On 21 and 22 February, the IPU and the United Nations, represented by the President of the General Assembly, brought together more than 200 parliamentarians from over 60 countries, as well as ambassadors, representatives from UN organizations, and experts for their annual parliamentary hearing in New York. The hearing focused on the emerging challenges to multilateralism.
The IPU was founded 130 years ago as the first multilateral organization in the world. It was also a precursor to the League of Nations, whose centenary will be celebrated this year. The current multilateral system, centred around the UN, was born in response to the devastation of the Second World War to provide the foundations for peace and human development for all. However, with globalization, Member States have realized that governments alone cannot provide the answer to today’s global problems such as climate change, migration and nuclear disarmament. This is compounded by growing popular distrust in global governance that seems too remote from national concerns.
Parliamentarians, as representatives of the people, can help change this. They can bring people back into UN processes by ensuring their voices are heard and by turning global commitments into national realities. This can help restore faith in global governance and multilateralism. The IPU, as the global organization of national parliaments, is in a unique position to bridge the democracy gap in global governance by bringing parliaments closer to the UN.
This year’s IPU-UN hearing reviewed the multilateral system to ensure that its underlying rules are still relevant and apply equally to all countries. The Hearing discussed how national politics and institutions can also help strengthen the multilateral system.
In his keynote address, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said "Globalization and technological progress have led to remarkable advances. But they also have also generated increased inequality, especially within countries. People, sectors and regions are being left behind – creating a sense of frustration. This in turn has been a factor in reducing trust in governments, in political establishments, and in international organizations, like the UN itself. It is our duty in parliaments and in the UN to re-establish trust."
In her opening remarks, María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, President of the 73rd General Assembly, said "When Parliaments mobilize support for matters of international relevance, such as gender equality, the participation of young people, disarmament or preventing conflicts, we can guarantee better results in the field and, therefore, strengthen the response to global challenges. Your legislative work is fundamental to incorporate international agreements and instruments into national legislations and to approve sufficient budgets so that Governments can respond to the commitments they have acquired, like the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, which are part of the 2030 Agenda."
Gabriela Cuevas Barron, President of the IPU, said in her opening remarks "The UN has embarked on a process of reform aimed at making the organization more democratic and transparent...As parliamentarians, we have a huge role to play in this process, and in making multilateralism work for the people. This is why about twenty years ago the IPU started a partnership with the UN that is growing closer every year. The partnership aims at two things: to bring the voices of the people, through their parliamentary representatives, into the decision making processes of the UN; and to hold governments to account for the commitments they make here at the UN."
Speakers included Elizabeth Cousens, Deputy CEO, UN Foundation; Asa Regner, Deputy Director UN Women and former parliamentarian; Susan Kihika, Kenyan MP and Chair of the IPU Forum of Women Parliamentarians; Peter Yeo, President, Better World Campaign; Luise Rurup, Director Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES); Karin Landgren, Executive Director, Security Council Report; David Bollier, author, activist and blogger; as well as MPs from Kuwait, Norway, Pakistan and Turkey.
Topics on the agenda
One of the main threads of the discussions over the two days was how to reform multilateral institutions to make them more effective and inclusive. These include the UN General Assembly, the Security Council, and peacekeeping operations. Participants discussed achieving gender equality, not just in the UN and parliaments, but in the world.
With internet, 24/7 news channels, and social media, the multilateral system is now under more intense public scrutiny compared with 73 years ago when the UN was created. How can multilateral institutions adjust to the new era of communications? Can national MPs, with their direct link to the people, become champions for multilateralism in their own countries?
Funding for conflict prevention was also on the agenda. In the past 10 years, the international community spent USD 233 billion on humanitarian responses, peacekeeping and refugees. This is in contrast with over USD 1.6 trillion in yearly military spending worldwide.
For the full programme, see here.
What is the Annual Parliamentary Hearing?
The Annual Parliamentary Hearing, held at the UN in New York, is a forum for substantive debate on global issues between parliamentarians, the UN and other stakeholders. The Hearing’s conclusions and recommendations feed into the work of the UN. Its objective is to help MPs better understand UN decision-making and negotiation processes, as well as give them a space to bring national perspectives to the UN.