By Sarah Dayringer
The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, in his 25 September 2018 address to the General Assembly, painted a bleak and commonly held perspective on our times:
“World order is increasingly chaotic. Power relations are less clear. Universal values are being eroded. Democratic principles are under siege. The rule of law is being undermined. Impunity is on the rise, as leaders and states push the boundaries at home and in the international arena. We face a set of paradoxes. The world is more connected. Yet societies are becoming more fragmented. Challenges are growing outward. While many people are turning inward. Multilateralism is under fire precisely when we need it most.”
Perceiving this growing crisis for multilateralism, the presidents of the UN Charter bodies hosted a high-level dialogue with Member States: “Reviewing the Commitment to Multilateralism”, convened by the Permanent Missions of Bolivia, Ecuador, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, in association with the Center on International Cooperation. The President of the General Assembly (PGA), Ms. María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés emphasized that UN Member States should focus on a synergistic approach to the work of the UN, especially for those issues “which cannot be addressed except through multilateral cooperation”, such as “protracted humanitarian crises, climate change, human trafficking, sustainable development, large scale human rights abuses, and threats to peace and security”.
The President of ECOSOC, Ms. Inga Rhonda King referenced the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, saying “the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and 169 targets are a direct reflection of the process used to create them. The process was universal. It was integrated, and represented the rich and the poor — governments and nongovernmental stakeholders; those concerned with each of the three dimensions of sustainable development: economic development, social development, and the environment; as well as peace and security.” She went on to ask, “Is multilateralism absolutely dependent on one or two powerful countries’ engagement? Do we still believe in the ideals and purposes set forth the UN Charter? Because if we do, we don’t really have a problem. We just need to reset.”
Reset role and influence of the Security Council
The UN Security Council (UNSC) President for October 2018, Permanent Representative of Bolivia, Mr. Sacha Sergio Llorenty Soliz pointed out that the structure of the UNSC itself — “not coming as news to anyone because we’ve been talking about it for years — does not represent the world in which we live”. He went on to explain that “there’s an under representation of regions such as Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and an overrepresentation of Europe in the Security Council that is not in line with the current dynamics of the world”.
The reform of the UNSC “goes hand in hand” with the revitalization of the General Assembly and across ECOSOC and the other bodies, he said, adding that the Security Council should not interfere in the mandates of the other UN bodies. Since the Security Council is “not very democratic and not very transparent”, he asked: “If there’s no change made there, why would we give it more mandates? Why would we take power away and influence away from bodies such as the Human Rights Council, the General Assembly, or the Economic and Social Council?” Rather, the Security Council “should work in complementarity with those other bodies” in order to face the multilateral challenges.
Peru pointed out other “encroachments” by the UNSC: “Human rights is an area where sometimes the Security Council encroaches on the work of the General Assembly”. He suggested that the “Council should be more sensitive to human rights issues because in the Charter it already states that root causes of conflict are gross human rights violations, which lead to more conflict”.
Concurrently, the President of the Human Rights Council, H.E. Mr. Vojislav Šuc of Slovenia, gave a briefing at UN headquarters in New York on reforms of the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) and the importance of creating a safe space for civil society. This includes the mandate to address and prevent acts of intimidation and reprisals against individuals and groups seeking to cooperate with the United Nations on human rights.
Is UN 75th anniversary an occasion for Special Declaration?
Zambia recommended that since not all the heads of UN principle entities were at the table, all six should be invited in order to draw up a declaration “to the defense and promotion of multilateralism. Then perhaps you can present that document to us and challenge Member States to sign up.”
Croatia suggested that the 75th Anniversary of the UN in 2020 should be used “to address the issue of multilateralism in the form of a special declaration if need be, and as the 75th Anniversary is around the corner, I think that the work should begin now”. Liberia called for the 73rd session of the UNGA to not conclude “without concrete ideas for this reform in the defense of multilateralism”, describing the use the 75th Anniversary as at time to “launch the much-needed structure”.
Egypt urged Member States to “look at the world through the perspective of a diplomat and a politician”, a point emphasized by Canada agreeing that “we cannot ignore the outside world”. Ghana, Philippines and Bangladesh emphasized that more should be done to increase communications between the organs of the UN. And Ghana to that effect said, “we come here, we read out our statements to each other, but rarely do we interact or listen to each other”.
The PGA indicated that “this was one of many dialogues to come” between the main organs of the UN. Ambassador Soliz hoped the outcome would spur ideas on how the UN could work together to strengthen multilateralism, and a time to “really put flesh on the bones of this principle of equal sovereignty between states, and take every opportunity that we have to find common solutions to global problems”.
Ambassador King said she had “faith in the collective wisdom of this body when it works, it works well. We need clarity. We need leadership. We need vision.”
Webcast of the High Level Dialogue can be found at http://webtv.un.org/live-now/watch/renewing-the-commitment-to-multilateralism-a-high-level-dialogue-of-the-presidents-of-the-general-assembly-/5856085869001/?term=. For any questions or comments please email email@example.com. For more information from Global Policy Watch, please sign-up on the mailing list on our website http://globalpolicywatch.org and follow us on Twitter at @gpolicywatch.