes but the security of both countries are inextricably linked. Therefore, it is heartening that India and Sri Lanka constantly strive for excellence in neighbourly relations, recognising that a calamity in one country can adversely impact the other.

Though robust partnerships with other countries must be sought in line with the non-alliance foreign policies of both countries, such efforts must be bounded by an atmosphere needed for peace, prosperity and stability.

Among others, freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific together with a rules-based international order and peaceful settlement of disputes are of common interest. While avoiding advocacy of zero-sum solutions on crucial issues, both countries must seek to harmonise strategic and other interests in line with common values and socioeconomic compulsions.

Addressing issues and imbalances

The socioeconomic development of Sri Lanka has remained linked to India. But there are many options available to address issues of imbalance and asymmetries. For instance, Sri Lanka can encourage Indian entrepreneurs to make Colombo another business hub for them, as logistical capacities and facilities for rest and recreation keep improving in Sri Lanka.

Integrating the two economies but with special and differential treatment for Sri Lanka due to economic asymmetries can be fast-tracked for this purpose. There is immense potential to accentuate or create complementariness, using locational and human resource potential, for harnessing benefits in the modern value chains.

Robust partnerships across the economic and social spectrum can promote people-to-people bonhomie. And engagement of legislatures is essential for promoting multiparty support.

With many countries receding into cocoons due to the pandemic, this is an opportunity for both countries to focus on the renewal and revitalisation of partnerships.

This article was originally published in the Hindu, the English-language daily owned by The Hindu Group and headquartered in Chennai, Tamil Nadu
https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/modern-tools-age-old-wisdom/article32206425.ece

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Reflections on the Charter of the United Nations on its 75th Anniversary

Civil Society, Climate Change, Development & Aid, Gender, Global, Headlines, Human Rights, Humanitarian Emergencies, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

Mona Juul is the seventy-fifth President of the Economic and Social Council and Permanent Representative of Norway to the United Nations.

Inga Rhonda King (left), Permanent Representative of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines to the United Nations and seventy-fourth President of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), hands over the gavel to Mona Juul, Permanent Representative of Norway to the United Nations and newly-elected seventy-fifth President of ECOSOC, at the opening meeting of the 2020 session of ECOSOC. New York, 25 July 2019. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

NEW YORK, Jul 29 2020 (IPS) – This year we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Charter of the United Nations, written and signed during a period of great global change. Today, the world is again shifting beneath our feet. Yet, the Charter remains a firm foundation for our joint efforts.


These uncertain times of global disruption shine a light on the interdependences of our world. The COVID-19 pandemic, and the inequality it has exposed, are a global challenge that we must solve through global solutions. These solutions call for more, not less, cooperation across national borders.

Global cooperation is the enduring promise of the Charter of the United Nations. I am honoured to preside over the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), one of the principal organs of the United Nations, at its 75th anniversary.

In January 1946, 18 members gathered for the inaugural meeting of ECOSOC under the leadership of its first President, Sir Ramaswami Mudaliar of India. ECOSOC was vested with a powerful mandate, to promote better living for all ¬¬by fostering international cooperation on economic, social and cultural issues.

The Charter recognizes the value of social and economic development as prerequisites for stability and well-being. In a 1956 speech, Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld said that “while the Security Council exists primarily for settling conflicts […] the Economic and Social Council exists primarily to eliminate the causes of conflicts.”

For me, this is a reminder that sustainable peace and prosperity rely on global solidarity and cooperation.

Today, this unity of purpose to reach those furthest behind first is also the spirit of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The 2030 Agenda is our shared road map to transform the world as we recover better, protect our planet and leave no one behind. With ECOSOC serving as the unifying platform for integration, action, follow-up and review of the SDGs, our promise to eradicate poverty, achieve equality and stop climate change must drive our actions.

ECOSOC has the unique convening power to make this happen. It brings together valuable constituencies such as youth and the private sector to enhance our work and discussions. ECOSOC also remains the gateway for civil society engagement with the United Nations. Civil society has been central to progress on international economic, social and environmental cooperation, from the small but critical number of organizations present in San Francisco when the Charter was signed in 1945, to the 5,000-plus non-governmental organizations with ECOSOC consultative status today.

