Reforming the UN | Sunday Observer

Reforming the UN

24 October, 2021

The United Nations turns 76 today. On October, 24, the world marks the anniversary of the day in 1945 when the UN Charter entered into force. The Second World War that ended in 1945 was a wake-up call for all countries that war had no purpose.

Millions of people were killed in that war and the world risked further wars. After seeing the horrors of the war, many nations wanted to come together to achieve peace and prevent war.

Their efforts resulted in the United Nations, a gathering of 193 countries including Sri Lanka that was established on October 24, 1945. Hence October 24 is known as the United Nations day. The United Nations was created as a vehicle of hope for a world emerging from the shadow of catastrophic conflict.

But we have to ponder on whether the UN has been able to meet its objectives and even treat all sovereign nations as equals. Covid-19, conflicts, hunger, poverty and the climate emergency remind us that our world is far from perfect.

The world needs to come together to tackle great challenges and advance the Sustainable Development Goals. The world needs to ensure that every person, everywhere, has access to Covid-19 vaccines sooner rather than later.

Right now, there are some poor countries in Africa that are yet to give a single shot. They might have to wait until 2024 to inoculate their entire populations. This is morally wrong and is a massive failure on the part of the international community, especially the rich countries that have been hoarding vaccines and buying in excess.

The UN and the world must secure and uphold the rights and dignity of all people — especially the poorest and most disadvantaged, girls and women, and children and young people. It must seek an end to the conflicts that scar our world. But has this been done? If the rich countries commit at least one percent of their collective defence budgets for the uplift of the poor countries, many more lives can be saved, more people will be able to access food, water and sanitation and most important of all, education and health. Worldwide, girls and women suffer from abuse and physical/sexual violence. Yet, no concrete action has been taken to stem the tide.

As for conflicts, nearly 50 conflicts are raging around the world, from Afghanistan to Yemen even as we write. Some of them are not likely to see a solution anytime soon. Nearly 70,000 people were killed in conflicts and in acts of terrorism in 2017 alone. The UN has failed to resolve most of these conflicts, even though it conducts peacekeeping operations in certain countries (Sri Lankan troops participate in three of these missions). The UN must play a more proactive and constructive role in conflict resolution and peace building.

The UN and its members must also make bold climate commitments to save our planet — and live up to them. The world faces a catastrophe of great proportions if the temperature rises even by 1.5 Celsius by 2100 if no action is taken to halt the present pace of global greenhouse gas emissions. World leaders will gather next month in Glasgow, Scotland to discuss this very issue and we hope that they can come up with an agreement to save the planet – literally. Sri Lanka hopes to contribute to this by switching to renewables to power 70 percent of the national grid by 2030. Fossil fuel use will have to be drastically scaled back in all countries.

One other factor that does not endear the UN to many developing countries is that it is heavily skewed in favour of certain rich countries, especially in a number of forums. Sri Lanka has been at the receiving end of their unfair and false allegations at the UN Human Rights Council ever since the terrorist battle ended in 2009. A few countries have framed allegations against Sri Lanka based on dubious data provided by Diaspora elements. The UN must respect the sovereignty of all countries irrespective of their size or GDP. Countries like Sri Lanka must be given an opportunity and the time and space to resolve their own issues domestically without foreign interference.

There is also a debate on whether the veto power should be removed from the five Permanent Members (UK, US, Russia, China and France). There have been many instances where one or more of the Big Five had used the veto power to block many progressive steps proposed by other Member States. There is also another proposal to increase the number of Permanent Members of the UN Security Council to 10 and afford more opportunities for other countries to join this forum.

The UN also badly needs reform in another aspect. It has never had a woman Secretary General in its 76-year history. This is actually a black mark on an organisation that cherishes the rights of women and calls for their empowerment every time. It is also high time that more Asians and Africans, women included, are given the chance to become the SG and also hold other high posts generally ‘reserved’ for Americans and Europeans. Moreover, some multilateral organisations attached to the UN also need to be reformed to suit modern times and needs.

In the end, the values that have powered the UN Charter for the last 76 years — peace, development, human rights and opportunity for all — have no expiry date. The world has to unite behind these ideals, and live up to the full promise, potential and hope of the United Nations.