Ethical Input from Civil Society

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While the United Nations has made a major effort to define moral standards and ethical principles in the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and many other instruments and declarations, most policy and decision-making proceeds without reference to ethical principles. Civil society can make an important contribution in this area by providing an ethical framework for decision-making and drawing attention to the ethical implications of policy proposals. Two possible mechanisms could do this, without being mutually exclusive.
A UN Permanent Forum on Religion and Ethics, patterned after the Permanent Forum of Indigenous Peoples, could provide a space for systematic consultation on the ethical implications of issues, proposals and projects before the Security Council, General Assembly, and other UN organs. Membership would be open to faith-based, spiritual and ethical organizations of civil society that accept the principles of the UN Charter and other instruments, including freedom of conscience for all peoples, and that renounce prejudice, bigotry and violence.
An Office of Ethical Assessment, similar in function to the Offices of Technology Assessment that have operated effectively at the national level, would be staffed by experts knowledgeable in the major religious and ethical perspectives, and draw on outside consultants as necessary. The office would assemble and codify all the ethical principles adopted by intergovernmental processes as the framework for its work. It would prepare reports on the ethical implications of policy-relevant issues at the request of the organs of the UN system, the secretariat, and member governments. It could also provide ethical input to scientific advisory processes. It must be able to operate with complete independence from any political pressure or interference in its work.
Through the inputs of such bodies, expressing the fundamental interests of all humanity, a counterbalance can be provided to decision-making that is too often dominated by national interests and priorities, and the level of debate can be raised. Decisions that are justified by reference to ethical principles like justice and equity will also have a better chance of receiving the adherence of the peoples of the world in their implementation.