Ethical Support to Policy Making



Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, June 2012

Policy-making today is too often governed by political expediency and the pressures of vested interests. Governments pay lip service to declarations of principles, but seldom consider their relevance to “the real world”. The UN has adopted ethical principles in the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Rio Declaration, Article 3 of the United Nationas Framework Convention on Climate Change (1992) and other instruments, but too often they remain as generalities and their implications are not sufficiently considered in policy and decision-making. Paragraph 6 of the WSSD Plan of Implementation on the importance of ethics for sustainable development requires further action to be effective. Civil society has also completed drafting of the Earth Charter after the failure to agree on a text in Rio in 1992.

We propose two institutional measures at the United Nations to ensure that both recognized international ethical principles and the ethical concerns of civil society are available to UN bodies and decision-makers when adopting policies, programmes and actions.

1. Establish a UN Permanent Forum on Ethics and Religion, patterned after the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, where faith-based organizations and those addressing ethical issues, that accept the principles of the UN Charter, declarations and covenants, can consider the ethical and spiritual implications of UN policies, activities and proposals and make submissions to ECOSOC and other relevant UN bodies.

2. Create within the UN Secretariat an Office of Ethical Assessment to prepare reports, at its own initiative or on request for the General Assembly, the Security Council, ECOSOC and other UN bodies, programmes and agencies, on the ethical implications of issues, policies and programmes under consideration by these bodies, with reference to the ethical principles in the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Rio Declaration and other instruments and covenants, and to the world's spiritual, philosophical and cultural traditions.

These two mechanisms would ensure that decision-makers would have the relevant ethical principles at hand when adopting their decisions. They would also involve civil society and faith-based organizations more directly in UN processes, increasing their implication in international governance and their sense of collective responsibility for the directions that society is taking.

* The International Environment Forum ( is a Bahá'í-inspired professional organization for environment and sustainability in the science and technology major group, with members in over 50 countries.

Last updated 9 June 2012