With each passing day, the United Nations as a universal entity is becoming instrumental in addressing issues that any particular country cannot handle single-handedly. Owing to the immense resources at its disposal, this global body is able to do this, as these assignments are financially very demanding.
With regard to its initial objectives of protecting human rights, safeguarding peace, promoting social and economic progress, and establishing institutions for international justice, in the last six or so decades since its inception, new challenges have emerged which call for entirely new approaches, as it strives to fulfill its mandate. Key among these issues are international terrorism, climate change, AIDS, conflict resolutions, and Human Rights and Humanitarian Assistance.
In the 19th century, it became crystal clear that continuous accumulation of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere could create a “greenhouse effect” and raise the global temperature (Sundstro%u0308m, 1962). By the mid of the 20th century, it became evident that human activity had significantly increased the amount of these gases, and the process of ‘global warming’ was on the rise. Scientists the world over agree that we are obliged to reverse this process or we will face a catastrophic avalanche of natural disasters that will alter life on earth with far-reaching consequences.
In December 2010, climate change talks in Cancun reached the conclusion with a number of decisions to aid countries inch towards a lower-emission future. Dubbed the “Cancún Agreements,” the resolutions comprise formalizing mitigation promises and ensuring accelerated accountability for them, as well as taking tangible actions to protect forests in the world. Coming just before the talks in Cancun was the Copenhagen Accord, which was agreed to by heads of states, heads of governments, ministers, and other heads of delegations at the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December 2009.
Much of the evidence is apparent to an ordinary man as well. Most of the hottest years have been witnessed over the last quarter century. In Europe, the thermal wave in the summer of 2003 led to more than 30,000 deaths. In India, the temperature has gone as high as 48.1 degrees Celsius, which is almost 119 degrees Fahrenheit. Two years later, Hurricane Katrina in the United States of America was ascribed to the hydro temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico.
The United Nations is leading from the front in an attempt to rescue our planet. In 1992, “Earth Summit” culminated in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) as an initial step in dealing with the menace. Another milestone was the Convention’s 1997 Kyoto Protocol that set emission levels for advanced countries. This has helped to stabilize and even in some instance reduce emissions in a number of countries.
In 1998, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), as well as the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), launched the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to offer a reliable source of scientific information.
Another menace that the world is facing is international terrorism. In the last two decades alone, a number of countries have fallen victim to terrorist attacks, most notably being the bombing of the landmark World Trade Centre and the Pentagon in the United States in 2001. Putting an end to this threat is for the betterment of all nations, and for this reason, the issue has predominately been on the agenda of the United Nations for years.
Eighteen global anti-terrorism instruments with four amendments among them have been incorporated in the framework of the United Nations system in connection with specific terrorist activities. Member States via the General Assembly have accelerated their counter-terrorism efforts. The Security Council has also been on the offensive to counter terrorism via resolutions and by putting in place several auxiliary organs. Additionally, numerous programs, offices, and agencies of the United Nations system have been involved in specific activities against terrorism. This has helped in assisting Member States in their anti-terrorism efforts.
To strengthen and enhance these endeavors, in September 2006, Member States began a new chapter in their anti-terrorism efforts by deciding on a global mechanism as a counterweight to terrorism. The mechanism marks the beginning of a period that all Member States of the UN have accepted as a common strategy and institutional framework to combat terrorism. The strategy underpins a cogent plan of action: to eliminate the conditions favorable to the spread of terrorism; to fight and stop terrorism; to strengthen the performance of the United Nations in countering terrorism; and to see to it that human rights are respected while fighting terrorism. The strategy is built on a particular consensus which was achieved by global leaders at their 2005 September Summit to decry terrorism in its entirety.
Another disturbing issue that seems to have increasingly taken its toll on the world economy is the AIDS scourge. The UN has taken a more active approach in the fight against AIDS since the beginning of the epidemic (Strydom, 2006). In 1987, the World Health Organization (WHO), which is one of the UN’s specialized agencies, took charge of the campaign against AIDS by launching a special program on AIDS, which ended up being the Global Program on AIDS. During the World Health Assembly in 1993, the WHO highlighted the importance of a joint program to counter HIV/AIDS, which would harmonize the functions of other UN organs against the scourge.
UNAIDS and its partners, as well as other members of the UN, aid peace-building efforts in many countries of the world and have laid the groundwork for the campaigns currently being mounted. The UN’s obligation, specifically that of UNAIDS, together with other participants, is to assist governments with useful technical, institutional, and informational support needed to respond sufficiently to the epidemic.
