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    Review of the 2005 UN World Summit
    By Katherine Nightingale for the WCC-CCIA UN office (i)

    The United Nations (UN) World Summit 2005 held in September was the first opportunity for global leaders to prove their commitment to the Millennium Declaration and for the world to see how they were working to eradicate poverty.

    In the run-up to the summit civil society organisations around the world worked at national and regional levels to hold their governments to the commitments they had made 5 years earlier. Then, for three days in September heads of state and government from 154 countries met at the UN to review commitments made in the Millennium Declaration, to decide on several new proposals on human rights, peace, development and UN institutional reform, and to recognise the institution’s 60th anniversary.

    The outcome document from the summit must also be seen as the first official response by heads of state and government to three proposal documents for international policy changes and renewing the United Nations:

    • A more secure world: our shared responsibility (the High-Level Panel report)
    • Investing in development: a practical plan to achieve the MDGs (the Sachs Report)
    • In larger freedom: towards development, security and human rights for all (the Report of the secretary general)

    These documents were produced as part of the most comprehensive effort so far by the UN to review its mandates, structure and effectiveness, and they proposed ambitious reforms for the future of the UN.

    As the outcome document was negotiated late into the night even days before the summit, disagreements ran deep between member states and this was reflected in the mixture of success, failure and postponed decisions that make up the summit outcome document. With an absence of reference to disarmament and minimal fulfilment on development promises, the outcome document left many people disappointed and concerned at what appeared to be a lack of commitment to the spirit of the Millennium Declaration. At the same time there were positive developments in commitments for UN reform and gender equality.

    This briefing aims to outline the WCC-CCIA UN office’s analysis of the 2005 UN World Summit and particularly draws on the summit outcome document as the key indicator of what commitments were or were not achieved. The briefing draws on the key recommendations the WCC made in the run up to the UN summit; namely in the WCC’s Memorandum sent to Kofi Annan in April 2005 responding to the three UN reports, in the letter to G8 leaders in Gleneagles and in the letter to key Ambassadors prior to the UN summit.

    Analysis of the summit and specifically the outcome document:

    1) Economic hustice and poverty eradication
    Although the summit outcome document underscored the recognised links between security and development, there was widespread disappointment both by civil society groups and many member states that the summit failed to live up to hopes for real movement on development issues.

    Whilst it is important to note that the outcome document reinforced commitments towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), world leaders did not agree on any additional commitments in aid, debt relief or trade beyond those made at the July G8 Summit in the UK. Age old commitments to give 0.7% of Gross National Income as official development assistance to poor countries were still not achieved, but pledges to achieve that figure by 2015 did come from some states, and other sources of financing were proposed. Developing countries agreed that by 2006 they would have adopted and implemented national strategies to achieve internationally agreed development goals and objectives, including the MDGs.

    The WCC called on “all countries to honour the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), particularly in implementing Goal eight: to ‘develop a global partnership for development’”.

    Although some countries were pushing to remove any reference to the MDGs, in the end the outcome document did reaffirm the Monterrey Consensus on financing for development with the aim of achieving internationally agreed development goals, including the MDGs. However, this scant reference led many to feel that it signalled weak support for the aims of the Monterrey consensus which was much more ambitious in tackling questions around debt, aid, trade and financing for development.

    In terms of developing a global partnership for development under which the questions of aid, trade and debt rest, the outcome was very limited. Trade liberalisation continues to be accepted as the solution and not part of the problem to development. The outcome document makes reference to a need for ‘meaningful trade liberalisation’ to stimulate development world-wide, and reaffirms states’ “commitment to trade liberalisation and to ensure that trade plays its full part in promoting economic growth, employment and development for all”.(ii) A Commitment to trade liberalisation is seen as a clear outcome of the summit along with a commitment to work towards implementing the development dimensions of the Doha work programme.

    The WCC called for “100 per cent debt cancellation for poor countries and an increase of Official Development Assistance, ODA, to the UN recommended level of 0.7%”. In this area the document continued to disappoint. There were no new commitments on debt relief to those made at the G8 summit. Instead of seeing the debt issue as one of justice, HIPC countries were seen to be dealt with and there was continued emphasis on dealing with debt relief on a case by case basis for those outside of HIPC.

    Commitments to achieve 0.7% ODA by some states were welcomed in the document but even these would not be achieved until 2015, undermining the intention that the additional funds might contribute to achieving the other MDGs. When the WCC raised this point to Louis Michel, EU Commissioner for Development, during a meeting at the summit, his answer was that as the EU was still by far one of the better and more committed group of states on the question of aid. He felt that criticisms should be directed elsewhere to those, unlike the EU, who were not even pledging to reach 0.7% by 2015. Aside from the question of ODA there were additional proposals for innovative sources of funding like the International Finance Facility or a tax on air flights.

