As the United Nations plans to commemorate its annual UN Day, come October 24, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is presiding over a world body which has remained locked down since last March because of the spreading coronavirus pandemic.
“In a world turned upside down, this General Assembly Hall is among the strangest sights of all,” said Guterres last month, describing the venue of the UN’s highest policy-making body.
At its 75th anniversary last month, the UN resembled a ghost town, with not a single world leader in sight. But an overwhelming majority did address the UN—remotely via video conferencing, for the first time in the history of the 193-member Organization.
Still, the United States was notoriously missing in action (MIA).
“It was like staging Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark,” remarked one delegate, using a Shakespearean metaphor.
The US, which is traditionally given pride of place as host country to the UN, was not represented either by the President, the Secretary of State or the Permanent Representative to the UN (in that pecking order).
The designated speaker for the commemorative meeting was a deputy US Permanent Representative—way done the political hierarchy.
Vijay Prashad, Director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, told IPS the United States stands almost alone in its disdain for the UN and for the goals of the UN Charter of 1945.
Disrespect to the UN at the 75th anniversary meeting comes alongside US withdrawal or pledges to withdraw from UNESCO, UNICEF, UNRWA, and the WHO.
Keep in mind, he said, that the US government has sanctioned senior members of the International Criminal Court (ICC), while US unilateral sanctions against countries such as Cuba, Iran, and Venezuela are a violation of international law.
There is no surprise that no senior official came for the anniversary meeting; in fact, it is to be expected, he added.
The United Nations remains one of the most important institutions committed to international peace and development, declared Prashad, author of thirty books, including Washington Bullets, Red Star Over the Third World, The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World and The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South.
Meanwhile, as the lock down continued, the overwhelming majority of over 3,000 staffers at the UN, and its affiliated agencies in New York, are working from home.
Speaking of the 75th anniversary meeting, Barbara Adams, chair of the board of Global Policy Forum and former Chief of Strategic Partnerships and Communications for the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), told IPS: “Yet again people around the world were witnesses to the enormous gap between the well- articulated diagnosis of where we are and what needs to be done not only in the face of COVID-19 but also of pre-existing inequalities, vulnerabilities and multi-dimensional violence.
Could it be, she asked, that the UN has been “captured” as the President of Equatorial Guinea lamented: “We cannot accept [either] that after so many years, the Charter of the UN continues to preserve the primacy of the major powers who trample on the legitimate aspirations of the weak so that they can enjoy the advantages of the UN system.””
Joseph Chamie, a former director of the UN Population Division, and currently an independent consulting demographer, told IPS: “In my opinion I did not hear any significant or noteworthy contributions from world leaders who addressed the meeting.
Their statements were not informative, insightful or inspiring. In brief, their remarks were disappointing and unmemorable, he pointed out.
Chamie said the lofty goals, ideals and accomplishments of the United Nations should have been highlighted and stressed.
During the past 75 years, he argued, the United Nations has accomplished much and contributed greatly to many critical areas, including peace, security, human rights, health, education, women’s equality and development.
“In the next 75 years, the United Nations must promote and expand its essential work for a world population now approaching nearly 8 billion, four times its size when the United Nations was established”.
While many challenges remain, including the current pandemic, this is an opportune time for world leaders to support and strengthen the United Nations and work together on effectively addressing the critical issues of today and tomorrow, said Chamie.
“The spirit, leadership and vision of 1945 can be rekindled and the United Nations revitalized for its indispensable role in the 21st century”, he declared.
The final declaration, which was adopted by the 193 member nations, singled out the UN as the only global organization with the power to bring countries together and give “hope to so many people for a better world and … deliver the future we want.”
“No other global organization gives hope to so many people for a better world and can deliver the future we want. The urgency for all countries to come together, to fulfil the promise of the nations united, has rarely been greater,” the declaration said.
(By Thalif Deen at IPS)