71st United Nations General Assembly opens with reform issue still hanging Celebrating every woman every child

World leaders gathered for the 71st United Nations General Assembly on September 13th to address Earth’s most agonizing problems. If they leave without a single answer, fingers will point again to the entrenched dysfunction in the 193-member world body. The same handicap lies ahead for members during the General Debate, starting September 20, most of all when they discuss UN reform.

India’s push to achieve urgent reforms of the U.N. Security Council last year and secure a permanent seat has suffered a setback when the General Assembly decided to roll over discussions on reforming the world body’s top organ to its next session. India along with the G4 nations said it is “unfortunate” that momentum could not build up over the issue in the current session.

For 2016-2017, the array of problems includes refugees, all of the conflicts that trigger massive population flight, climate change, the Zika virus scare and the renewed Palestinian push for more than de facto sovereignty. The 71st session is the last for Ban Ki-moon as Secretary-General. The exiting UN chief plans to use his last term to push for a global agreement on resettling 10 per cent of refugees annually.

A 2014 BBC look at the reform issue asks why the United Nations hasn’t done more to end the violence in Gaza, Syria, Iraq, the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Libya, Afghanistan or Ukraine. The broadcaster observes that the UN has so far failed to secure anything more than a few hours of quiet in Gaza. A common thread in possibly hundreds of analyses of UN structural problems over the decades is that the competing interests of members impede solutions, with accusations directed mainly at the 5-member UN Permanent Security Council. Each of the five – the United Kingdom, Russia, the United States, France and China – has veto power that it uses to protect its own and its allies’ interests. The veto power also protects the veto.

Many draft resolutions do not even make it to a vote, because of the threat of veto. Any consensus on Ban’s global refugee resettlement proposal faces the same obstacle. Most sources agree that the rivalry between Russia and the United States prevents effective movement to stop the fighting in Syria. They also agree that the long-standing U.S.-Israel bond stands between the Palestinians and the sovereignty they seek almost 50 years since Israel took over the West Bank and Gaza Strip as a prize of the Six-Day War.

The late Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat proclaimed a Palestinian independent state in 1988, and the United Nations approved the de facto recognition in 2014 – with 138 votes out of 188 in favour. France, the United Kingdom and the United States were among the nine countries voting against. As the three have veto power, they were able to quash further moves toward independence.

This year at the UN General Assembly, Every Woman Every Child will celebrate results achieved, acknowledge champions for the movement and highlight the importance of keeping women’s, children’s and adolescents’ health and wellbeing at the core of sustainable development efforts.

EWEC partners will emphasize the main messages deriving from the Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health, launched in 2015 along the Sustainable Development Goals as a front-runner platform to help implement Agenda 2030.

From 18-22 September, a social media relay will cover topics of relevance for the movement, to ensure that key issues highlighted in the Global Strategy are not only visible, but also help set the agenda and drive the conversation forward about its centrality for a more sustainable, peaceful and prosperous future for all.

India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, who had addressed the past two General Assembly sessions, has decided against attending it this year. Sushma Swaraj, India’s Minister for External Affairs will address the United Nations this week. India will continue to pushing for completing reforms of the U.N. Security Council in the 71st session of the General Assembly, which opened on September 13, 2016.

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