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With a Critical View of the Process, We Participated in the United Nations Civil Society Conference in Nairobi

With a Critical View of the Process, We Participated in the United Nations Civil Society Conference in Nairobi

Our representatives participated in a week-long set of activities alongside the United Nations Civil Society Conference (UNCSC) from May 6 to 10 2024 in Nairobi, Kenya. The Conference, which gathered senior UN System officials, Ambassadors, and diplomats, and more than 1,400 local, regional, and international civil society organisations, including youth activists and changemakers, academia, public opinion makers, as well as international media, and other stakeholders sought to provide preliminary discussions and inform the negotiations ahead of the Summit of the Future in September 2024 at the UN Headquarters in New York.

In the lead-up to the Conference, and due to the number of concerns raised by the obstacles posed by the organisation to a meaningful participation of civil society, we adhered to the 'UNMute CSO Statement: Summit of the Future 2024'; statement that echoed our worries about the limited space for civil society in this process, in sharp contrast with earlier UN processes. During the organisation process, we were also vocal about the concrete risks of corporate capture the process has been showing, through the equation of corporations and businesses with civil society organisations, included as equal parts in the Major Groups and Other Stakeholders (MGoS). Thus, the difference of power among these actors, added to the shrinking of available spaces of participation, produces an ideal breeding ground for the corporate capture of the multilateral spaces. Notwithstanding and maintaining these apprehensions, we participated in several discussions in Nairobi, especially about implementing economic, social, cultural and environmental rights; climate and broader environmental justice; and, more generally, around the human rights economy.

The first of these discussions saw us participating in the Progressive CSOs Pre-Meeting on May 6, which was convened together by ActionAid, CESR, GCE, Oxfam, Fight Inequality Alliance, GCAP, GI-ESCR, Christian Aid and ISER. The meeting sought to explore the possibility of producing a popular campaign on economic justice and reform of the international financial architecture by delving into the impacts of debt on governments' underinvestment in rights fulfilment; the critical role of tax justice on the collection of the maximum available resources to fund economic, social, cultural and environmental rights, especially to confront austerity measures, fiscal consolidation and wealth tax exemptions; and the potential of the human rights economy concept to guide the state's efforts comply with their humans rights commitments and obligations.

Our engagement continued on May 7, where together with partners from the Africa Coalition on Public Services hosted by the Initiative for Social and Economic Rights (ISER), EACHRights, Peoples Health Movement (PHM) Kenya, Akina Mama wa Afrika, Oxfam, and Action Aid we hosted two meetings. The first, 'Ensuring public services remain a political priority: Engaging policy makers on commercialisation of public services in Kenya', invited policymakers and CSOs to reflect on sustainable gender-transformative public services amidst economic and climate challenges, explore the human rights impacts of private sector involvement in key social services, and catalysed commitment for stronger public provision and financing of these services in Kenya. The second one delved into 'The Role of CSOs in pushing back against the commercialisation of public services' and aimed to create a strengthened movement by uniting diverse CSOs to articulate gaps in the Pact of the Future. The meeting also emphasised the need to reform the financial architecture, underscored the critical role of tax justice in funding public services, and highlighted the important role of CSOs in advocating for increased state financing of these services while using fair and progressive revenue collection.

On May 8, along with other organisations, we hosted the 'A Summit Towards a Future for All' workshop, aimed at producing a collective strategy to influence relevant stakeholders and fora to shape the Pact for the Future and strategise together towards all the milestones in the build-up of the World Summit For Social Development in 2025. Through a critical approach to the process and the Summit of the Future itself, the participants in the workshop reviewed the Zero Draft of the Pact for the Future to identify the gaps in the text and propose alternative narratives that must shape the construction of peaceful, just, sustainable, and inclusive societies, or at least prevent regressions in areas such as the right to health, the right to education, the right to social security, the right to a healthy environment, women's rights and the care economy, the need of fiscal and monetary policies that can support quality public services as devices to support more inclusive and equitable societies, and the reforms to the international financial, debt and tax architectures. The occasion also enabled the identification of concrete avenues to mobilise these points among permanent missions at the UN and other actors and fora at the global and regional levels.

Among the agreements of the occasion, the participants agreed to continue the collective work after the UNCSC to produce a joint analysis and text proposal to the Rev. 1 of the Pact for the Future, and to coordinate the advocacy efforts to make them more effective and impactful. The first of these follow-up meetings took place online on May 28, just after the release of the Rev. 1 and is expected to produce an outcome document with action points much needed to avoid retrogression of economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights, together with ambitious language recommendations to substantively improve the draft of the Pact.

On 9 and 10 May, the United Nations Civil Society Conference occurred at the UNON complex. The Conference was attended by over 1.500 organisations from all over the world. The first day saw the unfolding of a series of workshops intended to address different issues covered by the Summit of the Future, including, for example, gender theory-based critiques of the current states of affairs that have transformed sexual rights, reproductive rights, gender diversity and gender into dirty words; the opportunities opened by concepts such as the human rights economy to better understand how several key issues (i.e. climate, gender, economic justice) interrelate and the importance of articulating responses to tackle these simultaneously; and the critical importance of bringing the global discussions to the domestic level. In addition, the day's closing witnessed a Plenary Session where civil society organisations had the opportunity to engage with key state negotiators and other decision-makers through a pre-selected list of speakers.

The second day was primarily focused on the introduction of ImPact Coalitions, namely, spaces that bring together stakeholders working on various issues, aligned with human rights-based approaches and related to the Summit of the Future to create networks that support Member States who wish to champion specific reforms and proposals toward the Summit of the Future and, crucially, begin the implementation process beyond it. On this day, each thematic coalition held sessions to explain their objectives and opened participation for anyone interested in joining their efforts. Despite some of the offering engaging platforms to hold discussions, these coalitions were highly criticised for their multistakeholerism approach and the risks of corporate capture that they present to human rights-based agendas.

The outcome package of the UNCSC was released on May 30 in New York, during a virtual consultation on the Summit of the Future, organised by the Summit's co-Chairs: the permanent missions of Germany and Namibia to the UN.

Finally, as a follow-up to the meeting held on May 6, we took part in the Economic Justice Campaign Strategy and Planning Meeting held on May 11, convened by ActionAid, A4SD, Amnesty International, CIVICUS, GCAP, HRW and Oxfam. Recalling all the previous conversations and efforts, this opportunity sought to ignite a collective strategy towards a broader economic justice campaign that centres people and the planet. During the meeting, the participants brainstormed on the available advocacy spaces and opportunities to tackle the issues of debt, tax, and climate finance in different international fora for the next two years, including the International Monetary Fund / World Bank Annual Meetings, the Summit of the Future process, the Fourth Finance for Development Forum, UN Climate Change Conferences, and the World Social Summit.

Notwithstanding our remaining criticism of the Summit of the Future's process, including relating to the ImPact Coalitions, we will continue to collaborate with partners and engage in discussions to refine the content and ensure that transformative outcomes emerge from the Summit. Furthermore, we will continue to participate in key activities through follow-up virtual meetings with all participating organisations, as they have and continue to represent a prolific opportunity to join efforts to advocate for economic, social and environmental rights.

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