Tag: <span>the General Assembly</span>

United Nations UN: Growth of World Law.

The United Nations as One

Featured Image: Photo by Brandi Alexandra on Unsplash.

By Dr. Rene Wadlow.

” The outer message of the United Nations is peace.
The inner message is Oneness.
Peace – we strive to structure;
Oneness – we manifest.”

Dag Hammarshjold has written that the United Nations was:

“the beginning of an organic process through which the diversity of peoples and their governments are struggling to find common ground upon which they can live together in the one world which has been thrust upon us before we were ready.”

Basically, the function of the UN is to create consensus (being of one mind) on crucial world issues. Such consensus-building is slow, and it is done by repeating endlessly in resolutions of the General Assembly and other UN bodies, year after year, the same idea until it becomes common place. Slowly national governments align their policies upon this common core as non-governmental organizations and the media take up the issues – sometimes a little ahead of governments and sometimes only later.

Dag Hammarskjöld (1950s). By Unknown authorUnknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

UN Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-violence.

In 60 years, there have been six issues which have moved from the stage of the ideas of a few to become common policy. This evens out to an idea per decade, and the UN has tried to push “theme decades” with only limited success as we see from the current “UN Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-violence.”

I see the six ideas as follows:

  • 1. The end of direct colonialism. There grew from the start of the UN until the mid-1960s the idea that colonial administration had ended its usefulness as a form of government. The end of colonialism owes much to the UN system, though, of course, inequality and domination, the signs of colonial status, have not been overcome.
  • 2. Apartheid as a bad structure for South Africa and for other countries tempted by similar structures of racial division was a theme of many resolutions and speeches. Slowly, the image of a multi-racial and multi-cultural society took hold, encouraged by enlightened leadership at the national level.
  • 3. There are basic human rights and these should be respected. The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights along with the Preamble to the UN Charter are the two lasting documents of the UN and stand as the guide for common action.
  • 4. Closely related to the idea of human rights but needing a special effort at consensus building is the idea that women are equal to men and should be so treated. Although the idea is obvious, both the UN and national governments have found it difficult to put into place.
  • 5. The ecological balance of the world is in danger and needs remedial action. The ecological efforts of the UN began in 1971 and are enshrined in the “Covenant with Nature” – a text of equal importance to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, although not as well known.
  • 6. There should be a Palestinian state. From the 1947 partition plan to today, this idea has been repeated. There is a broad consensus, but such a state has not been created. Without the constant discussion in the UN, the Israel-Palestine tensions would have become a bilateral issue of interest to few other states, as the issue of Kashmir, created at the same time, has faded from the UN stage to become an India-Pakistan issue.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 10 December 1948. By UN, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

There is now a seventh idea, increasingly articulated but not yet manifested in action.

  • The idea is that there is a relationship between the goals of the UN – an idea often stressed by Kofi Annan during his period as Secretary-General: the need to accept or acknowledge the indivisible links between security, development, and human rights. “It is clear that security cannot be enjoyed without development, that development cannot be enjoyed without security, and neither can be enjoyed without respect for human rights.”

Many of us as NGO representatives have tried to push other ideas within the UN system, especially disarmament and improved techniques of conflict resolution, without success. Today, the UN has little impact on issues of violence, but no other organization does either.

Thus we have violence and a good number of tension areas where greater violence may break out. Violence-reduction is probably the chief task facing the new Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon. There is little common ground on what can be done to reduce violence and settle conflicts peacefully. We must not underestimate the time and difficulty that it takes to build consensus within the UN, but I believe that violence-reduction (sometimes called peace) is the next “big idea” whose time has come to the UN.

Here are other publications that may be of interest to you.

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United Nations Rapprochement of Cultures.

U. N. Day: Strengthening and Reforming.

Featured Image: Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán on Pixabay

By René Wadlow.

October 24 is United Nations (U. N.) Day;  marking the day when there were enough ratifications;  including those of the five permanent members of the proposed Security Council for the U. N. Charter to come into force. It is a day not only of celebration;  but also a day for looking at how the U. N. system can be strengthened;  and when necessary, reformed.

There have been a number of periods when proposals for new or different U. N. structures were proposed and discussed. The first was in the 1944-1945 period when the Charter was being drafted. Some who had lived through the decline and then death of the League of Nations wanted a stronger world institution, able to move more quickly and effectively in times of crisis or at the start of armed conflict.

 

In practice;  the League of Nations was reincarnated in 1945 in the U. N. Charter but the names of some of the bodies were changed and new Specialized Agencies such as UNESCO were added. There was some dissatisfaction during the San Francisco negotiations, and an article was added indicating that 10 years after the coming into force of the Charter a proposal to hold a U. N. Charter Review Conference would be placed on the Agenda – thus for 1955.

