Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Understanding the chaos at United Nations


Yesterday, 7th of April, which was the first day of the 47th Commission on Population and Development, the official negotiations took off. However, governments delegations as well as CSO representatives have not been sitting still over the weekend.

Even before the weekend, ‘the informals’ had already started: these informal-but-in-reality-not-so-informal negotiations provide countries (and country groups) the opportunity to give their first input for the Zero Draft. The Zero Draft is a document written by the chair of the Commission, and forms the first draft for the final outcome document of the week. The informal negotiations usually set the tone for the rest of the Commission: who will be in favor and who will be against certain population issues.

This is not as simple as it sounds, as there are many terms related to population and development that are considered controversial: access to safe abortion, sexual orientation & gender identity, sexuality education, gender equality – and believe it or not, but even human rights have been disputed.  Government delegations organize around these issues by having regional meetings, during which the delegations try to find common ground, map and estimate other country’s positions and to define strategies for the rest of the week. These strategies go from the EU taking a strategic, moderate position to avoid opposition, to ‘hard-core’  individual countries like Brazil and South Africa who aggressively push progressive language in the outcome document by trying to add more new paragraphs than the Arabic countries can delete.

At the same time, civil society organizations have been trying to organize themselves over the weekend by having strategy meetings. The amount of civil society members attending the CPD has never been as large – this is understandable, considering that this is the 20th birthday of the Commission of Population and Development.  But strategy meetings with over 200 members are complicated. How do we coordinate our efforts to push for progressive language in the final outcome document? Civil society groups have therefore divided themselves into sub strategy groups related to language, monitoring, advocacy, communications, etc. Also, updated country standpoints are shared, regional subgroups are identified, communication is arranged and daily briefings are scheduled.


In the meantime, the UN has been trying to facilitate the process of having a huge number of government delegations and civil society organizations present in their building. With little success so far – the conference rooms reserved are so small that not everybody fits in and negotiations are called off; UN ground passes are only provided for two days instead of the normal five; the UN building is still under construction;  and the Vienna café is still the only café in the building, which means bad coffee all week. At the same time, a huge amount of government delegates and members of civil society organizations keep running around, organizing, negotiating, lobbying, strategizing, opposing the opposition, stealing each other’s documents and fighting for the development agenda they stand for; that is the chaos of the UN.

by Floortje, from CHOICE for Youth and Sexuality