NEW YORK - September 19 - With only a few hours to go before the largest ever gathering of heads of state at the United Nations, agreement was reached on a reform package to be adopted at the UN’s 60th anniversary summit. The reforms fall far short of what UN Secretary General Kofi Annan proposed. They are also less significant than a compromise package painstakingly negotiated several weeks ago. That compromise fell apart after John Bolton, the new U.S. ambassador to the UN, raised hundreds of objections. The U.S., along with other spoilers, share the blame for squandering this historic opportunity for improving the UN.
Annan has spent much of 2005 working for a series of strong reforms to make the UN work better. His proposals tackled a range of crucial issues: humanitarian intervention, the definition of terrorism, the control of weapons proliferation, peacebuilding capacity, human rights, development goals, management reform, and expanding membership of the Security Council, the UN’s most powerful institution. Unfortunately, the UN-Iraq oil for food scandal greatly weakened the Secretary General at a time when his leadership was most critical.
Nevertheless, by August months of negotiations had produced a delicately balanced agreement between rich and poor countries. Developing countries, in general, wanted the Millennium Development Goals -- an ambitious plan to reduce global poverty and starvation -- reaffirmed, promises of more aid, a pledge to tackle climate change, and progress on disarmament. The developed world, for its part, wanted a comprehensive definition of terrorism, the right to humanitarian intervention to stop atrocities, a powerful new Human Rights Council that would exclude human rights violators, and much needed UN management improvement. The proposed Peacebuilding Commission, to better coordinate and facilitate post-conflict reconstruction, received widespread support from member states.
Bolton’s insistence on hundreds of last minute changes blew apart the hard-won compromise. Among other things, he wanted deletion of all specific references to the Millennium Development Goals, the International Criminal Court, and the Kyoto summit on climate change. Developing countries saw that the issues important to them were at risk and responded with a series of their own amendments to improve their bargaining position. Complete failure began to look likely.
Fueled by the impending crisis of a World Summit with no real outcome, ambassadors worked day and night to produce a new draft outcome document. The U.S. backed down on some of its proposed changes, including deletion of the Millennium Development Goals, paving the way for compromise. The summit declaration does contain some significant reforms, but not nearly as many as seemed possible in early August. In particular, Annan called the failure to reach agreement on proposals for nuclear force reductions and non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction “a real disgrace.”
Yet, the package contains some positive steps.
Humanitarian Intervention The document states that the international community “has the responsibility” to use peaceful means to prevent or stop atrocities, and is “prepared to take collective action” under Chapter VII, which allows military intervention, should peaceful means fail. Refugees International is gratified that the concept of a responsibility to protect has been advanced, but we also note that words must be translated into action, something that has not yet happened.
Peacebuilding Commission The summit will agree to the establishment of a Peacebuilding Commission to help prevent post-conflict nations from relapsing into violence. But disputes over control of the new commission resulted in the absence of crucial details. The U.S. wants it to be set up under the auspices of the Security Council, where the U.S. and four other countries have a veto. But developing countries, which think the Security Council already is too powerful, hold firm on their demand for the Peacebuilding Commission to come under the General Assembly or the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), where their representation is stronger. A final decision on control was postponed. Most UN members support the Peacebuilding Commission, but many details must be resolved to turn a good idea into an effective reform.
Development Developing countries, supported by some developed countries, want wealthy countries to commit to giving 0.7% of their GDP per year in development aid. The Bush Administration thinks it is more important that recipients of international aid reform themselves, as well as confront corruption and prepare for investment. A compromise was reached: the U.S. allowed the document to recognize that some countries are committed to the 0.7% goal, yet the document will also reaffirm the need for action by countries that receive aid. RI agrees with Oxfam and other critics, who say that the language makes no new commitment to development.
Human Rights Council Many countries, including most notably the U.S., want the discredited 53-member Commission on Human Rights replaced by a smaller, more powerful standing Human Rights Council. Not surprisingly, this proposal is fiercely opposed by those who have the most to lose -- for instance, Sudan, China and Cuba are all current members. Although the principle of a new body remains in the outcomes document, there is no agreement on its structure, including how many members it should have and standards for membership. RI is concerned that leaving these details for later discussion may derail creation of the new Human Rights Council. We are dismayed that the August draft document, which was a good first step towards creation of an effective Human Rights Council, was watered down.
UN Management The U.S. has been especially eager to see a thorough overhaul of the UN’s management system. Currently the Secretary General does not have sufficient authority over budgets and personnel. The U.S. wanted more power for the Secretary General, in exchange for greater oversight of the Secretariat. It also wanted some authority moved from the General Assembly, where every country has an equal vote, to the secretariat. Developing countries (which have a majority in the General Assembly) fought this change. In the end, the two sides could not agree. Refugees International is deeply disturbed with the failure to agree upon a meaningful set of UN management reforms. The UN will not be an effective agent for peace and security so long as its management remains crippled and largely unaccountable.
Peacekeeping and the Rule of Law The document endorses the creation of a standing Police Capacity to provide coherent, effective and responsive start-up capability for the policing component of the UN peacekeeping missions and to assist existing missions through the provision of advice and expertise. It also supports recent recommendations designed to prevent sexual exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeepers, building capacity for peacekeeping in regional organizations and in the African Union, and the creation of a unit in the Secretariat to strengthen UN activities to promote the rule of law. RI is pleased with the inclusion of these proposals, but notes that the commitment must be backed by resources.