We propose an agenda to the UN about Universal Rights and Global Public Good

Dear Secretary-General

We are writing on behalf of “Agora”, a world-wide network of citizens committed to advancing global issues of health, water and food(1). With this text we have the honor to bring to your kind attention some specific thoughts and a supplemenary proposal to the Agora’s call on the international community to rally around the concept of global public goods in addressing the unprecedented global crisis and challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Human rights are at the very centre of the recovery

With deep appreciation of your leadership and efforts since the outbreak of the pandemic, we seek your support in mobilizing responses to the crisis, which are rooted in the UN universal human rights that address its health, socio-economic and security missions in an integrated manner.

The pandemic has exposed in the starkest possible way the inequalities and injustices that characterize human and political relations in the world today. We fully share your view that frontally addressing these conditions, these deeply entrenched violations of human rights, should be at the very center of the recovery. The realities we are facing today render timely and compellingly, what may have appeared until now unrealistic, or even utopian.

Indeed, the pandemic is dramatically driving home that, as long as there continue to exist stark inequalities in access to public health goods, no one – rich or poor – will be safe, and no one can be sure of being spared. No one country can hope to succeed alone, which is why Governments, everywhere, must act together without delay in a spirit of close cooperation in the interest of all inhabitants of the Earth. We must enter the era of the “world of global public goods”.

Global public goods : an agenda for a new world social contract

We strongly believe that the concept of global public goods is a concept around which the international community can rally and build a renewed sense of common purpose.

We are encouraged by the stances you have personally taken in calling for a new social contract and a new generation of social protection policies and safety nets, including universal health coverage. We were also pleased to see that the international discourse at the United Nations, including in the Security Council and the General Assembly, is increasingly calling for an enhanced focus on global public goods as an integral part of the effort to give the United Nations a renewed and more inclusive sense of its mission as it marks its 75th anniversary.

The approach to the concept of global public goods set out in the letter is guided by a vision of politics and society that binds us members of “Agora”. But the concept is anchored in the universal principle of the right to life and in internationally agreed political, economic, social and cultural rights. It should be pursued as an indispensable instrument for realizing the commitment to leave no one behind that all governments have subscribed to in Agenda 2030 and so avoid that commitment remaining a mere declaration.

We believe that the notion of res publica, or global public goods, provides the underlying principle for framing the response of the international community to the COVID-19 crisis and also global health challenges in the future, and offers a way out of the blind alley situation that we are in. It also offers a basis for overcoming the now entrenched, single-minded ideological reliance on financial market and private corporations, all in the North.

The principle of universal access, indeed free access, as a right, to a COViD-19 vaccine is increasingly uniting people across the globe. It should be the basic instrument for operationalizing human rights across current divides and restoring trust, the social contract between citizens and the state, and a genuine democracy based on the participation of all.

The challenge for science and technology beyond commodification, privatisation and militarisation.

Much remains to be done to free our societies from commodification, privatization and militarization of life under a compelling and competitive utilitarian conception and vision of science and technology, particularly in the fields of life science/biotechnologies and cognitive sciences/artificial intelligence.

Today, more than 50,000 patents on living organisms and even higher figures in the field of artificial intelligence have transferred key decision powers on the future from the public to the private space. This has led to the emergence of new social global divides: information divide, digital divide, health divide, knowledge divide, education divide, to name but a few. Health and knowledge must today be recognized as global public goods in order to halt processes that deepen global fractures and gaps between haves and have-nots, and which have been so starkly highlighted in the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

Accordingly, we would like to suggest that an additional and important step for the United Nations should be a deliberate effort to leverage the potential of innovation driven by science and technology to urgently promote open, inclusive debates on issues and policies, using COVID-19 as a platform and a stepping stone in this direction. Responding to the yearning of peoples to regain influence and control of their individual, group, national and common destinies is currently perhaps the main political challenge facing citizens, civil society and governments at all levels. To be true to the spirit of its mission, the United Nations must also do its part to contribute to the democratization of policy development and promote the appropriate policy decision mechanisms and institutions at global level – the relevant open public space – to cope with issues of universal concern (building the “world res publica”).

With this need in mind, we consider that a global United Nations webinar, under your auspices as Secretary-General, should be organised on the theme of “Global public goods and COVID19: seeking solutions to human health and sustainable development needs”. Such a webinar would act as a platform on which representative actors and thinkers concerned – from both South and North, and from different walks of life, many of whom are not and cannot otherwise be heard or noticed globally – to express their views.

We are copying this document to the Presidents of the General Assembly and ECOSOC, to the Executive Director of WHO, to the Secretary-General of UNCTAD, as well as to the chairs of the Group of 77 and of Non-Aligned Movement in New York. We feel strongly that the initiatives we are proposing can make a contribution in support of a universal rights and justice-guided world recovery Agenda 2030.

The initial online dialogues outlined in this letter should in turn contribute the necessary impetus to accelerate global action in this important direction. In this effort you Mr Secretary-General and the organization as a whole can count on the wholehearted support individually and collectively of all members of Agora.

On behalf of “Agora”

Alain Adriaens, Alain Dangoisse, Pierre Galand (Belgium)

Anibal Faccendini (Argentina)

Boaventura de Sousa Santos, Joao Caraça ( Portugal)

Fatoumata Kane Ki-Zerbo (Burkina Faso)

Federico Mayor (Spain)

Ina Darmstaedter (Germany)

Jean-Pierre Wauquier (France)

Luis Infanti de la Mora (Chile)

Marcos P Arruda, Luiz Rena; Armando De Negri (Brazil)

Pierre Jasmin , Iacques Brodeur, Jean-Yves Proulx, (Canada-Québec)

Puthan V. Rajagopal (India)

Riccardo Petrella, Roberto Savio (Italy)