Eduardo del Buey
Foto: de la web
La Jornada Maya

Martes 20 de septiembre, 2016

This year the United Nations celebrates its 71st anniversary, and world leaders are once again gathered in New York for the annual General Assembly meeting.

The UN continues to be controversial in many quarters given its mixed results over the years.

The Organization is not a monolith – given its size and complexity it means different things to different people.

After two years of service with the Organization as Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, I have come to see the United Nations as a three-legged stool. One leg represents the political organs, another the technical organs, and the third the administrative organs.

The major cause for criticism of the organization emanates from its political organs – the first leg. Member states usually place parochial national interests first, despite the commitment to serve all of humanity.

This leads to perceptions of stagnation in the face of significant human rights abuses and violence, and leads to the perception that the organization serves little purpose.

Indeed, the power of individual member states was underscored by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s assertion in early June that he had been forced to remove Saudi Arabia from a formal UN human rights report for gross violations of human rights. He said bluntly that Saudi Arabia had threatened to withdraw tens of millions of dollars in humanitarian aid were it not removed from the list of violators of children’s rights. Bravo to Ban for calling the Saudis out.

Unfortunately, such pressure happens all the time and demonstrates that although Secretaries-General have tremendous responsibilities, their power to act is severely limited.

The second leg of the stool is comprised of the technical organs -- the specialized agencies. There is little doubt that the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is essential to manage our congested skies. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) helps millions of children worldwide, and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) works assiduously to reduce the suffering of ever-growing refugee populations escaping violence in their homelands.

The third leg of the stool is the General Secretariat headed by the Secretary-General. It implements the political decisions of the member states and manages such crucial activities as peacekeeping and emergency humanitarian assistance.

There is much criticism of the overbearing bureaucracy this Secretariat has become. Yet the Secretariat is the product of the member states that govern how it is run, how it is financed, how it is staffed, and what its priorities are.

As Ban himself said in an AP interview on September 13, “It's unrealistic to expect any Secretary-General "to be some almost almighty person because the world body's member states make decisions and the U.N. chief implements them — rather than implementing their own initiatives and policies.

“The U.N. could be far more efficient and effective if there were "some reasonable decision-making process" — not one that requires consensus on many issues before the General Assembly and statements by the Security Council, Ban said. This gives one country the power to block something all other nations agree on, or to water it down.

"Is it fair? Is it reasonable in the 21st century when you have 193 member states?"
It would appear that obtaining a consensus at the UN is akin to herding cats.

Yet despite this, Ban did succeed in getting all members to sign on to the Climate Change Treaty and the Sustainable Development Goals, two major legacy achievements for the outgoing Secretary-General.

This organizational trinity has the unenviable task of addressing the needs of humanity while respecting the mandates established by member states with all of their contradictions and national or ideological self-interests.

Despite these realities, one must realize that there is always a need for a venue where states can talk rather than fight. Indeed, if the United Nations didn’t exist, it would have to be invented. A world with no space for dialogue and negotiation would be chaotic indeed.

This is the reality of the United Nations at seventy-one. We should not let the shortcomings of its political bodies drive us to ignore the benefits we all derive from its very existence.

Mérida, Yucatán
[email protected]

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