Wilhelm Munthe Morgenstierne, Ambassador to the United States, member of the delegation from Norway, signing the Charter of the United Nations at the Veterans’ War Memorial Building in San Francisco, United States, on 26 June 1945. Credit: UN Photo/McLain

The Charter also outlines that ECOSOC should promote universal respect and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion. While much has shifted in our world, this mandate remains just as important today as in 1945. After all, human rights are a part of the foundation of the United Nations, quite literally. When Trygve Lie, the first Secretary-General and fellow Norwegian, laid the cornerstone of United Nations Headquarters at Turtle Bay in October 1949, it contained, together with the Charter, a copy of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Human rights have always been a part of the work of ECOSOC. The former United Nations Commission on Human Rights was one of the first functional commissions created within ECOSOC and was charged with drafting the Universal Declaration. Today, ECOSOC remains committed to playing its part to promote all rights: civil and political, as well as economic, social and cultural rights.

In stark contrast to the 18 men who formed the first meeting of ECOSOC in 1946, I am proud to be the third consecutive female president of ECOSOC and one of five female presidents in its 75-year history. Although slow, this is progress, especially compared to 1945, when out of the 850 international delegates that convened in San Francisco to establish the Charter of the United Nations, only eight were women, and only four of them were signatories to the Charter. Today, the Secretary-General has achieved gender parity in all senior United Nations positions, and the Commission on the Status of Women is perhaps the highest profile part of the work of ECOSOC. The Commission’s annual session is instrumental in promoting women’s rights, documenting the reality of women’s lives throughout the world and shaping global standards on gender equality and the empowerment of women.

ECOSOC must work to place gender equality at the heart of all our work. Women’s rights and gender equality are imperative to a just world. In all my endeavours, I strive to promote and advance these rights with a vision of a more prosperous, peaceful and fair world, for the benefit of women and girls—and men and boys alike.

Before the current crisis, more people around the world were living better lives compared to just a decade ago. More people have access to better health care, decent work and education than ever before. Nevertheless, inequality, climate change and the lasting negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are threatening to undo these gains. While we have technological and financial resources at our disposal, unprecedented changes will be needed to align resources with our sustainable development objectives. The United Nations must remain at the forefront of our collective efforts guided by our commitment to the Charter.

The true test of our success will be whether persons, communities and countries experience improvement in their lives and societies. The United Nations must be of value to people. To our family. To our neighbours. To our friends. Unless we achieve this, our credibility is at stake.

As we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Charter of the United Nations, let us remind ourselves of the promise it embodies, to help the world become a more prosperous, just, equitable and peaceful place.

To me, the opening words of the Charter, “WE THE PEOPLES OF THE UNITED NATIONS”, are a humble and empowering reminder of our capability to overcome current and future challenges. Even in troubling times, there remains great hope in the power of working together. That is the founding spirit of the United Nations—and in this 75th anniversary year, as we face grave and global challenges, it is the spirit we must summon today.

This article was first published by the UN Chronicle on 26 June 2020.

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The Forgotten Victims Of The Pandemic: An Ongoing Migration Crisis

USMBA Law students participate in skills-building workshops in preparation for opening a law clinic. February 2020, High Atlas Foundation.

By Jacqueline Skalski-Fouts

As Europe closed borders and suspended flights in early March to combat the spread of COVID-19, undocumented migrants and migrant workers remained stuck in Spain for two months, many without living spaces or sources of income after the shutdown, leaving some to take shelter in gyms or out on the streets, some even attempting to swim into Morocco from Ceuta as a last resort.

With most countries closing borders and issuing some form of stay-at-home orders, safety and services dedicated to asylum seekers and refugees has dramatically decreased. The result is a large number of migrants in Morocco and around the world facing dangerous health situations and increased economic insecurity.

