Will HLPF push for accountability in post-2015 development agenda?

Kate Lappin, APWLD
Without robust accountability and monitoring mechanisms, how will people ensure that their governments deliver on the promises they make towards post-2015 sustainable development agenda? Past experience tells us that governments may make promises at the global level but seldom translate them into ground realities back home! Even worse is when at times the commitments made by governments in one treaty are contradictory to their obligations in another! Profit-driven corporations often have a major influence in policy making and thwart measures that may harm business interests.

Heart wrenching human rights violations done by corporations in so many countries globally, who are not even held to account for these violations, is a living example of what happens when pro-people accountability systems wither away. So it is important to ensure that accountability is top on agenda while we discuss beyond-2015 development framework.

Kate Lappin who leads Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD) made a strong case to mobilize civil society to have a high ask when it comes to accountability and monitoring mechanisms in these processes. She was addressing participants of the Asia Pacific Civil Society Forum on Sustainable Development in Thailand. She shared recommendations for possible roles High Level Political Foum (HLPF) can play in this direction.

What is High Level Political Forum?

In the 2012 UN review conference of Rio+20 (signifying 20 years of UN Economic and Social Council (UN-ECOSOC)'s annual sessions on sustainable development), governments agreed to replace the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) with a High Level Political Forum (HLPF). Hence HLPF became another process to effectively shape the beyond-2015 sustainable development agenda. There were other processes too, such as Open Working Groups (OWGs) which concluded with a list of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 targets. Another process was Intergovernmental Committee of Experts for Sustainable Development and Financing, which concluded after 10 sessions (July 2013-August 2014).

HLPF is unique in a way that it is rooted not just in UN ECOSOC but also in the secretariat of UN General Assembly. Another unique aspect of HLPF is that its resolution supports regional processes to feed in, but the other two processes mentioned above are largely 'New York centric'. Hopes are high that HLPF could be one of the ways to call for strengthening accountability and monitoring mechanisms around post-2015 development agenda.

Kate Lappin of APWLD said: "We have nearly got to the stage where we have some sense of what the goals and targets are going to be, so now we need to ensure how can we use them to be something more than rhetoric." After all we do want the governments to deliver on the promises they make towards these goals!

Policy coherence: No more 'One hand gives, other hand takes'

Kate Lappin at Asia Pacific CSO Forum on
Sustainable Development (Photo credit: CNS)
Kate shared that: "Policy coherence is already a part of UN Charter, according to which UN treaties must be given primacy above other kinds of treaties including international trade and/or investment agreements. So HLPF should ensure that any commitments that governments make elsewhere, are not contradictory to the commitments governments have made through these development goals."

Synergy is key: All should move towards development justice!

"HLPF should be driving those institutions that we think are critical for development goals to work - such as International Body on Tax Cooperation, which was mentioned in some of these processes too. The Sovereign Debt Restructuring Mechanism which came from UN General Assembly Resolution, clearly calls for looking at private sector accountability. One possible area for coherence should be around UN Human Rights Council's adoption of a resolution in June 2014 to elaborate a binding instrument 'to regulate, in international human rights law, the activities of transnational corporations and other business enterprises.' HLPF should be creating coherence and help strengthen the call to create a binding framework to hold transnational corporations accountable when they violate human rights" said Kate.

Periodic reviews of which people are a part

"One of the advantages of calling for universal periodic review of the HLPF is for the developing countries to get an opportunity to question developed countries and hold them to account. This peer review mechanism could be a part of HLPF as it was also mentioned in the UN General Secretary’s synthesis report. Civil society could be part of this periodic review – as many of us are already doing such reviews in form of shadow reporting, or exposing governments using other mechanisms."

Organizing civil society - works!

We need effective consultative models so that people in different parts of the world could meaningfully participate and inform policy-shaping processes at all levels. "We should recognize the contribution of the organized civil society constituencies at the regional level. Asia Pacific Regional Civil Society Engagement Mechanism (RCEM) is the only region that has come up with an organized constituency consultative model – it should be recognized in HLPF" said Kate, who called for similar processes that work in regional and communities' contexts globally.

HLPF should also be a space other UN agencies to report their work. "If private sector is going to get any kind of grants or enter into partnerships through the UN then they should be held accountable by the HLPF too" said Kate.

She also shared that "HLPF could play another role by reviewing and addressing the obstacles to equitable technologies and establish technology-facilitation mechanisms."

UN Human Rights Council has independent special rapporteurs whose contributions have added value. HLPF could play a role by establishing independent special rapporteurs to look into the systemic issues.

HLPF could apply the principle of non-regression particularly around participation and access to information, so that wider civil society could be genuinely engaged in the process. "HLPF should have a role in facilitating communities' engagement and monitoring and accountability of these sustainable development goals. This can be done through funding civil society and different mechanisms we have set up independently" said Kate.

Can everyone have a voice in shaping the post-2015 agenda?

"Respecting the diversity of the civil society and our movements, we call for not restricting its engagement to 9 major groups but in fact it should be civil society itself that should define its expansive nature and diversity. All those groups who wish to engage with this process should be able to!" said Kate.

"We need to respect the autonomy of civil society and its capacity to contribute meaningfully in an organized manner. Civil society should have full access to all official documents and information. Timely access is key!"

"We need to ensure that civil society is not just called in to read out statements, rather is more meaningfully engaged in the entire process. We should have the opportunity to define the agenda as equal partners. We should be part of the joint working groups for example as there are precedences where civil society had become part of intergovernmental working groups too. We also need the right to intervene in the process in addition to observing, participating and making statements" said Kate.

"Civil society selection process should nominate people who will speak in civil society speaking slots. This will be an important step forward so that governments or UN agencies do not hand pick civil society representatives" said Kate.

"There has not been much discussion at HLPF about formalizing national level engagement of civil society but when governments report or when they have any kind of national reporting, we need to have civil society engagement as well."

As is already happening to some extent at the Asia Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development (APFSD), civil society should be supported to co-organize side-meetings or sessions with governments or UN agencies around such processes.

Governments should not forget promises!

"When UN Charter itself calls on governments for not eroding commitments they make to the UN through any other process (such as bi-lateral or multi-lateral agreements etc), then why cannot we implement this in letter and spirit and call for policy coherence?" said Kate.

She gave an example where accountability clauses are being removed from processes and countries that will face the brunt are not even defending it! "In Financing for Development Agenda for example, in the first draft it had that clause on specifically reviewing Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) – but it got removed in the final draft. It seems as if there is no political will! G77 countries did not even defend it. Several countries are on the verge of bankruptcy because of the capacity of corporations to sue them!" May be it is because of compromised policy space these countries have due to heavy influence of corporations in their policy making.

Kate was hopeful that HLPF can perhaps help ensure accountability and policy coherence. "It should be very much part of our main advocacy for HLPF and through other processes as well."

Bobby Ramakant, Citizen News Service - CNS
19 May 2015

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