Last week I attended the United Nations International Symposium on International Migration and Development—A three day event in which I had the opportunity to be an entertained and relatively marginal spectator in a circus of haut monde diplomats. My reflections over the course of this affair are many, and in my following account I will consciously limit my impressions to those most directly related to my work here in Italy.
I went into this event knowing that I was not official, multilingual, published, writing a dissertation or anything else that typically justifies ones attendance. I understand as well that the UN, a great political body, is a particularly challenging environment for a woman to gain footing, and that advocates for human rights, which are almost exclusively women, are forced into marginal roles by work that seeks to rationalize rather than transform a system that produces cultural and capital gains (AKA development) in receiving countries, and increasing poverty, marginalization and human rights violations for migrants and their source countries.
This being said, I am a young woman working toward a Masters in Social Work and studying community organizing, not political science, international affairs, law or development, and I am an intern with a human rights NGO in Turin, again an atypical and unwelcome participant. Neither the hosting institution, foundation or country intended for me or Rosanna, the director of TAMPEP, to be present at this event, rather we were there as a result of Rosanna, who learned about the “Symposium”, sent a request to Rome and thereby received dispensation for the two of us.
I gained self assurance and legitimate discomfort over the course of the three days because I came to understand the inappropriateness of (and perhaps what would otherwise be productive about) my (/our) presence. I did not feel out of place simply because I am a social work student, but because I was representing civil society and carrying what they call a “rights-based perspective”. I tried (quite vocally actually) to wrap my head around the apparent absence of civil society in any directly representational form (as well as the topical segregation of “human rights”).
This was the most significant impression I have drawn and which has led me to many others in turn. This absence of civil society represented the international governments’ effort to align themselves at the expense of confronting, and consequently perpetuating, the globally recognized and debilitating disconnect between the people and the policy makers, the political and the social, the theoretical and the actual, and while this seems too obvious and perhaps oversimplified I have yet to gain a reasonable or satisfying explanation.
The fact is that even if NGO representatives do not appear on the panels, their place in the general assembly, in attendance, is still hugely beneficial—they enrich dialogue. I finally got up the nerve to raise a finger (a hand would be improper etiquette) during the panel on “human rights”, the only session of 28 with the word “human” or “rights” in its title, to ask “will civil society be represented or similarly absent from the ‘high-level dialogue’ in NYC this September?” The answer was of course, yes, they will be absent. At this time I was also informed of a meeting that is to take place in NYC on July 12 for NGOs, from which their conclusions will be submitted to the “high-level dialogue” in September.
How is their exclusion from the main-event justified? Why open a dialogue at all if the examination and confrontation of issues through verbal exchange is actually unnecessary, or is it only unnecessary to engage in this activity with civil society, and why?
The actual presence of civil society is crucial. The only “dialogue” that takes place at these events is in the hallways, at the buffet, or when the floor is opened to the general assembly for questions, competing rhetoric, informed comments and inquiries. When civil society is represented, when the people that the diplomats are referring to and whose lives they are deciding have a voice, the dialogue is then not only as it should be humanized, but actualized as well in the context of real experience and through the conveyance of lessons and perspectives gained through the process of developing best practices—those tossed around, so-called terms which are devoid of meaning if so contextually removed from the direct work.
Civil society’s organizations and governmental institutions do not function irrespective of the other. Their interdependency is fundamental to a democratically sound system, and it is through exercising the functions and respecting the necessity of this relationship that dollars and sense seek proper allocation. To neglect these channels, inversely, means that needs will not be met.
The explicit purpose of the projected “high-level dialogue” in NY and the preparatory “symposium” that I had the privilege to attend here in Turin, is to establish an international accord that provides guidelines, incentives and the means for national governments to communicate between their various departments and to collectively address the issue of migration and in relation to development. While this is reasonable, it focuses too exclusively on the internal struggle of governments as they operate in and of themselves and with other governments.
Integrating the people by providing them with representation in the dialogue would make collective accordance a real goal in the enactment and enforcement of policies and the effective implementation of best practices. The UN approach cannot be holistic, integral, or realized outside of its service to bureaucratic infrastructures when civil society is excluded from the dialogue, high-level or low-level, at every level the people exist and should not be ignored or their presence undermined.
Posted By Anya Gorovets (Italy)
Posted Jul 5th, 2006