The possibility of a U. N. Charter Review Conference led in the 1953-1954 period to a host of proposals for changes in the U. N. structures;  for a greater role for international law, for a standing U. N. “peace force”. Nearly all these proposals would require modifications in the U. N. Charter.

League of Nations

The semi-official emblem of the League of Nations, used from 1939 to 1941. Vectors by Mysid, based on FOTW. By The original uploader was Mysid at English Wikipedia., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

High-Level Panels.

When 1955 arrived;  the United States and the Soviet Union, who did not want a Charter Review  Conference;  which might have questioned their policies, were able to sweep the Charter Review agenda item under the rug from where it has never emerged. In place of a Charter Review Conference, a U. N. Committee on “Strengthening the U. N. Charter” was set up which made a number of useful suggestions;  none of which were put into practice as such. The Committee on Strengthening the Charter was the first of a series of expert committees, “High-Level Panels” set up within the U. N. to review its functioning and its ability to respond to new challenges. There have also been several committees set up outside of the U. N. to look at world challenges and U. N. responses, such as the Commission on Global Governance.

While in practice there have been modifications in the ways the U. N. works;  few of these changes have recognized an expert group’s recommendations as the source of the changes. Some of the proposals made would have strengthened some factions of the U. N. system over the then current status quo – most usually to strength the role of developing countries (the South) over the industrialized States (the North). While the vocabulary of “win-win” modifications is often used, in practice few States want to take a chance, and the status quo continues.

U. N. Peacekeeping Forces: The Blue Helmets.

Now, the Secretary General knows well how the U. N. works from his decade as High Commissioner for Refugees, U. N. reform is again “in the air”. There are an increasing number of proposals presented by governments and by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) associated with the U. N. The emphasis today is on what can be done without a revision of the Charter. Most of the proposals turn on what the Secretary General can do on his own authority. The Secretary General cannot go against the will of States – especially the most powerful States – but he does have a certain power of initiative.

There are two aspects of the current U. N. system that were not foreseen in 1945 and which are important today. One is the extensive role of U. N. Peacekeeping Forces: The Blue Helmets. The other is the growing impact of NGOs. There is growing interest in the role of NGOs within the U. N. system in the making and the implementation of policies at the international level. NGOs are more involved than ever before in global policy making and project implementation in such areas as conflict resolution, human rights, humanitarian relief, and environmental protection. (1)

NGOs at the U. N. have a variety of roles – they bring citizens’ concerns to governments, advocate particular policies, present alternative avenues for political participation, provide analysis, serve as an early warning mechanism of potential violence and help implement peace agreements.

U.N Blue Helmet

Blue Helmet – UNIFIL mission in Lebanon. Peacekeeping forces of Indonesia. By Frea Kama Juno, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons.

 

Consultative-Status NGOs.

The role of consultative-status NGOs was written into the U. N. Charter at its founding in San Francisco in June 1945. As one of the failings of the League of Nations had been the lack of public support and understanding of the functioning of the League;  some of the U. N. Charter drafters felt that a role should be given to NGOs. At the start, both governments and U. N. Secretariat saw NGOs as an information avenue — telling NGO members what the governments and the U. N. was doing and building support for their actions.

However;  once NGOs had a foot in the door, the NGOs worked to have a two-way avenue — also telling governments and the Secretariat what NGO members thought and what policies should be carried out at the U. N. Governments were none too happy with this two-way avenue idea and tried to limit the U. N. bodies with which NGOs could ‘consult’. There was no direct relationship with the General Assembly or the Security Council. The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in Article 71 of the Charter was the body to which “consultative-status NGOs” were related.

UN_Geneva_Human_Rights_and_Alliance_of_Civilizations_Room

Human Rights and Alliance of Civilizations Room of the Palace of Nations, Geneva (Switzerland). It is the meeting room of the United Nations Human Rights Council. By Ludovic Courtès, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons.

 

 

Networking.

What in practice gives NGOs their influence is not what an individual NGO can do alone;  but what they can do collectively. ‘Networking’ and especially trans-national networking is the key method of progress. NGOs make networks;  which facilitate the trans-national movement of norms, resources, political responsibility, and information. NGO networks tend to be informal, non-binding, temporary, and highly personalized. NGOs are diverse, heterogeneous, and independent. They are diverse in mission, level of resources, methods of operating and effectiveness. However, at the U. N., they are bound together in a common desire to protect the planet and advance the welfare of humanity.