    A key positive point that has been widely recognised in the outcome document is the recognition that member states gave in the document to the differing impact of political and economic processes on men and women. Gender was mainstreamed throughout all sections of the document including in issues of peacebuilding and security. Civil society organisations are now concerned that what was recognised on paper is also implemented in practice.

    2) Peace and Security
    Ongoing disagreement and paralysis on the issue of nuclear disarmament (which has already virtually brought the Disarmament Conference and non-proliferation agenda to a halt) provided the greatest missed opportunity of the summit. Any reference to nuclear disarmament was omitted from the final document due, we understand, to the insistence by the US government. Such an omission has serious implications in a world that continues to experience ongoing violent conflict and creeping proliferation in weapons of mass destruction. This omission in the outcome document was recognised by Secretary General Kofi Annan, who described the fact that posturing got in the way of results as ‘inexcusable’ in his comments at the summit.

    On the issue of terrorism, although the outcome document condemned terrorism and called on the General Assembly to negotiate a Comprehensive Convention on Terrorism, this was perhaps possible only because there was no definition within the document of what constitutes terrorism. Disagreements around what acts conducted by states or national liberation groups should be classed as terrorism prevented final agreement on a clear definition being set out in the document. It still remains to be seen whether a Convention on Terrorism agreed to in the outcome document would be possible or useful whilst this ambiguity continues.

    In terms of positive steps forward the world leaders did agree to establish a Peacebuilding Commission (PBC) at the United Nations to help countries emerging from violent conflict. It was agreed that the PBC would be an advisory body with a mandate to coordinate all relevant actors in post-conflict reconstruction and reintegration. It will work with a support office and a specific peacebuilding fund to assemble resources and expertise to assist fragile and post-conflict states. Details such as membership, reporting responsibilities and questions of civil society participation are still to be negotiated, but for many people such a body could fill a crucial gap between peacekeeping and long-term development.

    Another positive point was that the summit document recognised the essential role of women and peacemaking and peacebuilding, and agreed to end impunity for gender-based violence in situations of armed conflict.

    In the run up to the summit the WCC called for “bringing together the concerns of development and security. By seeking a common and inclusive approach involving the global South and the global North, there is a basis for moving towards a reformed United Nations”. This did come out in the outcome document in paragraph I.9 where member states acknowledged that “peace and security, development and human rights are the pillars of the UN system”, and in paragraph II.72 which talks about states “commitment to work towards a security consensus based on the recognition that many threats are interlinked”. Since the summit, this recognition of the link between security and development has become a key part of discussions in the General Assembly First Committee on Disarmament, Peace and Security with respect to small arms and light weapons. It has added weight and support to measures to address the illicit spread of small arms, which has huge consequences for developing countries experiencing violence and conflict. In terms of ‘an inclusive approach’ involving north and south the document clearly emphasised the importance of an effective multilateral system (e.g I.6) and strongly reiterated the importance of consensus (e.g. III.72).

    The WCC also called for “full compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT); the State Parties to explicitly honour and comply fully with their commitments to disarmament; and accession of the Non State Parties to the Treaty. A condition for any new permanent membership in the Security Council should be a clear and verified status as a non-nuclear-weapon state”. Ongoing disagreements right up to the last minute meant that the issue of disarmament was left out of the final document. But this point has been well recognised by the Secretary General’s statement and in the discussions in the General Assembly First Committee, which has used this to put pressure on states to move the non-proliferation agenda forward. Ongoing disagreements about Security Council reform, however, meant that very few substantive agreements were made on this issue.

    The WCC called for “the UN to maintain its responsibility to restrict and limit military force in the framework of international law and as reflected in the UN Charter, and not give room for the possibility of pre-emptive military action based on article 51”. This point was particularly in reference to statements in the High Level Panel Report that did give room for the possibility of pre-emptive military action through its interpretation of the UN Charter and the WCC’s concern on this issue was particularly emphasised in the Memorandum to Annan in April.

    Without mentioning the question of pre-emptive military action specifically the outcome document implies strongly that such action is not permissible under the UN Charter. In paragraph I.5 the world leaders do rededicate themselves “to support all efforts to uphold the sovereign equality of states, respect for their territorial integrity and political independence, refrain in our international relations from the threat or use of forced in any manner inconsistent with the purposes and principles of the United Nations, resolution of disputes by peaceful means and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law…”. This issue is further mentioned in paragraph III.77 where member states “reiterate the obligation of all member states to refrain in their International Relations from the threat or use of force in any manner inconsistent with the Charter of the UN”. Such language in the outcome document seems to close the door to the possibility of pre-emptive military action under the UN banner, at least for the moment.

