An Ethical Think-link

goldman portraitSacha Goldman

July 2003

 

In view of the increasingly perilous world context, the International Ethical, Political and Scientific Collegium is committed to responding intelligently and forcefully to the decisive challenges facing humankind. An appeal calling for the Collegium's establishment was made public in February 2002 in New York and its membership was officially presented on 2 April 2003 in Brussels before the European Parliament. Unlike other high-level groups, Collegium members and associate members, signatories of the Appeal, are scientists, philosophers and present and former Heads of State and Government, recognized for their probity, expertise and unquestionable dedication to ethical values.

Co-chaired by Michel Rocard, former Prime Minister of France, and Milan Kucan, who at the time of the Collegium's founding was President of the Republic of Slovenia, the group's members include: former Presidents Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil and Alpha Oumar Konaré of Mali; Ruth Dreifuss, former Federal Counsellor of Switzerland; philosophers Edgar Morin and Jürgen Habermas; political analyst Benjamin Barber; international law professor Mireille Delmas-Marty; Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights;Nobel Prize winners Joseph Stiglitz and Amartya Sen; as well as former Ambassador of France to the United Nations Stéphane Hessel, who was also present at the creation of the United Nations itself.

The Collegium has expanded its perview in the last two years. Bearing in mind the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the priority of the Collegium is reinforcement of the role of international organizations, given the global nature of current problems. The MDGs represent the fundamental challenges that prompted the Collegium to draft its Declaration of Interdependence, which commits the Collegium to actively contribute in the quest for responses to legal and ethical challenges faced by contemporary society.

At Collegium meetings in New York in the fall of 2003, the Memorandum on "The Role of the United Nations" was officially presented to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and made available to Member States during the General Assembly session. Their interest took the form of direct contacts with the Collegium and attendance at its meetings.

In accordance with its goals—as expressed in the Appeal, in the Declaration of Interdependence and the Memorandum—the Collegium is currently undertaking a series of studies to be developed for the next plenary meeting to be held by the end of June 2004. The main subjects are:

* Principle of precaution and consciousness regarding the environment. The difficulties in applying a precautionary principle stem from the fact that precaution, as well as prudence, cannot be governed by a principle. As a principle applied to allow the prevention of catastrophes, for which the non-evaluated risks can only be a matter of conjecture, it destroys itself, since its implementation would be concomitant with a risk of the same sort. Two examples illustrate this: the climatic changes predicted for the next fifty years, and the question of genetically modified organisms. More generally, ethical issues in science and technology will be addressed on a case-by-case basis, such as reproductive and non-reproductive cloning, bio-nanotechnologies and new information and communication technology.

* Global public goods. The protection of common goods as different as climate, water, air or biodiversity is far from being a priority for private corporations or Governments. Therefore, it calls for a new multilateralism involving not only governmental actors but also corporations, regions with a measure of autonomy and non-governmental organizations.

* Society's responsibility regarding global access to information technologies. The essential need of the media and the global information society is to confront the deepening divide between technologically advanced societies and social groups without access to information. This basic deregulation is threatening humanity from within and has to be considered along with the human threat to the environment.

* World governance. The international community has a unique tool for world governance, in the form of the United Nations. The crucial problem of failed or weakened States is a threat to international stability. Nation-building (or reconstruction) is just one priority for those who seek a world order of peace and justice. A reform that allows a genuine platform for world governance would make the United Nations not only relevant but also indispensable to the restructuring of the world.

The Collegium's initiative draws on itself for its logistical functioning and general evolution. Its focus and main lines of action will be shaped in the coming months. There is huge potential in this area as civil society comes together through a massive and highly sophisticated network. It is crucial that economic, cultural and social rights be given the same weight as civil and political rights, and that they be properly implemented. Political accountability is crucial since most conventions have been largely ratified but rarely implemented. There is no desire to impose either bureaucratic constraints or corporate efficiency on the Collegium. Our organization is not a think-tank; the most appropriate definition would be think-link. Sacha Goldman is the Secretary General of the International Collegium.

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