The creation of this open space received a warm welcome from civil society organizations and movements. Additionally, it underlined the importance of ensuring mechanisms of transparency, accountability and community participation, as UNASUR is a space from which large projects with a significant impact can be initiated.
With a number of important national and regional organisations and social movements in attendance, the Preparatory Meeting of UNASUR’s first Citizen’s Participation Forum took place on 19th and 20th September in Buenos Aires. Organised by the Argentine Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Worship, the main purpose of the meeting was to agree with South American citizens the Forum’s Operating Guidelines which were approved by the Heads of Council and Heads of State of UNASUR’s Governing body in August 2013; and to discuss its internal structure and workings, in light of the first Citizens Participation Forum (CPF) due to take place in November in the city of Cochabamba in Bolivia.
The meeting’s dynamics were based on the organisation of work groups made up of representatives from South American social groups and various representatives and civil servants of UNASUR’s member States. Each group discussed all three of the main topics on the agenda: the Internal Workings of the Forum; regional topics for discussion by the Forum; and the “Route Map” leading up to the first Forum in Cochabamba.
The creation of a citizen participation space, as part of the integration process at a regional and national level which UNASUR is taking forward is welcome and long anticipated, and is the result of what is stipulated in Article 18 of their Founding Treaty. For this reason, the majority of the social groups which took part in the meeting asked that the political decision of member States to pursue the creation of the Citizen Participation Forum be highlighted and congratulated.
At any rate, during the conference the work groups reflected their intention to validate and strengthen this initiative, as well as strongly emphasising the need to work exhaustively and continually on the internal workings of the Forum in order to reach an effective level of operation. As a result, amongst other things, it underlined the importance of:
- The need for UNASUR, and the CPF generally, to support the principle of Transparency and Free Access to Information in their operation, which means providing citizens with information (such as topics for discussion, documents, agreements, work schedules etc.) in a timely and appropriate manner.
- Implementing clear, simple and practical mechanisms for guaranteeing broad and inclusive participation in the CPF, placing special emphasis on the participation of grassroots communities, indigenous people and other stakeholders.
- Guaranteeing civil participation in the Sectoral Councils of UNASUR and other forums and institutional mechanisms which have been, or will be, created in the future. This is due to the heterogenous nature of work agendas and the interests of different social groups which makes up the CPF and the need to be able to take part in specific area topics associated with the South American integration process.
- Member countries committing to provide the CPF with sufficient budget so that it can be properly implemented, paying specific attention to issues of participation and communication in relation to the Forum, internally and externally.
- An action plan with targets for the realisation of the first Citizen’s Participation Forum in the city of Cochabamba in Bolivia.
It should be noted that participation in the CPF is open to any South American organisation, social movement, community or individual, for which it brings together and encourages everyone interested in participating in a process destined to play an important role in the integration of the South American people. For this reason, time and again throughout the meeting, the representative of the Argentinian Foreign Ministry, Marcela Bordenave, Focal Point for Citizen Participation in Argentina in respect of UNASUR emphasised that: “South American integration is not an issue for governments. It is a matter for the people”.
See the minutes of the Meeting of South America Social Groups to prepare for the first Citizen Participation Forum of UNASUR.
For more information:
Lic. Gonzalo Roza / Programme Coordinator of Global Governance
Translated by: Stephen Routledge