    3) Human rights and the rule of law
    In the summit document member states committed to the evaluation of the status of human rights at the UN by creating a Human Rights Council and to doubling the resources of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, from a meagre 2% to 4% of the UN budget. Regrettably, however, deep disagreements between member states on the details of the HR Council; including mandate, members, composition and working methods were not addressed in the summit document and are instead being addressed in ongoing discussions which began in October and will go on, probably until the end of the year.

    The WCC called for “a clear understanding that people in extraordinary peril have a right to protection and that if their own governments cannot or will not provide such protection, then the international community has the responsibility to try to provide it”. The question of the Responsibility to Protect is one area in which the UN summit, as evidenced in the outcome document, introduced a potentially historic paradigm shift in the agreed understanding of national sovereignty in international relations. National leaders accepted their responsibility to protect populations from genocide, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. By doing so they acknowledged the collective responsibility of the international community to prevent conflicts and to react to such acts through diplomacy, negotiation, technical and economic assistance, and through military intervention as a last resort. This is an area that will be important to watch in terms of how and when it is starts to influence decision-making at the Security Council.

    The WCC also emphasised that “human rights not be compromised in the name of national security. If poverty and terrorism are to be eliminated, it is essential that civil and political rights as well as socio-economic cultural rights of all peoples be realised”. Although the summit outcome document does make strong general statements about the importance of human rights and international law, the section on Terrorism in the outcome document, from paragraph III.81 to III.91 only makes one reference to human rights. It states that member states “recognise that international cooperation to fight terrorism must be conducted in conformity with international law, including the Charter and relevant international Conventions and Protocols. States must ensure that any measures taken to combat terrorism comply with their obligations under international law, in particular human rights law, refugee law and international humanitarian law”. The linking of terrorism and poverty directly is not something that appears in the summit document except in terms of the links between security and development more generally, like in paragraph III.72;“We reaffirm out commitment to work towards a security consensus based on the recognition that many threats are interlinked, that development, peace, security and human rights are mutually reinforcing”. This recognition has helped those states that have wanted to bring discussions around the impact of illicit small arms on the social and economic development of states into the First Committee where discussions on disarmament take place. In the past some states have argued to keep such aspects to other committees where the issues of development are addressed.

    4) United Nations institutional reform
    Key reform issues of the Peacebuilding Commission, the Human Rights Council and any possible UN Security Council reform were addressed to different degrees within the summit document. Some of this has been mentioned already but in terms of the question of Security Council reform very little was achieved and the only mention is in paragraph V.153 “We support early reform of the Security Council as an essential element of our overall effort to reform the UN, in order to make is more broadly representative, efficient and transparent, and thus to further enhance its effectiveness and the legitimacy and implementation of its decisions. We commit ourselves to continue our efforts to achieve a decision to this end and request the General Assembly to review progress on the reform set out above by the end of 2005”. A further comment is made on reforming the working methods of the UN SC, but overall the lack of any substantive agreement on enlargement of the Security Council and the strong opposition by the Permanent 5 on the UN SC to any reform that would weaken their power has meant that this issue continues to be a political hot potato to be watched in the coming year.

    Some progress was made on making the UN’s management more efficient and accountable. The summit gave the Secretary General a mandate to enhance the UN’s oversight capacity, through greater resources for the Office of Internal Oversight Services, expanded oversight services for UN agencies, a new independent oversight advisory committee, and a new ethics office. The Secretary General was also invited to submit proposals and guidance on reviewing all mandates established between 1945 and 2000, management and budgeting policies, and a one-time staff buyout to improve personnel. But all of these proposals will depend on decisions by the General Assembly, leaving actual results uncertain for now.

    The UN called for “a reform that empowers and strengthens the UN and achieves better representation so that the world organisation can successfully address the global challenges facing humanity: wars, conflicts, nuclear arms, environmental degradation, AIDS and other diseases, under-development, extreme poverty and acts of terror;” Although agreements at the summit mark a step on the way to a more efficient, effective and ethical UN, only over the coming months and the medium to long term will it be possible to say whether the summit actually led the way for the real change aspired to in the above.

    5) Environment
    Although sustainable development is mentioned in the summit document environmental civil society organisations have lamented the lack of progress on the issue of climate change and the fact that the text had been significantly watered down through the negotiation process. Many NGOs felt that, although the final summit document refers to the role of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol, it does not go far enough in recognising the authority of the November 2005 UN Climate Summit in Montreal to begin negotiations for the post 2012 international climate commitments.

    The WCC called for “the implementation of the Kyoto Protocol of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the negotiations for the second commitment period. The WCC reiterates the need to go beyond technical changes in areas of energy, transport and economic policy, for a fundamental reorientation of the socio-economic structures that are at the origins of the climate change phenomenon”. Given that there was not even any recognition for the threat that climate change poses to achieving the UN Millennium Development Goals by 2015, the summit was far from achieving a reorientation of the social and economic structures that underpin climate change.

