“The U.N. is like your conscience. It can’t make you do the right thing, but it can help you make the right decision.” –Margaret Huang, the interim executive director of Amnesty International U.S.A.
During a conference held in San Francisco in June 1945, hosted by US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the United Nations Charter was signed in a chorus of support led by four countries: Britain, China, the Soviet Union, and the United States. When the Charter went into effect on October 24 of that year, a global war had just ended. At that time, much of Africa and Asia were still ruled by colonial powers.
The brainchild of 50 countries, the organization has grown to 193 and growing. It has grown not only in numbers but physically, that is in the infrastructure: The General Assembly had 50-member states, today it has 193 plus two observers, and space for more.
After 72 years, as the commemoration music lingers, there are skeptics from many sides, about the relevance of this giant elephant in the room. Established with the promise to make the world a better and peaceful place. Is the world a more peaceful and better place? Has the UN lived up to its promise? Or is it a total and disastrously big failure full of empty go-no-where meetings?
Absolutely not, the UN is not a total and disastrously big failure full of empty go-no-where meetings. The United Nations is a very respected global forum of equals (envisaged and crafted into the principles of the organization, complete with regional representation). Additionally, the world a more peaceful and better place, making true the assertion that the UN lived up to its promise.
It was my great privilege to work with this mammoth organization for 10 years. My first assignment was at field level at UNDP Malawi where I served as communications officer; and then as a diplomat for 8 years representing Malawi in social development, human rights, elections officer, editor of social media, magazine and TV channel, and diplomatic relations coordination.
There are many wars around the world, causing the UN to orchestrate a cotely of peace-keeping missions. However, with the ideals of human rights wrapped with the 1948 Human Rights Charter, the world walks on egg shells and countries are called out through the UN’s Human Rights Commission.
As Malawi’s social development expert at the Malawi Mission, it was an honor to be among diplomats from like-minded member states that led to the establishing of the UN gender entity for equality and economic empowerment of women, also known as UN Women. The presence of UN Women in Malawi greatly fuels women equality and empowerment projects including immunization of under-five babies, ending child marriage, education for all, especially of girls, voicing outrage against women and children, human rights, and protection of refugees among others.
Getting back to the global organization: The United Nations, to quote former Malawi Ambassador Rubadri (one of the first five ambassadors in 1964 – Mangwazu, Mbekeani, Rubadri, Gondwe, and Katenga), the UN can be likened to a club. The member states pay into its pool of funds; it established development agencies such as UNICEF, UNDP, UNHCR, WHO, WFP, UNEP, UNAIDS, and many others. These enable the UN fulfil its operative mandate at country and regional levels, while headquarters performs the normative one.
What is remarkable and has worked like the plum line, every September, the world leaders meet as the General Assembly, and speak on chosen themes, mapping out their country’s stand on national, regional and global issues. This is followed by committee work leading to resolutions. It is these resolutions, negotiated by delegates from all 193-member states, that are sent to countries like Malawi for localization and implementation.
The UN is home of the Security Council with a 15-member elected group of member states. The group however, has five permanent member states (China, France, Russia, UK and USA), who have a veto power that gives them more power than the other states present on the Council. Tis veto power paralyses the Council giving power to one member, state against the other members. The working of the Council is different from the General Assembly that works either on simple majority of sometimes two thirds.
The UN is a global “government,” and like national governments, it is the biggest employer in the world employment stage, with member states enabling their nationals through direct appointment (many doing this through funding projects) or elections and other indirect.
The employment of nationals from member states, gives credibility as a global entity. It is the nationals from around the world. The UN is genuinely a world organization – from gate security officers, sweepers, cashiers, clerks, journalists, directors up to other senior officials are employed from around the world.
Going forward, the new UN Secretary General, António Guterres has major challenges as the New York Times wonders whether its influence diminishes or grows. As a global organization, it is firmly etched into the world tapestry and has enormous achievements.
Happy 72 Birthday UN!