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Transparency Needed at September UN Development Summit

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Joe DeCapua

The United Nations is preparing for a summit on progress in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), to be held later this month.  The eight goals – relating to such things as poverty, hunger and health – are due to be reached by 2015.

Interim assessments say progress on the goals varies, with some further along than others.

The watchdog group Article 19 is calling for openness at the summit proceedings and this week issued what’s called the London Declaration for Transparency.

Lip Service

Executive Director Agnes Callamard, currently on a mission in Baku, Azerbaijan, says, “Article 19 and a number of other organizations realized several months ago that the issue of transparency and access to information had been completely sidelined from the discussion around the renewal and the next action plan of the Millennium Development Goals.”

The draft of the summit document gives only “lip service” to these issues, she says.

“We are about to embark on the next five-year plan for the MDGs and the central question and commitment to transparency and access to information have not been included.”

Seeing is believing

“The reason why it is central to the MDGs’ realization,” says Callamard, “is that transparency, access to information and indeed the ability of civil society and the media to operate are essential to good governance.”

Agnes Callamard, Executive Director, Article 19
Agnes Callamard, Executive Director, Article 19

She adds that studies of the MDGs indicate that lack of progress is often attributed to a lack of commitment and bad governance, among other problems.

The London Declaration states: “The environment and space for civic engagement and civil society organizations are increasingly restricted, preventing active participation and monitoring and weakening demands for accountability.”

“What we are saying is that in many countries around the world, there has been for the last…two years now a global trend whereby governments are using restrictive laws to curtail the ability of civil society either to establish themselves or to operate.  This trend has been recognized by a large number of organizations now and it was actually one of the key concerns of the U.S. State Department report for 2009.”

Often, in countries receiving donor funds to achieve the MDGs, the governments allow “insufficient freedom to allow civil society to report on how the money is being used,” says Callamard.

She adds that despite donor commitment to aid transparency, “we still have a long way to go for the financial flows from countries to countries…to be fully transparent and readable by the general public.”

The group takes its name from article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states: "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."

The U.N. summit on the Millennium Development Goals will be held in New York from September 20th to the 22nd.

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