As the major advocate for global action on HIV/AIDS, UNAIDS leads from the front, strengthens, and aids in responding to the scourge (Strydom, 2006). In particular, it helps the strengthening of HIV/AIDS-associated planning, policy harmonization, and strategy development in the UN system. Moreover, it buttresses national leadership on HIV/AIDS, particularly via a strengthened national coordination framework and national strategic plans. Its mandate emphasizes support for processes.
In light of the foregoing discussion, the UN is accelerating its assistance in the struggle against AIDS. For instance, the African Development Forum, which was mooted by the UN Economic Commission for Africa, held in Addis Ababa in December 2000, congregated leaders from the whole Africa to undertake measures that would stop the scourge. Moreover, the UN aids other regional and global groupings to strengthen their campaigns against the epidemic. In the Caribbean, the Pan-Caribbean Partnership against HIV/AIDS has come out as a pivotal player in the fight against HIV/AIDS and is operating in partnership with UNAIDS and others.
The last two or so decades have seen increased cases of conflicts in various forms, ranging from attempts by disgruntled military forces to topple their governments to civil strife in most countries of the world. Reducing, if not completely eliminating, cases of unrest resulting from botched military coups or civil strife is one of the realities that the United Nations organization has no illusion about.
The United Nations’ section of Peacekeeping Operations is sending more missions to all conflict-hit regions in the world as never before. Statistics have it that there are some 111,000 peacekeeping personnel deployed around the world at an approximate cost of $7 billion. It sends these missions the world over and at the same time maintains very few staff at the headquarters. It is in view of this that the need arises for the United Nations organization to marshal enough resources to help it achieve this noble goal. This has, however, not been without hiccups. As earlier noted, the deployment of the mission is a financially demanding affair, which makes it an unsustainable situation for the UN peacekeeping.
Recently, multilateral institutions and governments have dedicated their attention to the hurdles of the world conflict prevention, peacekeeping, and after-conflict peace-building (Kamidza et al., 2005). Over the last ten years, the world community has initiated new instruments and mechanisms to curb and manage conflicts. As a result of such efforts, international and intrastate conflicts have plummeted by about 40 percent since 1992. Notwithstanding the fact that high-profile conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have taken the better part of global attention and resources over the last ten years, there have been conspicuous strides comprising multilateral conflict prevention, peacekeeping, and peace-building attempts in less notable conflicts, such as in East Timor and Liberia.
Human Rights and Humanitarian Assistance
The quest for human rights was and continues to be a noble duty of the UN. World War II and massacres have led to the conclusion that the UN has to work to forestall any future tragedies. An earlier goal was to create a legitimate institution for addressing complaints regarding human rights violations. The UN charter requires all member countries to promote “global respect for and observance of human rights” and to take either joint or unilateral steps to end this.
Though the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is not being legally binding, it was adopted by the General Assembly in 1948 as a common threshold of achievement for all. The Assembly commonly deals with human rights issues. The UN in conjunction with its agencies is instrumental in upholding and implementing the philosophy promoted by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. A case in point is aid by the UN to countries transiting to democracy. Technical and professional assistance in offering free, fair, and transparent elections, improving judicial institutions, drafting constitutional laws, training human rights personnel, and converting armed movements into political parties have contributed to democratization globally.
The UN has chipped in to offer help in running elections in countries with little or no known democratic history, notably in Afghanistan and East Timor. The UN also provides avenues to help the right of women to engage fully in political, economic, and social spheres in their countries. The UN assists in raising awareness of the idea of human rights via its agreements and attention to particular abuses through its Security Council resolutions, General Assembly or International Court of Justice verdicts.
Protecting the rights of 370 million peoples around the world are also at the heart of the UN’s objectives, with the Declaration on the Rights of Peoples being approved by the General Assembly in 2007 (Kamidza et al., 2005). This declaration highlights the private and collective rights to culture, language, education, identity, employment and health, therefore addressing post-colonial issues that people have faced for centuries. The declaration is aimed at maintaining, strengthening, and encouraging the growth of native institutions, cultures, and customs. It also forbids discrimination against natives and promotes their active involvement in matters that concern their past, present, and future.
To run the UN better and sufficiently address the issues discussed above, a more participatory approach is necessary. Ambassador Bengt Säve-Söderbergh felt it was important for reform suggestions on the UN governance and management to be formulated by Member States, as opposed to the Secretariat or outside pundits.