U.N Networking

Wikipedia Workshop for Bangladesh NGOs Network for Radio and Communications staffs by Wikimedia Bangladesh. This is our one of big initiative to involve all community radio people to enrich Wikipedia. By Hasive, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons.

On the Same Wave Length.

The role of NGO representatives is to influence policies through participation in the entire policy-making process. What distinguishes the NGO representative’s role at the U. N. from lobbying at the national level is that the representative may appeal to and discuss with the diplomats of many different governments. While some diplomats may be unwilling to consider ideas from anyone;  other than the mandate they receive from their Foreign Ministry;  others are more open to ideas coming from NGO representatives. Out of the 193 Member States;  the NGO representative will always find some diplomats who are ‘on the same wave length’;  or who are looking for additional information on which to take a decision, especially on issues on which a government position is not yet set.

Therefore;  an NGO representative must be trusted by government diplomats and the U. N. Secretariat. As with all diplomacy in multilateral forums such as the U. N., much depends upon the skill and knowledge of the NGO representative and on the close working relations;  which they are able to develop with some government representatives and some members of the U. N. Secretariat. Many Secretariat members share the values of the NGO representatives;  but cannot try to influence government delegates directly. The Secretariat members can, however, give to the NGO representatives some information;  indicate countries that may be open to acting on an issue;  and help with the style of presentation of a document.

 

U.N NGO Representatives

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ms. Emma Ruby Sachs, Deputy Director, Avaaz, Ms. May Boeve, Executive Director, 350.org Mr. Kumi Naidoo, Executive Director, Greenpeace International Ms. Yoca Arditi-Rocha, Our Kids Climate Ms. Usha Nair, Climate Leader, Global Gender and Climate Alliance Mr. Michael Brune, Executive Director, Sierra Club Ms. Karuna Singh, Director, Earth Day Network India Mr. Al Gore, Chairman The Climate Reality Project. By UNclimatechange from Bonn, Germany, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons.

Trans-National Advocacy Networks.

It is probably in the environmental field — sustainable development — that there has been the most impact. Each environmental convention or treaty such as those on biological diversity or drought was negotiated separately;  but with many of the same NGO representatives present. It is more difficult to measure the NGO role in disarmament and security questions. It is certain that NGO mobilization for an end to nuclear testing and for a ban on land mines and cluster weapons played a role in the conventions;  which were steps forward for humanity. However;  on other arms issues, NGO input is more difficult to analyze.

‘Trans-national advocacy networks’;  which work across frontiers are of increasing importance as seen in the efforts against land mines;  for the International Criminal Court and for increased protection from violence toward women and children. The groups working on these issues are found in many different countries;  but have learned to work trans-nationally both through face-to-face meetings and through the internet web.

The groups in any particular campaign share certain values and ideas in common;  but may differ on other issues. Thus;  they come together on an ad hoc basis around a project or a small number of related issues. Yet their effectiveness is based on their being able to function over a relatively long period of time in rather complex networks even when direct success is limited.

Success Story.

These campaigns are based on networks;  which combine different actors at various levels of government: local, regional, national, and U. N. (or European Parliament, OSCE etc.). The campaigns are waged by alliances among different types of organizations — membership groups, academic institutions, religious bodies, and ad hoc local groupings. Some groups may be well known, though most are not.

There is a need to work at the local, the national, and the U. N. levels at the same time. Advocacy movements need to be able to contact key decision-makers in national parliaments, government administrations and intergovernmental secretariats. Such mobilization is difficult, and for each ‘success story’ there are many failed efforts. The rise of U. N. consultative-status NGOs has been continual since the early 1970s. NGOs and government diplomats at the U. N. are working ever more closely together to deal with the world challenges which face us all.

U.N Success History
Shellard (centre) with The Baroness Lawrence and S.P. Varma at The 68th United Nations Civil Society Conference in August 2019. By Otisjfk, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons.

Note.

(1) This interest is reflected in a number of path-making studies such as P. Willets (Ed.), The Consciences of the World: The Influence of Non-Governmental Organizations in the U. N. System (London: Hurst, 1996), T. Princen and M. Finger (Eds), Environmental NGOs in World Politics: Linking the Global and the Local (London: Routledge, 1994), M. Rech and K. Sikkink, Activists Without Borders: Advocacy Networks in International Politics (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1998); Bas Arts, Math Noortmann and Rob Reinalda (Eds), Non-State Actors in International Relations (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2001); and William De Mars, NGOs and Transnational Networks (London: Pluto Press, 2005).

Prof. René Wadlow is the President of the Association of World Citizens.

Here are other publications that may be of interest to you.

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