UN must 'champion change' to become more relevant and better able to tackle today's challenges

10 May 2016

To respond to both current and future threats to world peace and security, the United Nations must become more relevant, credible, legitimate and capable, by taking concrete steps that include finding political solutions to sustain peace, fostering partnerships for building prosperous and stable societies, and tackling terrorism and preventing violent extremism, the President of the UN General Assembly said today.

To respond to both current and future threats to world peace and security, the United Nations must become more relevant, credible, legitimate and capable, by taking concrete steps that include finding political solutions to sustain peace, fostering partnerships for building prosperous and stable societies, and tackling terrorism and preventing violent extremism, the President of the UN General Assembly said today.

Speaking at the opening of a two-day High Level Thematic Debate on Peace and Security – whose theme is 'In a World of Risks: Today's Threats to International Peace and Security' – General Assembly President Mogens Lykketoft emphasized that while the UN has, in some respects, “delivered quite well,” it is clear that the Organization today remains insufficiently equipped to meet its overriding 1945 objective: to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.

“Today, 70 years later, we reflect on the times the UN has succeeded and failed in meeting that objective and we look to determine how it can do better, both today and into the future,” he said. “On this 70th anniversary year, however, following the recent reviews on peacebuilding, peace operations and women, peace and security, we have an opportunity to fundamentally change this reality. And thankfully we are in a good moment for multilateralism.”

Mr. Lykketoft praised the UN for providing a framework that has helped restrain the world's largest powers, mobilizing hundreds of thousands of peacekeepers and billions of dollars for peace operations, establishing a clear legal framework for the conduct of war and the protection of human rights, and helping to reduce the risks posed by the world's deadliest weapons.

“Of all of this, we should be proud,” he said.

“But, in other well-known instances, regrettably, the UN has performed very poorly,” he added, noting that despite significant advancements following the end of the Cold War, in Srebrenica, Somalia and Rwanda, when the UN was “perhaps needed most, it failed abysmally.”

Since then, the General Assembly President said, the UN's approach has evolved to help it respond more rapidly to potential massacres and to conflicts that have become “increasingly localized or internal in nature.”

“Yet, from the wars that involve regional and even sometimes major powers directly – or by proxy in the Middle East and North Africa to the impunity for violations of international humanitarian law; from the terrorism that is wreaking havoc in many of your countries to the tens of thousands of women and children, who continue to suffer sexual violence in conflict – even at the hands of international forces who are there to protect them […] from all of this, it is clear that the UN remains ill-equipped today to meet its overriding objective,” Mr. Lykketoft stressed.

The General Assembly President emphasized that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and Paris Agreement on climate change provide Member States with a framework to advance a more peaceful, prosperous, inclusive and sustainable world. In addition, he said that the Iranian nuclear deal and Security Council action on Syria this past December provide proof that the UN can still help global and regional powers to resolve their differences.

“The challenge now is to build on this momentum and to respond to the overarching recommendations from the three reviews,” he said.

Specifically, the General Assembly President said that participants should focus on the recommendations in the most recent UN peace and security reviews, including the High Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations and the Secretary-General's report on the future of UN peace operations, the Peacebuilding Architecture Review and the Global Study on the implementation of Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000) on women, peace and security.

Mr. Lykketoft urged Member States and the next Secretary-General to focus on specific issues emerging from the reviews, including the need for political solutions to inform every aspect of the UN's approach to sustaining peace; moving forward the implementation of Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace and security; giving greater attention to securing strategic partnerships with regional organizations in a way that leverages the best of both actors; and improving attention and coordination in the area of tackling terrorism and preventing violent extremism.

Quoting Albert Einstein, the General Assembly President said, “Peace cannot be kept by force. It can only be achieved by understanding,” adding that he hoped the thematic debate and the preparatory work conducted by academics, think tanks and civil society would help to “advance a common understanding that enables the UN, now and into the future, to deliver on that one overriding objective.”

Member States must champion the reform agenda

Also speaking at today's event, on behalf of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, was Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson, who highlighted that while the UN system is “fully committed” to its reform agenda, the Organization cannot achieve it alone.

Remarks by Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson at the High-level Thematic Debate on the United Nations, Peace and Security. Credit: United Nations

“We need Member States to champion this change. We need your engagement, oversight and investment in change – both political and financial,” he said.

Mr. Eliasson noted that the policy reviews that were launched this past year at the UN had common messages that could not be ignored.

The main message that “prevention is our central mission,” he said, adding “Why wait for mass atrocities if we can act at the early warning signs?”

Other messages include that priority must be placed on the search for inclusive, long-term political solutions, and that leaders will not succeed without solid partnerships, Mr. Eliasson said.

“The word 'together' is probably the most important word in the world today,” he stressed. “Together, the reviews represent a forward and action-oriented road map towards a more effective United Nations, combining peace and security and development.”

Noting that the reform agenda laid out by the reviews is “comprehensive, ambitious and promising,” Mr. Eliasson stressed the importance of eliminating the gap between rhetoric and action.

“The proposed measures and changes cannot be achieved overnight,” he said.

“They will require continued work and commitment within the UN system, including by the next Secretary-General. The former Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold described the future in two dimensions – the future is the vision. But it is also the step, or steps, you take towards that vision,” he added.

 

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