Time for a new Pact for the Future

Would you live your life differently if your life’s purpose was designed around a multi-generational problem or goal? This was the central question for over 2,000 civic leaders who attended the United Nations Civil Society Conference that closed yesterday.

The world recoils from several major global shocks. The COVID-19 pandemic, Ukraine invasion, prolonged mass violence in Gaza, rising authoritarianism and climate chaos have left the Sustainable Development Goals, the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in tatters. Rising levels of impunity, inequalities and human rights violations within several countries offer little hope for the future. Further, the knottiest of the global problems the world faces will not be overcome within the short electoral cycles of most democracies, the funding cycles of international development assistance or the actions you and I can take in our lifetimes.

193 Member States will meet at the Summit of the Future in September to reflect on how to accelerate progress against the SDGs, stop rising extreme poverty and hunger, reduce carbon emissions, regulate the risks of artificial intelligence and reboot a 79-year-old multi-lateral system. This week, Nairobi hosted civic leaders from all over the world to discuss what could be a people’s manifesto for the September Conference.

Neither Member States nor citizens must underestimate the scale, complexity, and appalling consequences of a failing international cooperation system. The post-World War Two system is simply no longer fit for purpose. The Pact for the Future must recreate a boldness of imagination or relegate itself to the UN library with all the other declarations stifled by those with power and privilege.

The September Conference must expand spaces for civic engagement at all levels. States and the UN must recognize that identity-based discrimination is increasingly intersectional and programme for persons who are being marginalized simultaneously based on their class, race, gender, sexuality, disability, age or citizenship.

Sexual and reproductive health rights gains for women and girls are being systematically rolled back. This generation must protect, improve and resource the Cairo Declaration or be held responsible for the rising cases of unwanted teen-age pregnancies, unsafe abortion services, intimate spouse abuse and gender-based violence in our families and the communities around us.

The Pact must mainstream the right to social security and a global social protection fund for all, not just for younger and older persons. Many participants also explicitly called for governments to introduce progressive taxes on the rich and their companies and seal corruption loopholes to pay for social protection and unpaid care work.

The delegates’ calls for debt relief and grants for debt-distressed countries are highly relevant for Kenya. The nation is grappling with a major climatic disaster and still paying back loans rather than responding to the misery thousands face. Yesterday’s gesture of a public holiday to plant trees and mourn the dead would have had more power if the President had announced a one-month debt-payment moratorium to respond to the current crisis.

The UN Security Council’s double standards on Ukraine, Gaza and Sudan, among other conflicts, must have left Dag Hammarskjöld, Kofi Annan and several other leader ancestors turning in their graves. I do hope Secretary General António Guterres heard the people’s strong demand yesterday for the UN to be relentless in the call for a Gaza cease-fire and the return of all hostages. The Pact must address the impunity of powerful states in the face of international condemnation for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

It must also squarely address the digital divide and those marginalized by their lack of internet. We must ban highly invasive surveillance and spyware by state or non-state actors and develop human rights-compliant safeguards and regulations to protect our right to privacy.

It took 20 years to largely eradicate smallpox, 400 years to eliminate trans-Atlantic slavery, and 342 years to end colonialism in Africa. A just, safe, and sustainable future will not happen without our joint action. We must act now and prepare others to act tomorrow.

Irũngũ Houghton is Amnesty International Kenya’s Executive Director and writes in his personal capacity. Email: [email protected]