    6) The role of religion and culture
    With a lack of any reference to religion in the UN reports that led up to the summit, the WCC shared the concerns of other church and faith-based organisations that the question of the role of religion in conflicts was not being adequately addressed. In its Memorandum the WCC encouraged the Secretary General of the UN to explore “ways for the UN to work closely, constructively and creatively with the issue of the increased role of religion in conflicts, international affairs and politics”. The summit outcome document has one, somewhat sidelined reference to religion in Paragraph IV.144 under human rights: “We affirm the Declaration and Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace, as well as the Global Agenda for Dialogue among Civilizations and its Programme of Action, adopted by the General Assembly, and the value of different initiatives on dialogue among cultures and civilizations including the dialogue on interfaith cooperation”. This is a small but insufficient step forward.

    7) Churches and the summit
    In the run up to the summit, as civil society organisations around the world were campaigning around the MDGs, churches and church-based organisations were also engaged in that process. At the UN the WCC-CCIA UN office played a key role in facilitating these deliberations both within the NGO community and in the dialogue with the UN in the General Assembly Hearings held in July in which representatives nominated by civil society came and addressed member states.

    During the summit whilst political leaders gathered at the UN, religious leaders and faith-based community members prayed and fasted to overcome global poverty on the nearby Dag Hammarskjold Plaza. A three-day prayer vigil and fasting, as part of the ‘Summer of prayer and advocacy’, involved several rallies, during which Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Hindu leaders spoke about the importance of achieving the Millennium Development Goals. American faith groups also asked the US government to contribute 1% of the US Federal Budget towards the fulfilment of the MDGs.

    Another event during the summit was a service organised by the Ecumenical Working Group to the UN to lift up the Millennium Development Goals in a prayerful way. The service was held at the Church Centre opposite the UN building and involved many different Christian denominations and church-based organisations with a presence here at the UN, including the WCC. The service was followed by a lunch and a speech from Eveline Herfkens of the Millennium Campaign.

    In addition some church organisations working closely to lobby at the UN (QUNO, United Methodists) worked with dedicated NGOs to follow in detail the negotiations over the language of the outcome document in order to try and ensure the strongest outcome possible.

    After the summit: What has been the impact?

    From the moment the outcome document was released and the summit officially came to a close the work of the 60th General Assembly and the actual implementation of what was agreed or the political impact of what was left out has begun to shape the work of the UN. An example might be in how the very fact that there was no mention of nuclear disarmament in the outcome document has been used by some states to try and push forward the disarmament agenda of the First Committee on Disarmament, Peace and Security. At the same time the recognition of the strong link between security and development in the summit document has been used by many members states in their discussions to illustrate the importance of addressing the issue of Small Arms comprehensively.

    The General Assembly has already begun negotiations on issues left undecided at the summit, including details of the Peacebuilding Commission, the Human Rights Council, a Comprehensive Convention on Terrorism, and consideration of the Secretary General management reform proposals, including those, like the question of the UN Security Council reform which is seen as barely alive and ‘on life support’! At the national level, there are many broad promises and statements of intent in the outcome document, particularly on development, that governments must now put into action. Already civil society organisations are playing an essential role in monitoring progress and holding governments accountable for the commitments they have made.

    As the WCC prepares for its 9th Assembly in Porto Alegre several areas are being put forward for discussion by the Public Issues Committee, some of which will draw on developments from the summit and beyond: Nuclear disarmament, Terrorism, UN reform, Water, and Responsibility to Protect. It is hoped that this analysis will contribute to consideration on these areas. The WCC-CCIA UN office will continue to try and monitor developments after the summit and at key moments in the UN Calendar.


    • Memorandum by the general secretary of the WCC to the UN secretary general in response to the reports: In Larger Freedom, the high-level panel report on threats, challenges and change and the report of the Millennium Project. April 2005.
    • WCC letter to the G8 leaders meeting in Gleneagles, July 2005.
    • WCC letter to the chairs of the G8 and G77 Sept 2005.
    • The UN secretary general’s address to the 2005
    • World Summit, 14 Sept 2005. ‘The 2005 UN World Summit: What was achieved?’ Report by Vina Nadjibulla for the United Methodists Office for the UN.
    • 2005 UN World Summit outcome document
    • 2005 UN World Summit Outcome fact sheet


    i. Acknowledgement must go to Vina Nadjibulla, whose article ‘The 2005 UN World Summit: What was achieved?’ provided analysis and content for this briefing.
    ii UN fact sheet of outcomes of the summit.








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