The high-level meeting in Mexico: Sweden should raise citizens' opportunities to influence societal development

Today, the world's aid and development actors meet in Mexico to sharpen aid effectiveness. An excessive focus on the private sector risks taking place at the expense of political space for citizens to influence societal development. That is the opinion of Erik Lysén, international director of the Church of Sweden

Aid and development actors around the world are now preparing for the high-level meeting in Mexico. The Church of Sweden's international work, as part of the global ACT alliance, wants to highlight before the negotiations the importance of the future development agenda looking at the added value that civil society organizations carry with them as development actors in their own right. Human dignity and human rights must be at the heart.

The High Level Meeting, to be held in Mexico on 15-16 April, will guide the future direction of the Global Agenda for Development Efficiency. The meeting is also an opportunity to critically examine the international commitments made at the previous high-level forum in Busan in 2011. With less than two years left before the Millennium Development Goals are to be met, it is important to move the agenda forward.

The mischief declaration from 2011 contains several successes with key commitments on democratic ownership, enabling the environment for civil society organizations, and a focus on the importance of stakeholder collaboration for effective development. The role of both civil society and the private sector in development cooperation is emphasized. Unfortunately, we see a weak global political will to implement Busan's ambitious commitments.

In order to meet all the global and national challenges that exist in terms of implementing and following up on the commitments from Busan, there are mainly two areas that must not be forgotten in Mexico.

Reduced space for civil society - a global trend

In recent years, freedom of association has been increasingly restricted. The development is worrying and it is important that the issue receives global attention. A number of reports have been published that confirm a downward trend in terms of support, protection and conditions for organizations that want to work for sustainable, secure, democratic and just societies. The issue has been raised on several occasions by Maina Kiai, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Meeting and Association. He emphasizes that sustainable development can not only be carried by companies and economic measures. There must also be a freedom for committed people to organize in order to contribute together to the development of their own society.

For this to be possible, a framework with clear mechanisms for demanding responsibility is required. Civil society organizations must be able to act as development actors in their own right. It is important to support the diversity of civil society, in line with international agreements and human rights. At the same time, it is important to support the efforts to achieve a transparent and responsible activity in accordance with civil society's own development efficiency principles, the so-called Istanbul principles.

2. An inclusive framework for global development cooperation is required

In 2011, Busan stated that partnerships for sustainable development between different actors are fundamental for effective global development cooperation. A diversity of actors who work together on equal terms is an important prerequisite for achieving an inclusive and sustainable development agenda. A partnership for development must include all development actors in the global arena - the state, the private sector, investors and civil society organizations. Too strong a focus on private sector participation and investment risks leading only to the importance of an enabling environment for companies, at the expense of political space for civil society organizations. This would run counter to the commitments made by Busan, which point to the very important role that civil society organizations have in their own right as a development actor.

The Church of Sweden calls on Sweden to include in the global development agenda for aid efficiency an enabling environment for actors who work for democracy and the fulfillment of human rights. We also call on Sweden for civil society organizations to be perceived as a development actor in their own right. It is a fundamental precondition for active citizenship - in itself a precondition for a living democracy. The opportunity for citizens, both nationally and globally, to participate and contribute to the development of society is a human right.

Erik Lysén

International director of the Church of Sweden

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