Migrants in Morocco, even those with proper documentation, cannot reap the benefits of accessible state aid. For many, income and livelihood depend on mobility. The majority of migrants work in informal jobs (street vendors and uncontracted work such as cleaners), which contribute to 20 percent of Morocco’s economy. With closures many have no source of income and cannot qualify for any financial support by the government.

Without a source of income, some do not eat every day, and others skip meals. In the current situation, asylum seekers, refugees, and immigrants are more vulnerable to permanent job loss and deportation as movement is restricted.

What does this mean for the future?

Stigmatization, misinformation, and discrimination have led to further restrictions for migrants. False claims and reports spread rumors that migrants carry the virus and spread it throughout communities. In Lebanon, Syrian refugees are targeted with curfews that do not apply to other foreigners or citizens despite the low number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 among Syrian refugees (only 1.3 percent).

New restrictions on migration suggest longer-term impacts on mobility and an increase in social exclusion, leading to issues like discrimination and even global divides as production shifts locally and economic isolation grows.

Limited mobility increases dangerous and illegal migration, forcing more to turn to smugglers, increasing vulnerability to human trafficking and abuses in the exploitation of people’s desperation. This includes further potential restrictions to migrant workers and migrants seeking refuge in third countries, like Spain or Italy.

Migration in a Moroccan Context

Traditionally an emigration country, Morocco has quickly become the safer migration route into Europe, with land access to the border in the Spanish enclaves of Melilla and Ceuta. Although the number of illegal border crossings into Spain has halved since 2018, the majority (28 percent) of migrants entering into mainland Spain last year came from Morocco.

Morocco has begun to dramatically reduce the number of illegal border crossings into Europe, but once caught, migrants can end up in a deportation loop. Arriving at the Spanish border, they are arrested and bused back to Southern Moroccan cities far from smugglers who could offer them passage. As authorities continue to restrict movement, migrants and smugglers are pushed to seek out new routes, such as by sea, which is often more dangerous.

Since 2014 the Moroccan government has run two major regularization campaigns, giving residency permits to 50,000 migrants within the country. However, the UNHCR reports that “gaps in accessing documentation and employment persist.”

With tighter migration restrictions on popular destination points, such as Spain, France, and Italy, Morocco could see larger populations of migrant workers stuck indefinitely in migration centers such as Rabat.

What will come next?

Organizations like the High Atlas Foundation (HAF) offer some solutions. Beginning in 2020, law school students at the University Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah in partnership with HAF will provide pro-bono legal aid to migrants in the Fez region, in particular victims of trafficking, young people, and women.

Fez is estimated to house tens of thousands of migrants, many of which come from Sub-Saharan regions of Africa and live within the “new” districts of the city. These districts are often “modest or poor,” and with limited legal access, migrants have trouble finding work. In a study of migrants in Fes, only 53 percent of respondents reported that they are or had been engaged in paid work since their arrival.

Providing legal aid to migrants reduces the potential of trafficking networks and smugglers from taking advantage, while also offering law students the chance to gain valuable experience in the field, and connecting migrants and women to CSOs to develop skills and build their own cooperatives or businesses, which can reduce youth unemployment. With a stronger legal and economic support system, migrants are more likely to establish roots rather than risk irregular migration to Europe.

Developmental and human rights organizations are increasingly offering support to migrants around the country, yet it is important that organizations take further steps at the local level. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has repeatedly warned that certain quarantine measures and restrictions on free movement must meet international human rights standards. Rather than delaying asylum claims, they can be processed remotely, where restrictions prevent face-to-face interviews. Extending residency permits to those in-need can increase health access to migrants in areas affected by the pandemic.

In May, in partnership with the Moroccan government, the UNHCR and the National Council of the Medical Association teamed up to provide increased health care access and medicines for asylum seekers and refugees in Morocco.

Moroccan migration policies support a humanitarian approach and prohibit manifestations of racism. However, limited accessibility of resources for migrants and legal obstacles still persist.

