UN Summit Makes Progress on Genocide but Leaves Millions in Poverty


Leaders meeting at the UN summit this week delivered a major breakthrough on stopping genocide but did next to nothing for the world’s poor, says international agency Oxfam.

As leaders adopted the summit declaration and the meeting ended, Oxfam said that the one area where governments acted boldly was to agree on their collective responsibility to protect civilians facing genocide and other similar atrocities. World leaders appeared nonchalant about the lack of real progress on more aid, fairer trade, and debt relief. If current trends continue, it will take 100 years instead of 10 to meet the Millennium Development Goals, internationally agreed upon targets for reducing poverty.

Nicola Reindorp, head of Oxfam’s New York office, met daily with ambassadors at the UN before and during the summit:

"World leaders agreed to stop future genocides but failed to provide life-saving aid to millions trapped in poverty," Reindorp said.

"This has been a tale of two summits. The historic agreement to stop future genocides stands in stark contrast with the lack of progress on ending poverty."
>Oxfam warned that the debt deal announced at the G8 meeting in July and endorsed at the UN summit could fall apart at the annual meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund next week unless governments make firmer commitments to fully finance the debt cancellation.

"Leaders must urgently get back on track to deliver debt cancellation and fair trade," Reindorp said.

Oxfam said that the ground-breaking commitment to end genocide means that governments can no longer use sovereignty and non-intervention norms as excuses to avoid having to act to protect civilians from mass killings. In Rwanda, the UN Security Council quibbled over definitions of what was taking place and failed to act while nearly one million people died in 100 days. In cases where the national government is unwilling or unable to protect civilians, governments have now accepted their shared responsibility to do so, using force as a last resort.

"The next step is turning this historic agreement on ending genocide into practice to save lives," Reindorp said.

Oxfam is calling for the following next steps:

  • Debt: Oxfam is concerned that the debt deal worked out at the G8 meeting in Scotland this summer is in danger of being watered down at next week’s World Bank and IMF meetings, and urged governments to fully commit the funding to ensure that the deal is passed without adding extra conditions.
  • Trade: Progress on agricultural subsidies and recognizing the right of poor countries to decide the pace and scale of opening their markets must happen ahead of the WTO ministerial in Hong Kong in December. The European Union and the United States must agree to a timetable for ending export subsidies to move the talks forward.

Oxfam’s analysis of the summit outcome document:

Landmark agreement:

  • Leaders endorsed their collective ‘Responsibility to Protect’ civilians from genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and ethnic cleansing. This requires governments to take timely and decisive action, using a range of measures, including force to protect civilians where the government of the people concerned fails to do so.

Positive outcome:

  • Education: Good text in support of Education for All Fast Track Initiative, no mention of missing the first Millennium Development Goal of getting an equal number of girls into school as boys. Support for the elimination of user fees for primary education.
  • Debt relief: The outcome statement confirms the G8 commitments in July, despite the need for revising and expanding the deal. Acknowledges the need to "consider additional measures," which is a positive reference to debt relief for middle-income countries.
  • HIV/AIDS: The summit outcome document endorses the G8 commitment to universal access to HIV treatment by 2010.
  • Women’s Rights: The document recognizes the need to end impunity for violence against women and guarantee rights to labor protections, property ownership, and reproductive health services.

Main weaknesses:

  • Millennium Development Goals: The document fails to make a real review of progress. There is no sense of urgency, no recognition of the goal that has already been missed, no acknowledgment that, if current trends continue, it will take 100 years instead of 10 for the goals to be achieved.
  • Aid: The text is actually a step back from the Monterrey Consensus of 2002. No joint commitment was made for governments to deliver 0.7% of gross national income in overseas aid.
  • Trade: The text is weaker than the Doha trade agreement of 2001. It endorses trade liberalization and no mention is made of the elimination of subsidies or the power of poor countries to decide the pace and scale of opening their markets.
  • Small arms: The text includes no new controls on small arms and light weapons but merely restates 2001 agreements.
  • Humanitarian reform: The document includes no commitment to increasing resources for humanitarian response. There is good wording on strengthening the authority of the humanitarian coordinator, reaffirming the commitment to humanitarian principles, and commitments on ensuring humanitarian access.


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