Demanding reforms, speakers say outdated UN structure leaves organization ill-equipped to address twenty-first century realities

Report
from UN General Assembly
Published on 28 Sep 2009 View Original
GA/10865

Addressing Assembly via Cell Phone, Honduran President Zelaya Calls on United Nations to 'Restore Rule of Law and Freedom that Honduras Deserves'

Concerned that the United Nations outdated structure left it ill-equipped to deal with twenty-first century realities, Government Ministers addressing the General Assembly today pressed the world body to revamp its institutions, extend its alliances and break old mindsets that had hampered its credibility as the world's pre-eminent negotiating forum.

For Osman Mohammed Saleh, Eritrea's Minister for Foreign Affairs, who echoed the sentiments of many speakers during the Assembly's morning session, the United Nations should have embarked on a process of transformation 20 years ago, at the end of the cold war. The global financial and economic crisis was a mere symptom of that inaction, and it was clear the ageing world order had been hijacked to serve the interests of the few. Despite fervent calls for reform, the few who controlled global arrangements were not attuned to the notion of change; they regarded crises and suffering as ordinary historical imperatives.

Moreover, when it came to resolutions, Africans found themselves dependent on the good will of others, he explained. Fundamental change in the Organization should not be left to the goodwill of the few. Nor should it be limited merely to increasing the number of seats in the Security Council. Rather, it should steer the world away from its dangerous descent and redirect it towards a path of safety. Africa as a whole had to expend more effort to achieve that goal, as truly fundamental reform required collective commitment, he added.

Later in the evening, delegates heard a moving address by Honduran President José Manuel Zelaya, who appealed to the Assembly via telephone from his refuge in the "besieged Brazilian embassy" in Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital. Mr. Zelaya explained that in June he had been subjected to a coup d'état, which had oppressed his peoples' rights. His people had been silenced and a serious crime had taken place.

"I call on the United Nations to restore the rule of law and the freedom that Honduras deserves," he said over a cell phone held up to a microphone by Honduran Foreign Minister Patricia Isabel Rodas Baca. Calling for civilized nations around the world to "maintain a stand against barbarism," Mr. Zelaya, who has been back in Honduras for a week, saluted Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva's courage in upholding democracy. He urged the United Nations to reverse the coup and ensure that democracy was made available to all nations.

Following the telephone address, Ms. Rodas Baca characterized Honduras as a country under siege: the constitution had been suspended, news and media outlets had been dismantled, women were being raped in "concentration camps" and the entire nation had been militarized. "First we fought against conquest, colonization and economic differences", she said. Today, Honduras continued to fight peacefully -- its only weapon was the truth. She urged delegations to convene a special assembly session on the crisis and to request Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to send a mission to her country.

Returning to the issue of United Nations reform, several delegates said that the need for across-the-board reform was nowhere more apparent than in the 15-member Security Council, where Africa had been unrepresented for far too long. Marco Hausiku, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Namibia, called for Africa to be equitably represented on the Council, with all the privileges associated with membership. His country stood by the common African position outlined in the Ezulwini Consensus and Sirte Declaration.

Welcoming the joint communiqué on strengthening African Union capacity in peacekeeping operations as a step in the right direction, he underscored the need for a more formalized cooperation between the Council and its counterpart, the African Union Peace and Security Council, including in the areas of financing, logistics and technology transfer.

[The Ezulwini Consensus, adopted by African Union Foreign Ministers as Africa's common position on United Nations reform, argues that Africa be fully represented in all the decision-making organs of the United Nations, particularly in the Security Council, where it should have two permanent seats and five non-permanent seats.]

Naha Mint Mouknass, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation in Mauritania, added that a restructured Security Council should also include permanent seats for the Arab world, given that the latter made up 11 per cent of the global population.

Indeed, it was absurd to argue for static institutions in a changing world, said Mexico's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Patricia Espinosa Cantellano. Negotiations on Council reform must move toward a compromise that increased representation, improved accountability and did not jeopardize efficiency. The Council's legitimacy could be improved by strengthening work in preventing crises related to massive human rights violations and making development assistance a basic strategy for conflict prevention and reconstruction.

More broadly, she said the United Nations had to understand that the world was realigning its economic governance structures and policies needed to be adjusted accordingly. On a lighter note, she said the outbreak of influenza A (H1N1) showed how the United Nations system could coordinate States' action and prevent inappropriate unilateral measures. The World Health Organization (WHO) had lent support to the timely, energetic and responsible actions of the Mexican Government.

Taking a bird's eye view, Singapore's Minister of Foreign Affairs, George Yeo, pointed out that rebalancing the global economy was both an economic and political endeavour. The rise of Asia was altering the global power structure -- and nothing expressed that more than the complex relationship between the United States and China. With its reserves of more than $2 trillion, China was heavily invested in the United States dollar, making it a major stakeholder in that country's economy.

Looking forward, he said the world would become more multipolar, as Europe and Japan remained heavyweights and India, the Russian Federation, Brazil and others became bigger players. A multipolar world meant more effective global governance across many issues, from human rights to international financial regulation to efforts to combat pandemics, climate change and terrorism. The United Nations was not structured to deal with issues such as a major financial crisis. Though not ideal, the Group of Twenty process was presently the most important driver of change.

But for Afghanistan, "the United Nations is not a forum for lip service," said Rangin Dâdfar Spantâ, the country's Minister of Foreign Affairs. Restructuring the world body's agencies was pivotal in closing the gap between the Charter's goals and world realities. The United Nations had to provide political and moral leadership and assume greater responsibility for finding collective solutions to global challenges.

Rather than just reacting to problems, he said the United Nations had to find ways to address the structural causes of problems and conflicts. To those ends, there should be more cooperation among the United Nations, the International Criminal Court, international financial organizations and global civil society.

Also speaking today was the Prime Minister of Myanmar.

The foreign affairs ministers of San Marino, Peru, Bahrain, Cuba, Tunisia, Syria, Niger, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Oman, Belize, Hungary, Bhutan, Ireland, Yemen, Uzbekistan, Mozambique, Armenia, Barbados, Chad, Guinea, Saint Lucia, Ecuador, Angola, Timor-Leste, Malaysia and Nigeria also spoke.

The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Portugal spoke, as did the vice foreign affairs minister of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

Also addressing the Assembly was Sudan's Advisor to the President.

The representative of Germany also spoke.

The General Assembly will reconvene at 9 a.m. Tuesday, 29 September to continue and conclude its High Level Debate.