The United Nations has Failed

6 Oct 2009

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One of the reasons the United Nations (UN) hasn't worked is that some of its most influential and powerful members do not apply the principles contained in the UN charter to themselves. "In fact, they defend and apply the law of the jungle -- might makes right," says former UN General Assembly President, Miguel d'Escoto who has just completed a one-year tenure at the helm of the assembly.

The UN has not achieved the fundamental goals for which it was created. These are twofold: 1) prevention of war; and 2) the consolidation of security (or eradicating poverty). If the UN is evaluated against these objectives, then it has failed, says d'Escoto. 

He contends that the power given to the Security Council and particularly the power of veto given to America, France, China, the United Kingdom and Russia are a major reason for the failure of the UN.

d'Escoto argues that the UN is in serious need of "reinvention," particularly the reform of the UN Security Council --  an issue that concerns many other countries.

d'Escoto's views were echoed by many heads of states at the opening of the 64th General Assembly of the UN, including South Africa's President Jacob Zuma who said, "If the UN Security Council is not reformed and does not have permanent representation for Africa, the legitimacy of the council's decisions will continuously be questioned."

Both Bolivia's President Evo Morales and Malaysia's minster of foreign affairs, Datuk Anifah Aman, called for the elimination of the right of veto in the Security Council.

"It can't be possible that in the 21st century, we are still employing totalitarian practices from the age of the monarchies...Those who call themselves leaders of democracy should give up their privileges and accept the true democratization of the Security Council," argued Morales. 

Nevertheless, it is argued that even the most radical reform of the UN Security Council won't go far enough because powers like America have the means to influence members of the General Assembly.

"There are all kinds of pressure tactics and arm twisting," says d'Escoto. For example, a country that may be in desperate need of a loan and have an application pending at the World Bank could be convinced to modify its behaviour at the UN in order to receive the loan from the bank.

d'Escoto's niece and deputy chief of staff, Sofia Clark-d'Escoto explained that aspects of UN culture render reform and innovation improbable.

She contends that there are "turf wars" at the UN and that funding from powerful member states is not unconditional, which often prevents the organisation from carrying out its mandate.

Moreover, there are taboos at the UN, she says. For example, with respect to the problem of global food prices, nobody in the UN committees wants to talk about subsidies that the Europeans put on their exports.

According to Clarke-d'Escoto, this attitude undermines a rights-based approach, which requires addressing structural issues.

While president of the General Assembly, d'Escoto also tried to make the UN more relevant, coining the phrase "G192" to highlight its significance as the most representative platform to deal with issues of global significance, such as, the global economic meltdown.

Of the G8 and G20, he said that they are special minorities, but that this is also due to the fact that they are rich and powerful as opposed to being able to do things well.

d'Escoto's biggest disappointment is the inability of the UN to bring about a resolution to the crisis in Palestine.

"My greatest frustration this year has been the situation in Palestine. The question of Palestine continues to be the most serious and prolonged unresolved political and human rights issue on the agenda of the UN since its inception. The evident lack of commitment for resolving it is a scandal that has caused me much sorrow," he said in his outgoing speech.

You can find this page online at http://sacsis.org.za/site/article/176.19.

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