As the month of September ended, and the calendar quickly turned to October, the 67th annual United Nations General Assembly began its business. As world leaders converged upon U.N. Headquarters to discuss the myriad of challenges confronting the international community, there was one thing that could be assured: expect the unexpected.
From Nikita Khrushchev banging his shoe on the desk at the 1960 meeting to the deceased Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi seeking space in New York City’s Central Park to erect his Bedouin tent, or the outrageous rhetoric that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spews, there has always been an element of theater associated with the global gathering. However, such drama is best left for the producers in Hollywood; the world body had many critical matters requiring urgent attention that such grandstanding by global pariahs would not deter from the important work at hand. RENEWED COMMITMENT TO THE RULE OF LAW
At the opening of the U.N. meeting, an important measure was adopted that rededicated the world body to the rule of law. The Outcome Document on the Rule of Law stated, “We reaffirm that human rights, the rule of law and democracy are interlinked and mutually reinforcing and that they belong to the universal and indivisible core values and principles of the United Nations.” The aim of the meetings was to address the nexus between the rule of law and economic growth, sustainable development and the global eradication of poverty and hunger.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued the following remarks with regard to the rule of law. He said, “The wider body of international law developed at the United Nations gives the international community a basis to cooperate and peacefully resolve conflicts – and the means to ensure that there is no relapse of fighting.” In addition, Mr. Ban Ki-moon called on Member Nations to recognize the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), instituted in 1945 as a legal dispute mechanism for Member States.
The leader of the world body had other crucial matters he wished to convey as well to the General Assembly in addition to the importance of the rule of law. He also said in his opening address, “I am here to sound the alarm”, he said as he spoke about the vitally important issues such as, widespread insecurity, deepening inequality, government waste and the impacts of climate change. Furthermore, he went on to say, “This is a time of turmoil, transition and transformation – a time when time itself is not on our side, They [individuals struggling in conflict areas like Syria and Mali as well as those dealing with the effects of the rich-poor gap as a result of globalization] needed ideas, leadership and results ‘now’, not in the distant future.” WHAT HAPPENS NEXT IN THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY?
When the bright glare of the cameras turn off, and the world leaders return home to their respective countries, and the media focus shifts to the next great and pressing issue of the day, what does the General Assembly do then? It is at this point the real work of the body commences.
Under the guidance and direction of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, there are a number of new matters on the agenda for the Member Nations to grapple with, including, but not limited to, “women, disarmament, non-proliferation and arms control and addressing the socioeconomic needs of individuals and families affected by autism spectrum disorders and other developmental disorders.” The general image the U.N. portrays, at least in the United States I believe, are those blue-helmeted peacekeepers funneling into conflict zones in an attempt to “keep the peace.” However, as these new items on the agenda signal, the U.N. is so much more than blue helmets and peacekeeping. This is the message that should be conveyed in areas of the world where support may not be as strong.
The new President of the General Assembly (a new leader is elected in each session) is Vuk Jeremic’ from Serbia. President Jeremic’ painted a picture of the General Assembly when he spoke to the gathering of world leaders in September. He said it is a “…grand pantheon of hope for the peoples of the world,” and “We must find a way to act in concert, so that legitimate needs and concerns of Member States can be met.”
How does the General Assembly tackle the multiplicity of issues it must handle? The GA is divided into committees based on specific issues it will discuss. For example, the Assembly’s First Committee is charged with matters of disarmament and international security. The Second Committee deals with economic and environmental questions, the Third Committee social and humanitarian matters, including human rights, the Fourth is specifically designated with any other political matters not taken up by the First Committee, and the Fifth and Sixth address budget and legal issues respectively. “A MIRROR OF THE WORLD AS IT IS, NOT HOW IT SHOULD BE”
U.N Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson made this comment at a briefing with the media where he gave his thoughts on what he felt were some of the important themes coming out of the 67th General Assembly. It is important to note that the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), prominently discussed in many of the speeches presented by world leaders, are a little over two years away from their expiration date of 2015. Some of the special initiatives like Every Woman Every Child, the U.N Secretary-General’s Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL), Scaling Up Nutrition, polio, and Education First were all development related events taking place.
As we move forward, especially in a U.S.presidential election year, it is important that we remain steadfast in our commitments to the U.N. and remain fully engaged globally. Both candidates, either of whom may be elected on November 6th, need to heed this advice, as the international threats we face are as real today as they were at the founding of the global body in 1945.