Thursday, July 17, 2008

New global-local governance structure: UNESCO and the International Coalition of Cities against Racism

From the ever-informative (if rarely balanced) Global Governance Watch website, we learn of an interesting new initiative launched by UNESCO: the International Coalition of Cities against Racism. Here's the (abridged) blurb:

The International Coalition of Cities against Racism is an initiative launched by UNESCO in March 2004 to establish a network of cities interested in sharing experiences in order to improve their policies to fight racism, discrimination, xenophobia and exclusion.

The international conventions, recommendations or declarations elaborated at the upstream level need to be ratified and implemented by the States. At the same time, it is extremely important to involve actors on the ground including the targets of discriminations, to make sure that those instruments are applied to respond to concrete problems. UNESCO chose cities as the privileged space to link upstream and downstream actions. The role of city authorities as policy-makers at the local level, is considered here as the key to create dynamic synergies.

The ultimate objective is to involve the interested cities in a common struggle against racism through an international coalition. In order to take into account the specificities and priorities of each region of the world, regional coalitions are being created with their respective programme of action in Africa, Arab Region, Asia and the Pacific, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, and North America.

The goal, then, is effectively to bypass national governments in seeking to improve the concrete implementation of international commitments "on the ground", as it were. Whether this is presented as a worrying assault on national sovereignty by an unelected global body (as seems to be Global Governance Watch's take on the issue), or rather as an interesting and innovative way of increasing enforcement of existing human rights obligations often in spite of cumbersome and beholden national bureaucracies (which would, I confess, be closer to my own view on the subject), this is an important example of an increasing trend in global administrative governance, increasing the breakdown of the traditionally fairly rigid barriers between the national and the international planes.

The international coalition is guided by a 10-point plan of action (which will be mirrored by the regional coalitions, altered to accommodate the particular specificities of the situations that they confront):

1. To set up a monitoring, vigilance and solidarity network against racism at the city level.
2. To initiate or further develop the collection of data on racism and discrimination, establish achievable objectives and set common indicators in order to assess the impact of municipal policies.
3. To support victims of racism and discrimination and contribute to strengthening their capacity to defend themselves.
4. To ensure better information for city residents on their rights and obligations, on protection and legal options and on the penalties for racist acts or behaviour, by using a participatory approach, notably through consultations with service users and service providers.
5. To facilitate equal opportunities employment practices and support for diversity in the labour market through exercising the existing discretionary powers of the city authority.
6. The city commits itself to be an equal opportunity employer and equitable service provider, and to engage in monitoring, training and development to achieve this objective.
7. To take active steps to strengthen policies against housing discrimination within the city.
8. To strengthen measures against discrimination in access to, and enjoyment of, all forms of education; and to promote the provision of education in mutual tolerance and understanding, and intercultural dialogue.
9. To ensure fair representation and promotion for the diverse range of cultural expression and heritage of city residents in the cultural programmes, collective memory and public space of the municipality and promote interculturality in city life.
10. To support or establish mechanisms for dealing with hate crimes and conflict management.

That there are a number of points here of GAL relevance should be readily evident: access to information, participation, oversight and review mechanisms, all of which are intended to ensure that local administration complies with global obligations regarding racial discrimination. It is also worth noting, however, that UNESCO's involvement here creates a second - global - level of administrative activity itself; it would be interesting to know what, if any, rights to information, participation and review are envisaged in this latter context. It is worth noting, however, that UNESCO is hosting a series of discussion papers on this topic.

This blurring - or, perhaps more accurately, entire recasting - of the important institutional relationships through which global administration is now increasingly conducted is, of course, not without precedent: for example, the World Bank has had, it seems, some success with its "community-driven development programmes" in Indonesia and East Timor, which aimed precisely at empowering local (even village-level) communities directly, without the mediation of national institutional players (for a detailed account of these projects, see this article by J.M. Migai Akech). In this regard, it is interesting to note the vocabulary used in the UNESCO website on this issue, quoted in the blurb above: aside from the management-speak of the "creation of dynamic synergies", it entirely eschews the terms "international" and "national", speaking instead of "upstream" commitments and "downstream" actions. Whether or not these terms themselves will catch on, the intention - for it is surely deliberate - is clear: the traditional, static dichotomies of international law are no longer appropriate; instead, what is required is a more fluid, less rigid rhetoric.

Of course, the proof of this particular pudding will, as always, be in the eating. In this regard, it's worth mentioning this paper on indicators of improvements in combatting discrimination, part of the discussion paper series noted above. If real improvements are forthcoming, however, this could well provide a useful model that can be followed in terms of other human rights treaties; and GAL - unlike, evidently, traditional public international law - provides a conceptual framework within which such initiatives can not only be adequately captured, but themselves regulated. Worth keeping an eye on, in any event.

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