Magazine article UN Chronicle

The United Nations: Redefinition or Renewal? (Thinking Aloud)

Magazine article UN Chronicle

The United Nations: Redefinition or Renewal? (Thinking Aloud)

Article excerpt

What can we expect from the United Nations in the new century? Too much or too little, or just more of the same? Our expectations depend on our perception of what the United Nations is about and what it can accomplish. We have known, ever since the Organization was founded more than half a century ago, that we live in "one world", that whatever happens anywhere on this planet will have repercussions elsewhere. This notion, which was held mainly in the abstract 50 years ago, has proven to be increasingly salient today. The world has shrunk indeed, and the planet has in fact become more of "one world", even as divisions, tensions, conflicts and contradictions appear to be on the rise once more. In an increasingly interconnected and integrated world, the United Nations has a crucial role to play. Can it do it? Will it do it? These are challenging questions as we enter the new millennium.

The United Nations was set up to help prevent war and ensure peace, surely a fundamental task as the world emerged from the terrible slaughter of the Second World War. But the nature of conflict has changed in the decades since then, and increasingly the Organization is called upon to intervene in internal domestic confrontations for which it was not originally mandated and which it has difficulties in dealing with effectively. More than humanitarian intervention is now required in many regions, where massive human rights violations occur and millions of refugees and displaced persons require aid. The United Nations must urgently redefine its institutional role and operating mechanisms to help prevent such conflicts, make effective contributions to building and rebuilding peaceful societies, and protect human rights. Just as important as maintaining stability and ensuring democratic governance is the recognition and protection of the rights of minorities, whose unmet demands often lie at the roots of conflict and violence.

Human rights issues have become truly questions of international concern since the Universal Declaration on Human Rights was drafted. Now that we have this impressive document, including numerous declarations, conventions and protocols, we must develop and consolidate mechanisms such as the International Criminal Court, whereby human rights can be made ever more effective for the world's populations. No organization other than the United Nations has the possibility to provide protection to the victims of human rights abuses, and no other has the moral authority to keep violators in check. But this moral authority must be turned into practical effective measures, or else all the legal documents will not be worth the paper they are written on.

As the global market economy establishes its hegemony over regional and national economic space, it is extremely distressing to witness growing inequalities between and within nations, and to see that the problems of poverty and social exclusion are not disappearing; quite the contrary. For many decades, the industrial North has been able to concentrate wealth and resources, while the "developing" South has been falling farther behind. The United Nations Human Development Index underlines the geographic, ethnic, gender and social disparities that must be overcome if the concept of "one world" is to have any meaning. Massive poverty generates despair, which feeds into social tensions and political instability. In this new century, the United Nations needs to reaffirm its commitment to world economic and social development and its engagement with the world's poorest and neediest populations. …

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