Further steps can include greater health and legal accessibility for vulnerable migrant groups, including access to psychosocial support, emergency accommodation, pre-school education, childcare, mediation, and occasional emergency aid (such as in the case of a lockdown). October has historically been the most active month for migrants crossing from Morocco to Spain, so it is important to adopt these steps to prevent a surge in dangerous, irregular border crossings.

Jacqueline Skalski-Fouts is a Global Studies undergraduate student at the University of Virginia.

‘One CGIAR’ with Two Tiers of Influence? The Case for a Real Restructuring of Global Ag-Research Centres

Civil Society, Climate Change, Development & Aid, Food & Agriculture, Global, Headlines, Humanitarian Emergencies, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

This is an abridged version of an open letter by IPES-Food to the CGIAR on 21 July 2020.

Agroecological systems, which build resilience through crop/species diversity and natural synergies across the whole agro-ecosystem, are showing major potential. Credit: (C. Perodeaud, 2018)

BRUSSELS , Jul 22 2020 (IPS) – While the ‘CGIAR System’ may sound like a technocratic body, few organizations have exerted as much influence on today’s food systems as this network of global agricultural research centres. Since its inception at the height of the ‘Green Revolution’ in 1971, the CGIAR has driven advances in crop breeding and agricultural mechanization and modernization across multiple continents. Its mission – to develop knowledge and innovation for agriculture in the global South – is as relevant today as ever, in light of climate change, COVID-19 and a host of additional challenges.


The process now underway to reform the CGIAR is therefore of major public interest. The ‘One CGIAR’ process seeks to merge the CGIAR’s 15 legally-independent centres, headquartered in 15 countries, into one legal entity. The impetus has come from some of its biggest funders, notably the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the World Bank, and the US and UK governments.

Reform of the CGIAR is long overdue. However, we are concerned that the current reform process, like previous versions, will fall short of the fundamental change that is required, and risks exacerbating major power imbalances in global agricultural development.

Firstly, the restructuring appears to have been advanced in a coercive manner, and without genuine buy-in from the global South. A ‘carrot and stick’ approach has been adopted: an increase in the overall CGIAR budget has been promised if the merger goes through, while centres resisting the move have allegedly been threatened with budget cuts. Insiders say that representatives from governments and agricultural institutes in the global South – the much-touted beneficiaries of the CGIAR and the Green Revolution – are generally against the merger, while the big funders and closely-affiliated scientific institutions are in favour. The two centres voting against the merger last week were the forest and agroforestry centres headquartered in Indonesia and Kenya respectively.

Secondly, there is insufficient diversity among the inner circle driving forward CGIAR reform. In the mid-1990s, when the CGIAR underwent an earlier restructuring, men from just four countries – the US, the UK, Canada and Australia – accounted for 85% of board chairs and directors. The CGIAR has subsequently made efforts to improve gender balance, and to bring on staff and board members from the global South. However, a true diversity of perspectives is still missing: many of those recruited have close associations with Northern universities and donor-led partnerships, while the voices of farmers, civil society and independent researchers in the global South are still largely absent. Only 7 of the 22 members of the CGIAR System Reference Group (SRG) – responsible for managing the transition process – are from the global South, of which two are already affiliated to CGIAR centres.

Thirdly, the proposed restructuring fails to equip CGIAR for the urgently-needed paradigm shift in food systems. Business-as-usual approaches to agricultural development are failing to address hunger and improve the livelihoods of smallholders, as shown by the shortcomings of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa. Meanwhile, agroecological systems, which build resilience through crop/species diversity and natural synergies across the whole agro-ecosystem, are showing major potential – as recognized by the World Bank-led global agriculture assessment (‘IAASTD’), IPBES, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and a July 2020 statement by 366 scientists. The CGIAR has taken some steps towards systemic approaches, particularly through the work of some of its centres on participatory plant breeding, farmer-managed seed systems, varietal and species diversification for nutrition and resilience, biological control and agroforestry. But it has failed to mainstream these approaches: a 2017 study concluded that the “CGIAR environment was not conducive to implementing systems research”. Recent analysis by Biovision and IPES-Food found that, on average, CGIAR research programmes meet less than 20% of the indicators of systemic agroecological research.

