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Jana Silverman

As a Way Out of the Crisis, Another World is Possible

by Jana Silverman

5 February 2009

From January 27 - February 1, the eighth edition of the World Social Forum (WSF) took place in Belem do Para, the vivacious gateway city to Brazil’s Amazon region. Under throbbing heat and intense tropical rainstorms, over 130,000 activists from 142 countries came together to establish connections between diverse social movements, debate possible solutions to the current financial crisis, and celebrate the construction of a more just and sustainable world. Members of Social Watch (SW) national coalitions from Brazil, Cameroon, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Kenya, Lebanon, Peru, Uruguay, and Zambia participated actively in this international gathering, both in events organized by SW as well as in others led by organizations with similar objectives as SW.

This Forum was characterized by the strong presence of Brazilian human rights groups, community organizations, and trade unions (activists from the host country were estimated as accounting for between 70-80% of the total participants), and the emphasis on crucial current issues related to the struggle for indigenous rights in the Americas, the war on Gaza, and of course the actual and potential social impacts of the economic crisis. The multitudinous opening march on January 27, marred but not detained by torrential rains, reflected these themes. It was led by a vanguard of indigenous leaders in traditional dress, with over 60,000 members of global civil society participating, many carrying signs calling for peace in Palestine and the necessity of a new economic order in the wake of the crisis.

The three workshops organized by Social Watch and partners such as equalinrights, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, Global Policy Forum, and terre des hommes, were notable for the diversity of the participants as well as the profundity of the debates. On January 30, SW presented its 2008 Report to the WSF public, with a panel discussion focused on the relation between human rights and economic policy. During the event, Kinda Mohamadieh of the Arab NGO Network for Development analyzed the impacts of neoliberal economics for democracy and social rights in the Arab region, while Jason Nardi of SW Italy described the connections between Social Watch’s monitoring activities and the actions of local movements fighting against the privatization of water and other public goods, and Edward Oyugi of SODNET compared the Kenyan government’s failure to recognize the unsustainability of the current economic model to the insects that cling to an animal’s carcass after its death. The debate was followed by a spirited theatrical performance on gender rights in Zambia enacted by members of SW focal group Women for Change.

January 31 was the last day of self-organized activities at the WSF, and was also the date in which two additional Social Watch events took place, namely a seminar entitled “After the Doha Conference: Which Way Forward for the Financing for Development Agenda?” and a workshop on human rights budgeting. At the first seminar, Jens Martens of Global Policy Forum gave a comprehensive summary of the process leading to and the outcomes of last year’s Doha summit on Financing for Development, John Christensen of the Tax Justice Network discussed the linkages between development and tax policy, and Roberto Bissio of the Social Watch Secretariat pointed out the necessity for civil society to insist that all decisions related to Financing for Development and the reform of the international financial institutions must be taken in a truly multilateral forum such as the UN General Assembly and not in exclusionary platforms such as the G-8 or G-20, in order to give all of the world’s citizens affected by the financial crisis a voice in these processes.

The workshop on human rights budgeting was an interactive space in which activists from Czech Republic, India, Bolivia, and the Netherlands, among other countries, shared information about how to use budget analysis as a way to demand the enforceability of the economic, social and cultural (ESC) rights enshrined in international covenants and national Constitutions. In the event, Cornelieke Kaiser of equalinrights showcased a pilot project on the frontloading, or costing of rights, in budget analysis, and Jana Silverman of Social Watch pointed out challenges to using budgets to demand compliance with ESC rights, such as the lack of transparency and opportunities for civil society participation in national budgeting procedures.

This year’s WSF came to a close on February 1 under pouring rain once again, with the meeting of the “Assembly of Assemblies” and the reading of the Forum’s final declaration, which, in the same vein as Social Watch’s call to make rights the answer to the crisis, demands a fundamental transformation in the international financial architecture and urges social movements to keep mobilizing to meet that demand, particularly on March 30 which is the date when the G-20 will reconvene in London. It is now up to global citizens movements, both those present and absent at the Forum, to heed that call, in order to insure that the impacts of the crisis will be paid by those who were responsible for its causes and not by the world’s poor.

Source: Social Watch -

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