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Civil Society Disappointed with Outcomes of Least Developed Countries Conference

At the closing of the Civil Society Forum, which was held on the sidelines of the Fourth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries (LDC-IV), representatives of civil society organizations from across the globe, presented the Istanbul Declaration. The Declaration voices the disappointment experienced by civil society as many of their recommendation to advance the LDCs are not reflected in the Istanbul Programme of Action, and neither in the Istanbul Political Declaration.

It highlights that, in the lead up to LDC-IV, civil society had supported proposals for a paradigm shift, and for a New International Support Architecture. In addition, it called for a more fundamental transformation of the relations between rich and poor, powerful and powerless, and men and women in order to create a more just, equitable and sustainable world. However, the Istanbul Programme of Action does not provide any framework to reach such a world, the Declaration indicates.

The Declaration also voices frustration. “Civil society is frustrated that, having caused massive costs in the LDCs through financial and food speculation, unjust trade rules, illegitimate loans with onerous conditionality, and ecological damage, including climate change, the developed countries have not even committed to provide more aid to LDCs. Even worse, many donors are either reducing their aid or diverting it to pay for climate change damage, despite their commitments in UNFCCC negotiations to provide new and additional funding for climate finance. Current levels of aid are dwarfed by the mounting costs of the damage done to LDC economies and their people.”

Besides, civil society notes that it has been the developed countries that have systematically undermined the process to create renewed partnerships, amongst others by not committing to new targets beyond those already agreed upon in forums such as the Millennium Summit, WTO and the UNFCCC. Civil society, in the Declaration, therefore recognizes the huge potential of South-south cooperation for the future of LDCs. However, it cautions that “Support for LDCs from the south should complement but not substitute for the agreed obligations of developed countries.”

Although civil society does welcome the attention given in the Istanbul Programme of Action to the development of LDCs’ productive capacities, the creation of a technology bank, as well as the need for governments to lead the development process (rather than donors or the private sector), it warns that the approach adopted to achieve these goals demonstrates a repackaging of economic liberalization policies. “The Programme of Action calls for the removal of impediments to the private sector, without recognition that governments need to regulate to protect workers, consumers, the environment and local communities,” the Declaration states.

Consequently, the Declaration calls for a rejection of the Washington consensus; government leadership in diversifying the economies of LDCs; and for putting the rights of vulnerable and marginalised people at the centre of economic decision-making, with stronger mechanisms for transparency, integrity and accountability. Moreover, “LDC governments should uphold and guarantee core labour rights, including freedom of association, and prepare national plans for the implementation of the ILO Global Jobs Pact with the meaningful participation of social partners and representative civil society organisations.”

Civil society also calls for an end to unjust trade agreements. Food sovereignty should be strengthened, and agrarian reform policies must support the needs, strengths and rights of smallholder farmers. Gender equality, and women’s rights, should be further promoted and implemented and women should actively participate in the formulation of policies and decisions, implementation, monitoring, follow-up and evaluation of strategies.

The Declaration further pays attention to the rights of migrants and their families; to public investment in education, health, water and sanitation; to immediate and unconditional debt cancellation; to climate change adaptation and mitigation, and to the need for adequate and predictable sources of finance.