Campaign launched in New York

Over 100 civil society groups united under the umbrella of ‘We the Peoples’ are calling on the United Nations (UN) to establish a World Citizens’ Initiative. The instrument would enable citizens to put proposals on the agenda of the UN General Assembly for further action.

The Campaign for the World Citizens’ Initiative was formally launched at a meeting opposite the UN’s headquarters in New York on Thursday, 14 November 2019. Initiated by Democracy Without Borders, Democracy International and global civil society alliance CIVICUS, ‘We The Peoples’ aims at bringing citizen concerns closer to the UN. According to a joint statement of the campaign’s supporters, “the UN’s legitimacy, relevance and ability to tackle contemporary challenges can be enhanced by making it more open and accessible to ordinary citizens.”

A legal study presented at the launch event (which can be downloaded here) concludes that the proposed instrument is “feasible” under the UN’s rules and could be established by the UN General Assembly. The study suggests that initiatives that get the support of more than five million citizens from a specified number of states in all world regions should “be placed automatically on the agenda of the General Assembly or the Security Council”. Either of them would then have to “draft a resolution in response to the proposal and then to vote on this resolution.”

“Similar participatory instruments already exist in many cities, regions and countries across the world. A key example we draw upon is the European Citizens’ Initiative that allows European Union citizens who have managed to gather one million signatures in at least seven member states to propose legislation to the European Commission,” said Caroline Vernaillen who is responsible for global community building at Democracy International.

According to Andreas Bummel, Executive Director of Democracy Without Borders, “The 75th anniversary of the UN in 2020 represents a perfect opportunity for the international community to establish a World Citizens’ Initiative as a way to tackle the democratic deficit of global governance.”

CIVICUS’ Chief Programmes Officer, Mandeep Tiwana, stressed, “It’s time to give a direct voice to citizens at the UN to realize the promise of the UN Charter which begins with the words ‘We the Peoples of the United Nations’.

In an opinion piece published on the occasion of the campaign’s launch, Andreas Bummel together with Lysa John, Secretary-General of CIVICUS, and Bruno Kaufmann, a board member of Democracy International, argued that “The World Citizens’ Initiative is a proposal that is in line with the concept of people-centered multilateral cooperation in a spirit of global citizenship and with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”