Making Commitments Matter is an international research project focused on the implementation of resolutions and conventions issued by the United Nations and its Specialised Agencies on the national level. Until spring 2010, more than 100 students and young professionals from 20 countries are conducting research in order to develop a model of a large-scale internet database that could make information on UN agreements more tangible and more easily accessible to the general public.
If UN agreements, particularly non-legally binding ones, are to be translated into national laws and administrative measures by the 192 UN Member States, then a vast number of ministerial officials, parliamentarians and civil society actors - the key players in the domestic implementation process - need to have a sound understanding of these agreements in the first place. However, we currently find ourselves in a situation where the type of information that would be needed for national implementation is not readily available to these people. While ministerial officials and civil society actors are certainly experts in their area of work, the vast majority are laypersons in the field of UN agreements. The mere lists of conventions and resolutions alone appear to be an inadequate information tool for the layperson. The problem is not too little information, it is too much information. To this day, nobody is comprehensively filtering the vast amount of UN agreements for the use of the general public. This situation is quite unfavourable to implementation. In the past two decades, the world has made its entrance into the information age - the availability of useful information is a determining factor for people deciding whether or not to take action.
Course of Action
Until mid 2009, the Initiative is conducting UN agreements research, aimed at developing ways of presenting both legally binding and non-binding UN agreements in a concise and comprehensible manner. More precisely, the Initiative is examining, inter alia, the possibility of categorising operative clauses of UN resolutions according to their conciseness, analysing the paths UN resolutions tend to take through the various UN decision-making bodies, investigating the relationship between UN conventions and UN resolutions with regard to implementation, taking a closer look at how UN resolutions regularly recurring on the UN agenda develop over time, examining UN summits and their follow-up processes and investigating the extent to which the UN administration supports governments in drawing up legal and administrative implementation measures.
Simultaneously, the Initiative is examining the ways in which civil society and state actors are currently retrieving and using information, thereby allowing the Initiative to tailor the model to the needs of these target groups. Civil society research is aiming primarily at which are not accredited with the United Nations and are hence in greater need of tangible information in order to actively use UN documents in support of their advocacy positions. State actor research addresses both the legislative and executive systems of states, as these are tasked with initiating and drafting implementation measures.
The research results will be analysed and compiled into a first draft of the database model in summer 2009. In its second research phase, the Initiative will gather the feedback of a large number of persons and organisations, aiming at further developing and improving the first draft of the database model. For its concluding conference in spring 2010, the Initiative will apply the database model to a few thematic areas on the UN agenda in an exemplary fashion and, along with a business plan, present it to a variety of relevant actors, hoping to convince institutions with the necessary expertise and resources to take up the idea in a concerted effort.
By enabling civil society as well as state actors to retrieve the information needed in the domestic implementation process more time-efficiently, and hence lowering the cost of implementation, this database, once programmed, could contribute largely to making UN commitments matter.