Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Monday, September 05, 2005

"UN Reform," September 5, 2005.

In a less than two weeks, from September 14-16, the largest summit meeting in history will convene in New York city to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the United Nations. 2005 is also the 5th anniversary of the Millenium Declaration. So when more than 170 heads of state converge on the headquarters of the world's most representative multilateral organization, the plan is for a working celebration.

In fact, substantive, not to say arduous, preparations have been under way for several years. For just a few minutes, let's following the bouncing ball through the hallways of the world's largest bureaucracy.

In 2002, Kofi Annan commissioned the Millennium Project to develop a practical plan for achieving the eight Millennium Development Goals agreed in 2000. They are to eliminate extreme poverty and hunger, achieve universal primary education, promote gender equality and empower women, reduce child mortality, improve maternal health, combat HIV, malaria and other diseases, ensure environmental sustainability, and establish a global partnership for development.

Headed by Professor Jeffrey Sachs, an economist from Harvard, 265 leading development experts worked for three years to outline realistic investment strategies and approaches to financing the Millennium Development Goals that will allow even the poorest countries to achieve them by 2015.

On November 4, 2003, the Secretary-General Kofi Annan appointed the High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change to propose ways of strengthening international security. The panel was made up of 16 former heads of State, foreign ministers and security, military, diplomatic and development officials from both the North and South.

On December 2, 2004 that High-Level Panel published its report, A More Secure World, recommending 101 changes the UN and its members need to make in order to confront challenges to peace and security.

On January 17 the Millennium Project report, Investing in Development, delivered a 3,000-page analysis of the progress to date on the Millennium Development Goals.

Sachs told the UN that the world is far off track on the commitments adopted in Millennium Delcaration back in 2000.

Six hundred thousand people still die each year of measles, a disease for which we have an affordable and effective vaccine. Two million people die each year from tuberculosis. Three million from HIV/AIDS. Every 3.6 seconds, another person dies of starvation. Most are kids under five. (Rock Canada's objectives Jan 05).

Canada's ambassador to the UN, Allan Rock concludes that quote "When it comes to saving lives, while the UN has demonstrated an ability to respond to natural disasters, it does far less well with the other kind, which are also within its responsibility--those human-created disasters from civil wars or domestic conflicts that produce killing fields, mass atrocities, or genocide. It's a failure that undermines the credibility of the United Nations.

"If we add the problems like the breakdown of the relationship between the UN and the government of the United States, if we add management issues like the Iraq Oil-for-Food programme, if we add allegations of criminal misconduct by some peacekeeping troops in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, these are difficult days for the United Nations" (Rock Canada's objectives Jan 05). endquote

The Government of Canada responded to the crisis in September 2000 by establishing the independent International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty. The Commission's report was the culmination of twelve months of intensive research, worldwide consultations and deliberation. It was published in time for the High-Level Panel to endorse what it called 'the emerging norm of the responsibility to protect.'

"How do we reconcile the concept of a state's sovereign right to govern what goes on inside its borders with the moral imperative to protect people when there are mass atrocities or ethnic cleansing?

The commission suggested a shift in language and therefore in concept. It recommended that we no longer talk about the right to intervene. Instead it speaks of the responsibility which sovereign states have a to protect their own citizens from avoidable catastrophe, but which when they are unwilling or unable to do so, must be borne by the broader community of states. (Rock Canada's objectives Jan 05)

The Secretary-General took the reports of the High-Level Panel and the Millennium Project, added input from governments, from member states, from civil society, and on March 21 of this year produced his own report, In Larger Freedom, which has been used as the blueprint for an outcome document to be negotiated and then submitted to member states for adoption at the summit of world leaders to be held this month. (Rock Canada's objectives Jan 05). That negotiation is happening right now.

In his March report, on UN reform priorities, Annan urges Heads of State and Government to “embrace the 'responsibility to protect' as a basis for collective action against genocide, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.”

Then on August 17, enter John Bolton, newly appointed UN Ambassador from the US, with 450 last-minute changes to the action agenda proposed in the draft outcome document.

Bolton is controversial. During Bush's first term, he dismantled the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, renounced President Clinton’s approval of the International Criminal Court, and blocked efforts to add a verification clause to the bioweapons convention. As the Undersecretary for Disarmament Affairs Bolton oversaw US participation in the recent Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference that took a week and a half just to set an agenda.

The United States has been a regular participant in the negotiations for the upcoming summit, so diplomats were surprised to learn that Bolton had at this stage circulated a document proposing to eliminate most of the latest draft and suggesting line-by-line reconsideration with all 191 UN members present. (Drive to scrap Aug 17 05)

The proposed changes include deleting all 35 references to the Millennium Development Goals, a particularly devastating exclusion to the developing world and to women. Beijing and Beyond, a coalition of international women's groups points out that "The United Nations has been a galvanizing force for women in the past two decades, facilitating their efforts to define a comprehensive global agenda" (Beijing and Beyond )

The US also proposes to delete all references nuclear weapon states disarmament responsibilities and all references to small arms controls and climate change. It proposes to weaken wording on governments' responsibility to protect civilians in cases of mass killing. (GCAP Betray hopes Aug 26 05)

The Japanese ambassador, Kenzo Oshima, told reporters, "I think there is a general sense that these comments come rather late" (Arieff Flexibility Aug 26 05).

"Bush is among those expected to attend although he has not formally responded to an invitation" (Drive to scrap Aug 17 05).

Some see all this as routine diplomatic maneuvering. But Phyllis Bennis, a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, believes that quote

"The Bush administration has given the United Nations ... a stark choice: adopt the US changes and acquiesce to becoming an adjunct of Washington and a tool of empire, or reject the changes and be consigned to insignificance.

But Bush gave the UN these same two choices once before—in September 2002, when he threatened the global body with "irrelevance" if it did not embrace his call for war in Iraq. On that occasion, the United Nations made what Bennis calls "the third choice—the choice to grow a backbone, to reclaim its charter, and to join with people and governments around the world who were mobilized to say no to war. It was the beginning of eight months of triumph, in which governments and peoples and the UN stood together to defy the US drive toward war and empire, and in doing so created what The New York Times called 'the second super-power''s time for that three-part superpower to rise again, to defend the UN, and to say no to empire" (Bennis Declared war Aug 31 05).

In a speech this January, Ambassador Rock put it in more personal terms.

"Above all we must never doubt the practical importance of the Security Council and the work it does. I can recall when last summer, I rounded up like-minded people, and I spent two weeks going from office to office visiting eight members of the Security Council, trying to persuade them to act more vigorously in Darfur. At the end of the process I felt some days as though I had nothing to show for it but a lot of lost shoe leather.

Rock continued, "But you know, [he said] in October, one of the NGOs in New York brought to the United Nations and then to my office, two women from Sudan, who'd been active in organizing on the ground. Women who'd lived through the horror that's gone on there.

"And these women told me when I met with them that they were personally aware of every word in the Security Council resolutions. They'd received them, and they were passed around hand to hand in the camps. They told me which parts they thought were most effective. They told me what encouragement they drew by seeing that the world had not forgotten them. That someone was thinking about them. That steps were being taken. And however modest it was, the steps taken by the Security Council made a difference in their dreadful lives" (Rock Canada's objectives Jan 05).

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