This section of our Newsletter took 18 months to introduce and present the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We will continue to dedicate this space to the United Nation (UN), presenting its commissions, its organizations, the issues and problems that this global organization has awakened. Like other institutions, there were many hopes, which also left the bitterness of too many disappointments. (Translated from Spanish by Alissa D’Vale)
In the year of 2020, the UN celebrates its 75 years of existence. Few years considering all of the problems faced and the scope of its objectives. Too many for the few results obtained. The effort to show off an institution that shows signs of decay does not overshadow the will of many to rejuvenate it. It is the only global institution that could guarantee a future of peace, well-being and social progress due to its ambitious birth, its statutes, and its experience; if only it could manage to get through the preamble of its founding Charter.
There it is proclaimed:
“We the Peoples of the United Nations determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and to reaffirm faith in the fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom, and for these ends:
In an article posted on June 9th2020, for IPS, Thalif Deent denounces the first obstacle for an efficient UN and the service of its founding ideals: UN Chiefs Silenced by Big Powers with Vetoes.
His reflection starts with an example. Protests against racial injustice and police brutality in the United States have spread throughout the world, as well as the rejection of the military imposition of Chinese authoritarianism in Hong Kong. Strong words have been used to condemn authoritarian regimes by governments, diplomats, journalists, activists, including the United States against China and China against the United States.
But will any UN Secretary-General – past or present – have plucked up courage to condemn the political leadership either in the United States or China, two veto-wielding permanent members in the Security Council, in such harsh terms? “Never,” says a former Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the UN, “particularly, if a Secretary-General is planning to run for a second term —where the threat of a veto hangs over his head?”
Would a solution to the problem be to modify the terms of the UN Secretary-General’s mandate of 4 years with the possibility of re-election to 7 years on a single mandate?
That’s not the problem with the Secretary-General’s tenure, he pointed out. The problem is that both Ban Ki-moon and Antonio Guterres have paid no attention to the three most important words that open the Charter of the UN: We the peoples. “They both pay homage only to governments; it’s as if ‘the peoples’ of the world don’t exist. As a result, there is neither transparency nor accountability”, said Lewis, who was a UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, and later co-founder and co-director of AIDS-Free World.
“Guterres has been running for a second term since January 2017” (ever since he took office), he noted. “He has disappointed many of us by being so invisible. We should recall former Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon who prided himself being the invisible man. He got two terms. Guterres is using the same strategy”, declared Weiss, Presidential Professor of Political Science, Director Emeritus, and Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies at The CUNY Graduate Center. Weiss’ most recent article in PassBlue is titled “Will the UN make it to 100?”
From the initial dream of being a family of nations, the UN has become a club of governments.
Never has a UN Secretary General had the courage to stand up and speak the harsh reality to the 5 countries that hold the right to veto, in particular to criticize China and the United States. If they have done, it has been during the second term, when the ambition to be re-elected did not count for anything.
Well, not all of them. Perhaps one of the few exceptions in the 75-year history of the UN was former Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali of Egypt who paid the supreme penalty of being vetoed out of a second term —even though he garnered an overwhelming 14 of the 15 votes in the UN Security Council. But the US ingloriously vetoed his claims for a second term.
As he recounted his running battle with the US in his book titled “Unvanquished: a US UN Saga”, Boutros-Ghali had the singular distinction of being the only UN chief who never received a second term in office because he paid a heavy price for the courage of his convictions - even though he admits he was forced to occasionally cave in to the dictates of the US.
The 1996 study sponsored by two major think tanks implicitly accused some of the world’s big powers of manipulating the election of the Secretary-General so as to ensure that UN heads are political creatures with no minds of their own. “It is impossible to escape the impression, that many governments, including some of the most powerful, do not want a strong, independent leader as Secretary-General”, said the study published under the auspices of the New York-based Ford Foundation and the Dag Hammarskjold Foundation of Stockholm.
The authors of the study – Brian Urquhart and Erskine Childers, both senior UN officials – said the selection of the Secretary-General is quite literally part of “an old-boy network.” “The United Nations is an intergovernmental organisation, and governments have no intentions of giving up control of it.”
Lewis argued there is no freedom of information in the UN, and that’s what gets governments like Sweden frustrated and thinking of shortening the SG’s term. “The Secretary-General should be required to hold an open press conference at least once, preferably twice a week, with a critical media corps to ask questions. If that were the case, the entire culture of his office would change.”, says Lewis, who created the Code Blue campaign to put an end to the impunity of sexual abuse by UN staff.
See UN Chiefs Silenced by Big Powers with Vetoes. To know more see also Marking Seventy-Fifth Anniversary of United Nations Charter, Security Council Calls on Member States to Uphold Founding Document’s Principles, and Code Blue Campaign