While the basic shortcomings have been acknowledged in the current reform process, the CGIAR’s underlying philosophy does not appear to have shifted. The focus remains on scientific innovations being “deployed faster, at a larger scale, and at a reduced cost”, and provided to rather than developed with beneficiaries. By ushering in a single board with new agenda-setting powers, the restructuring may further reduce the autonomy of regional research agendas and reinforce the grip of the most powerful donors – many of whom have proven reluctant to diverge from the Green Revolution pathway.

Underlying all three of these problems is the disproportionate power of a handful of actors to control the purse strings and set the global agricultural development agenda. This reality risks undermining and short-circuiting the significant efforts to consult stakeholders over the past year.

It is therefore crucial to consider how these risks can be averted as the restructuring process moves forward, and to open a discussion on fundamental reform of the CGIAR. In order to rebuild its legitimacy and relevance, the CGIAR must: diversify its governance; put at centre stage the views of farmers, researchers, civil society groups, and governments in the global South; support transformative, transdisciplinary, agroecological research co-led by farmers and farmer organisations; collaborate with a broad network of regional, sub-regional and national research centres and universities to strengthen autonomous research capacity in the global South; and participate alongside the Rome-based agencies (FAO, IFAD, WFP) in the Committee on World Food Security (CFS).

Ultimately, the CGIAR system should mirror the food system we need: decentralized, context-specific, agroecological, and with more distributed and equal power relations.

*The IPES-Food expert panel: Olivier De Schutter (Co-chair), Olivia Yambi (Co-chair), Bina Agarwal, Molly Anderson, Million Belay, Nicolas Bricas, Joji Carino, Jennifer Franco, Mamadou Goïta, Emile Frison, Steve Gliessman, Hans Herren, Phil Howard, Melissa Leach, Lim Li Ching, Desmond McNeill, Pat Mooney, Raj Patel, P.V. Satheesh, Maryam Rahmanian, Cécilia Rocha, Johan Rockstrom, Ricardo Salvador, Laura Trujillo-Ortega, Paul Uys, Nettie Wiebe, Yan Hairong.

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Are We Going from San Francisco?

Armed Conflicts, Conferences, Democracy, Economy & Trade, Featured, Global, Headlines, Human Rights, Peace, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

SYDNEY and KUALA LUMPUR, Jun 30 2020 (IPS) – Seventy-five years ago, on 26 June 1945, before the Japanese surrender ending the Second World War, fifty nations gathered at San Francisco’s Opera House to sign the United Nations (UN) Charter.


UN Charter
Nations pledged “to practice tolerance and live together in peace …, and to ensure … that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, and to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples”.

Anis Chowdhury

They sought “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, … and to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and to … promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom”.

The Charter’s contents reflected some contradictions inherent in framing an international organization recognizing national sovereignty as its organizing principle, and various other compromises, often influenced by the convening host nation.

Although the conduct of Member States often falls short of the UN’s lofty goals, its Charter was nonetheless a monumental achievement, providing the foundation for a rules-based international order.

San Francisco Conference
Forty-six Allied countries, including the four sponsors – the United States, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union and China – were originally invited to the San Francisco Conference.

The conference itself invited four other States – the Byelorussian and Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republics, newly-liberated Denmark and Argentina. Poland did not send a representative as its new government was still uncertain.

Of the fifty participating states, only four were African and nine Asian. Latin American countries, independent since the mid-19th century, were present and active in deliberations.

The Conference was not only one of the most significant international gatherings in history, but perhaps the longest ever. The two month long Conference was attended by 3,500 people, including 850 delegates, their advisers, staff and the secretariat, plus more than 2,500 from the media and other observers.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram

The Conference opened on April 25, 1945 with great fanfare, despite the sudden death of its principal architect and presumed host, US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, on 12 April. The task of carrying on fell to his Vice-President Harry Truman who had become President.

