The UN High Commissioner (UNHC) for UNHCR, a former Head of UNRWA, in a statement a few days ago in the UNSC interestingly pointed out several unsatisfactory dimensions pertaining to the refugee problem in several parts of the world because of conflict and resulting dire conditions. In this context he drew attention to the plight of the "uprooted". According to the latest figures available with them, there were nearly 114 million refugees and displaced people around the world. Very correctly he also observed that this was "tangible" evidence of the world's current extreme disorder. The UN High Commissioner also noted that forced displacement is also a consequence of the failure to uphold peace and security and that "brutal conflict continues to be its main driver".
Subsequently, most correctly he pointed out that the past few weeks have provided "devastating proof that disregarding the basic rules of war - international humanitarian law - is increasingly becoming the norm and not the exception, with innocent civilians killed in unprecedented numbers: in the Hamas attacks on Israeli civilians and in the killing of Palestinian civilians and massive destruction of infrastructure caused by the ongoing Israeli military operation".
It was also suggested that till now there was no realistic evidence of the world led by the United Nations having been able to reduce the misery in Gaza for the civilians in general and women and children in particular. Attention was also drawn to the comment made by Philippe Lazzarini who has termed the existing situation "hell on earth." In this context the UN Security Council's attention was drawn to the fact that an important denominator was still missing-- a humanitarian ceasefire coupled with substantive delivery of humanitarian aid inside Gaza that would reduce the "this spiral of death". Attention was drawn for the need of the international community to carefully understand the connotations of the recent remarks made by the UN Secretary General in the UNSC on this issue and also reflect on the need to turn this somber page, "difficult as it may be: because it is vital".
The UNHC then pointed towards Sudan and the continuing conflict situation which had turned many peaceful Sudanese homes into cemeteries within that country and the adjoining region. It was observed that the ongoing fighting had grown in scope and brutality and was seriously affecting the common people. Nearly six million people had been forced from their homes and more than a million had fled to neighbouring and often fragile countries - and some of them have already moved to Libya and Tunisia, and are crossing the Mediterranean on fragile boats towards Italy and the rest of Europe. At this point hope was expressed that a ceasefire would be reached sooner than later.
Attention was then suitably drawn to the developing instability in Lebanon, reeling from economic collapse and two unresolved conflicts on this country's borders. Reference was also made to Central Sahel and to the disruptive situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo where amongst grave political instability the brutal violence which has terrorised civilians for years is rising again, increasingly driving people to Africa's coastal states as refugees-- a situation which greatly increased apprehension in these countries many of whom are already in a state of instability due to climate emergency and the non-availability of required funds. There were also references to Central America, Armenia, Afghanistan, Myanmar and the evolving situation in Ukraine which was creating displacement and despair among civilians seeking safer conditions as refugees during the on-going crisis.
What made the UN High Commissioner's remarks significant was his drawing attention of the UNSC's President that the world today needs from the United Nations a strong, united voice, "carrying the authority which the Charter invests in this Council, but which the world does not hear any more, drowned as it is in rivalries and divisions". This has been described as unacceptable at a time when little political capital and funds are available to promote peace to facilitate people returning home to restart their lives.
It was then pointed out that humanitarian work needs resources. UNHCR alone urgently needs US Dollar 600 million before the end of the year. Availability of funds is, however, scarce and prospects for next year are even more depressing, with big donors cutting aid and others - who could help - not engaging in multilateral support. It may be noted here that analysts for some time have been observing that UNRWA, the World Food Programme, UNICEF, and the International Committee of the Red Cross have all been left chronically under-funded and all of them face the same financial crunch in their humanitarian activities. Through these comments it was underlined that the UNSC has to step forward and take the courageous and necessary steps to bring the UN back from the abyss.
It is also important at this juncture to refer to some serious observations made by A.K. Chowdhury, who started his association with the UN as the Representative from Bangladesh and eventually ended up as its Under Secretary-General. He delivered an important address in the United Nations in the fourth week of October this year as keynote speaker during a special meeting arranged on the occasion of the observance of the United Nations Day.
He noted that during his period of collaborative involvement with the UN, he had seen "many faces of the world body - positive and not so positive, spirit-uplifting and also frustrating, focused and determined and also confused and politicised".
He observed that the UN's contribution had made positive differences in the lives of millions of people. He acknowledged that the UN over the years has been tested time and again by conflicts, humanitarian crises and poverty and deprivation, but has always risen to live up to the challenges in a determined and inclusive way. He reminded the participants that these diverse efforts of the UN had led to the United Nations being not only "rightly called the indispensable common house of the entire human family" but also being described as "Parliament of the World." by global peace leader and philosopher Daisaku Ikeda.
During his speech he reminded the audience that the United Nations and its family of agencies and entities have been engaged in a continuing endeavour against enormous odds to improve every aspect of people's lives around the world in a broad range of areas. He also reminded the audience that the United Nations had played a very important collaborative role and had been involved in all major aspects of Bangladesh's development architecture.
After that came his several other observations about how the UN today, in a conflict-ridden world is found helpless. He then referred to the painful observation that had appeared in the progressive British newspaper Guardian in its editorial on October 26. That echoed the helpless perception by saying that "The United Nations marked its 78th birthday on Tuesday but had little cause for celebration."
In this context, Ambassador A.K. Chowdhury was critical of the unbecoming manner and lack of all diplomatic decency by which the Israeli Permanent Representative to the UN turned on the UN Secretary-General at the open session of the Security Council. He considered it as inconceivable and totally unacceptable.
At this juncture one needs to revisit various issues that are now being focused on about the operational credibility of the United Nations in the light of the current realities. A.K. Chowdhury has, against this background, reflected on whether "the Charter needs to be amended to live up to the challenges of global complexities and paralysing intergovernmental politicization". He then meaningfully observed that treating the words of the Charter as sacrosanct may be self-defeating and irresponsible.
After such observations he was asked during the 'questions and answers' session as to whether he had any suggestions or recommendations that would make the UN perform better, and if so, what those would be. Then came his clear and emphatic answer-- "Abolish the Veto!" He reflected that veto "influences not only the decisions of the Security Council but also all work of the UN, including importantly the choice of the Secretary-General."
He underlined that "Veto is undemocratic, irrational and against the true spirit of the principle of sovereign equality of the United Nations". This has been reflected in observations that have reiterated that the veto power has a negative shadow and should be abolished.
Over the years many have asserted that there should be reform in the structural aspect of the UN Security Council on a priority basis. In this context it has been mentioned several times that there should be consideration to create a larger UNSC with more Permanent Members than the existing five.
In this regard it has also been observed that abolishing the veto would also release the election of the Secretary-General from the manipulating control of the veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council. It has also been also significantly recommended that "in future the Secretary-General would have only one term of seven years, as opposed to current practice of automatically renewing the Secretary-General's tenure for a second five-year term, without even evaluating his performance". He has also proposed that we should have the "sagacity of electing a woman as the next Secretary-General" and have a more interactive participatory role for the civil society and the UN framework.
This year several speakers have also used the 78th session of the UNGA to reiterate that there needs to be more transparency and accountability in the UN budget processes and also in personnel recruitments at all levels.
We will all gain from the suggestions and observations that have been made if the international community understands that they have reached a fork on the road and consequently they must choose the right path to promote multilateralism.
Muhammad Zamir, a former Ambassador, is an analyst specialised in foreign affairs, right to information and good governance. [email protected]