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Rethinking how effective political participation can ensure the best talent can address our deepest crises

25 September 2020

On the occasion of the 75th General Assembly of the United Nations, MRG’s Executive Director, Joshua Castellino, read this statement at the high-level segment side event on Participation, Human Rights and the Governance Challenge Ahead. Here is the full text of the statement.

Secretary General, High Commissioner, Your Excellencies & Distinguished guests,

Seventy-five years ago this institution was created in the aftermath of disaster to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, to ensure maintenance of international peace & security and to collaborate in working for a just world.

Based on today’s threats, we are very close to that disaster. It is vital at times like these that reasonable, skilled and committed voices collaborate to achieve those goals and pull humanity back from the brink.

Yet everywhere we appear surrounded by mediocrity and obfuscation. Evasion, avoidance and strident voices dominate us, seeking to break the will of some, but creating widespread social breakdown instead. We have governments that cannot keep us safe, corporations that refuse to accept responsibilities, experts who appear stumped or are ignored, and civil societies that are actively being misled and misleading others.

The idea of protecting the few from the tyranny of the many is centuries old and predates the development of international law. It was based on an imperative learnt by humanity in the midst of disaster, to keep societies safe and ensure that bullies are reigned in, allowing every segment of society to flourish, and, in the process guaranteeing the inherent dignity and worth of every individual on the planet. That idea is breaking down dramatically, with minorities in fatal danger in many parts of the world.

Politics is yielding ever greater incompetence as it draws from a narrower and narrower gendered ethno-religious, linguistic base within states. Indigenous peoples with centuries old wisdom of guardianship of the environment are not at the forefront of the fight to save the planet. Instead they are told they will have to evacuate their lands to offset wanton destruction wreaked by others elsewhere. Human talent that exists in other communities for all kinds of challenges are not being given the opportunity or nurtured to find new solutions.

If at times like these we do not question and actively challenge the wisdom of mob justice and mob rule we are simply walking with our eyes closed towards multifaceted disasters. It is said that at times of crisis, human innovation is at its height. But for this innovation to be brought to bear, it is imperative that societies rethink how effective political participation can ensure the best talent can address our deepest crises. Pretending our political systems are not broken will only yield more mediocrity, compromising the sacred values this organisation was built on.

Photo: A panorama of the United Nations General Assembly taken in October 2012, by Spiff. Licence Creative Commons.