Truman often quoted English poet Alfred Lord Tennyson’s Locksley Hall, carried in his wallet, bewildering colleagues, senators and staffers who doubted his commitment to international peace. Tennyson foresaw that nations, realizing they could destroy one another, might agree to form “the Parliament of Man”, to resolve disputes peacefully.

Clashes and compromises
Many serious differences of opinion triggered crises, even at the preparatory stage. For example, the Soviet Union proposed that all 16 Soviet republics should have UN membership to balance the influence of US allies: the US countered by proposing membership for all its 50 states!

A compromise was struck, allowing membership for the Soviet republics of Belarus and Ukraine; the Soviet Union then withdrew its opposition to Argentina, which had supported the Axis powers.

The most important deliberations concerned the UN Security Council (UNSC), initially composed of five permanent members (US, UK, USSR, China, France) and six elected members. The P5’s right to veto provoked a long and heated debate.

Others feared that when one of the P5 threatens the peace, the UNSC would be ineffectual. But the P5 collectively insisted that as the main responsibility for maintaining world peace would fall most heavily on them, the veto provision was vital.

Australia proposed that no permanent member should be allowed to veto when involved in a Chapter VII dispute over threats to peace. The US delegation blocked this and a Soviet proposal allowing P5 vetoes on procedural matters, e.g., discussion of disputes in which it may be involved.

While US officials saw the UN General Assembly (UNGA) primarily as a ‘talk shop’, the USSR tried to limit it from discussing sensitive political matters. However, recognizing its importance for legitimacy, the compromise reached permits the UNGA to discuss any issues “within the scope of the Charter”.

Colonialism was not supposed to be discussed at the Conference to avoid alienating the European imperial powers, whom the US needed to isolate the Soviet Union. But the handful of Asian and African countries attending wanted countries still under the colonial yoke to attain freedom and independence as soon as possible.

Although not on the original Conference agenda, after much debate, Chapters XI, XII and XIII provided some norms for colonial administration and pathways for decolonization. Nonetheless, these ambiguous, at best, pronouncements greatly disappointed anti-colonialists around the world.

US hegemonic from outset
Despite some compromises inherent in framing such an agreement, the UN Charter favoured the US. It promised to protect freedom of action and national sovereignty, as desired by the US, but contained no open-ended commitment to preserve other countries’ territorial integrity, like the League of Nations Covenant’s Article 10.

Article 2(7) placated American sovereigntists and nationalists, declaring: “Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state.”

The US and the UK also got what they wanted for existing and new regional and plurilateral arrangements, including defence and mutual assistance organizations.

Some US officials were concerned the UN might threaten the Monroe Doctrine privileging the US in the Western hemisphere, while limiting its ability to intervene elsewhere. Some clever drafting of Chapter VIII provided blanket endorsement to regional organizations, also seen as reflecting the principle of subsidiarity.

Article 51 enshrined the principle of “self-defense against armed attack, either individual or collective”. Although not fully appreciated in 1945, such provisions later helped legitimize various US and other post-colonial security pacts in Europe, Asia and the Americas against the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

Conference participants also considered a proposal for compulsory jurisdiction for a World Court, but the US Secretary of State recognized this would jeopardize Senate ratification. Delegates compromised, agreeing to let countries decide whether to accept the International Court of Justice (ICJ)’s jurisdiction.

Unsurprisingly, the US has had an uneasy relationship with the ICJ from the outset, never submitting to its authority, and reacting negatively to Court decisions seen as adverse to the US.

From Truman to Trump
Presiding at the closing ceremony, Truman cautioned that the success of the new world body would depend on collective self-restraint. “We all have to recognize – no matter how great our strength – that we must deny ourselves the license to do as we please. This is the price each nation will have to pay for world peace.”

Truman is probably turning in his grave watching Trump’s jingoist ‘America First’ policy undermine the UN and multilateralism. Are multilateralism and the UN now doomed as Trump belies Tennyson’s hope and leads the US to up-end the Roosevelt-Truman legacy?