The former President of Ireland and United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights told an UNCTAD civil-society symposium that accountability and "shared responsibilities" are needed to ensure development.
Ms. Robinson, who is now the president of Realizing Rights: the Ethical Globalization Initiative, gave a special address to the closing session of UNCTAD's second Public Symposium, which had focused for two days on the theme of "Responding to Global Crises: New Development Paths".
Ms. Robinson said that a year after global trade had fallen sharply and the world had appeared to be on the verge of a depression, a fragile recovery was under way. But focus still was lacking on the "people at the centre of these crises," she said, and progress in "people-centred development has been limited, at best" because of a failure to address persistent problems that cause poverty and widening inequality in countries around the world.
Africa still has not received much of the billions of dollars in aid money promised by the leaders of the G8 industrialized countries in 2005, she reported. This is a reminder that "we must find more effective means to hold governments to commitments made." "Donors need to provide and be accountable for clear commitments on future aid volumes, as well," she said, "and partner countries must provide good leadership for the effective use of this aid."
Ms. Robinson called for increased attention to the ongoing global jobs crisis. She said that "last year's adoption by the ILO (International Labour Office) of a Global Jobs Pact was an important recognition of the need for employment-creation to become a priority macroeconomic goal, in the same way as low inflation and sustainable public finances are today."
International agencies, and governments acting internationally, needed to be able to react to global trends as they affect the world's poor and underdeveloped, Ms. Robinson said, whether the crises concerned were rapidly developing, as the global recession had been, or slower, as issues of food security continue to be.
She told the symposium that populations in developing countries needed access to justice, labour rights, land rights, and business rights. Business rights might seem an odd concept when related to the world's poorest, she said, but in fact it was vital: the poor must be able to found businesses, take advantage of profit-making opportunities, and work their way out of poverty.
Ms. Robinson called for a "minimum social floor" so that sustainable economic development can occur; if all don't have basic access to health, food and education, she said, they are too hindered in carrying out economic development to have much chance of succeeding. In the face of economic shocks such as those now under way, governments must have the "policy space" available to take the steps necessary to meet the basic needs of their populations.
Ms. Robinson went on to say that countries at all levels of development should be accountable: "accountability is a driver of positive societal change". And she emphasized that women's rights and empowerment were vital for lasting progress and for raising living standards in the developing world.
"What has been discussed here over the past two days embodies a recognition that we must embrace shared responsibilities across national boundaries," she told the meeting. "For example, self-interest and short-term thinking have plagued progress on global trade reform. This has meant that the inexorable expansion of global trade has too often resulted in worsening lives and livelihoods in developing countries - instead of providing the pathway out of poverty to which it could contribute significantly."
"When governments provide development assistance, but at the same time continue massive agricultural subsidies to their own farmers, they aren't promoting sustainable development for all. They are undermining development prospects and damaging the livelihoods of some of our most vulnerable sisters and brothers."
Ms. Robinson was President of Ireland from 1990 to 1997. She served as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights from 1997 to 2002.
Following her address, a summary of the two-day symposium was given by Mr. Debapriya Bhattacharya, UNCTAD's Special Advisor on Least Developed Countries, who noted the emphasis placed during the debates on a "human recovery" from the world financial crisis - a recovery which still appears to be lacking in developing nations; on the mounting unlikelihood of meeting the Millennium Development Goals; and on continuing problems with food security.
Above all, he said, there was a conviction expressed at the symposium that the "conventional" approach to development had not worked, that "business as usual" should not resume, and that major reforms should be made to the global trade and financial systems so that poorer nations and people benefit from the global economy and so that future worldwide recessions are avoided.
The UNCTAD Deputy Secretary-General, Mr. Petko Draganov, said in his concluding remarks that the symposium had been a process of reflection on what had gone wrong with the world economy and on what should be done "to fundamentally rethink what we are doing and how we should do it." Participants had made it clear that there were widespread concerns about governance issues, at national and international levels. At the global level, the "voice of the G192" needed to be heard and not just that of the G20, he said, referring to the 192 member countries of the United Nations. It was also obvious that any future development paths needed to be low-carbon or even carbon-free paths - not only for environmental reasons but also because of the economic benefits to be gained from structural transformation to a low-carbon economy. These included job-creation and income-generating opportunities, reductions in debt and exchange rate vulnerabilities, and enhanced food security.
Mr. Jean Feyder, President of UNCTAD's Trade and Development Board, and Chair of the meeting, said, in closing, that the symposium had highlighted the fact that the "social cost" of the financial crisis "is really huge… and macroeconomically, there is a real need for some kind of regulation that is robust and solid. We have not seen that desire translated into practice."