As the United Nations celebrates its 70th anniversary, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called for the international community to reflect, take stock, and to spotlight where the UN needs to redouble its efforts to meet current and future challenges across the three pillars of its work: peace and security, development, and human rights.
Responding to the call, the Centre for Conflict Resolution (CCR) hosted a public dialogue in Cape Town under the theme ‘United Nations at 70 – From Global Apartheid to Global Village.’ As former international civil servants discussed whether the UN remains relevant 70 years after it was created, the international body came under fire from various commentators for its undemocratic composition.
“The UN has practiced a system of global apartheid which describes the political and socio- economic inequalities that exist between the rich North and poor South,” said Dr Adekeye Adebajo, CCR’s Executive Director. The paradox is that while the UN embodies ideals of justice and equality the skewed power dynamics mean that the powerful will continue to manipulate the system to the disadvantage of weaker nations.
Other commentators said the UN has failed to reform its governance structures, which remain a reflection of post-World War II power dynamics, and have not effectively adapted to changing global politics. “The governance structure of the organisation was naturally influenced by the powerful voices at the table at the time,” said Dr Mary Chinery-Hesse, former Deputy Director-General of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), “and they gave themselves privileges of control in decision making.”
70 years later, Africa and Latin America have no representatives with permanent seats or veto power in the UN Security Council, a body which has not been reformed since the 1960s. This while 80 percent of all UN peacekeepers are deployed in Africa and African peacekeepers are themselves the backbone of the UN’s peacekeeping capacity. Numerous proposals for how the Council could be expanded have been tabled, with middle and emerging powers like Brazil, India, Japan, Germany, Nigeria and South Africa gunning for a seat at the table. But while the US, Britain and France may make noise about modernising the UN, they are resistant to having their influence in the Council diluted.
Efforts to drive development Chinery-Hesse commented that Africa’s main interest has been in the development pillar of the organisation. In the 1960s African states drove the formation of development-focused agencies, hoping to promote socio-economic growth. However, most of the resources needed for development have not been given a high priority, undermining what could be gained from the UN by the continent.
The UN family as a whole is overstretched and underfunded, and has had to scale back its operations in recent months, hampering efforts to meet the needs of Syrian refugees and forcing the closure of clinics in Iraq. Writing in The Telegraph Mark Malloch- Brown, former UN Deputy Secretary-General – number two to Kofi Annan – said “the UN is poor.” The international body has a development budget less than that of the UK’s Department for International Development (Dfid) and “its total resources and manpower are a fraction of what a regional organisation, the European Union (EU) enjoys.”
Besides being underfunded, institutions like the UN Conference on Trade and Development and the UN Development Programme have a relatively minor impact on decision making in development in comparison to bodies like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organisation. The latter groups are headed by Americans and Europeans, and operate on the basis of Western neo-liberal principles.
Towards 2030 With the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development on the table for negotiation this month, there is a new impetus behind the UN’s attempts to put people at the centre of development; foster human well-being, prosperity, peace and justice on a healthy planet and pursue respect for the human rights of all people and gender equality.
As the General Assembly handed over the draft global sustainability agenda to UN Member States, Mr Ban declared, “Today is the start of a new era. We have travelled a long way together to reach this turning point.”
Deliberation over the Sustainable Development Goals has been unprecedentedly open and consultative, showing a concerted effort by the UN to make its processes less top-down.
However, major global players still enjoy undue influence, as was demonstrated in the recent Financing for Development Conference in Nairobi, during which Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries blocked attempts by the G77 to move decision-making about global tax standards to a more representative UN body.
Culled from thisisafrica.me