UN Reform & multilateralism August 2021-

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UNGA Resolution 377
Multilateralism needs an overhaul.
– Here’s where to start

Unblocking the UN Security Council: The Uniting for Peace Resolution
Andrew J. Carswell
(Journal of Conflict and Security Law) The United Nations Security Council’s recent blocked attempts to address the deteriorating political and humanitarian situation in Syria have renewed calls for UN reform. From the Cold War until the present day, the fact that the UN system has failed to live up to the lofty expectations of its framers can be attributed in significant part to the threat and exercise of the veto by individual Permanent Five (P5) members of the Council. This situation can be attributed to an unequal—but politically necessary—compromise that took place between the great Allied victors of the Second World War and the remainder of the UN membership. The result was a division of powers between the Security Council and the General Assembly that has never found a satisfactory equilibrium. In light of this predicament, the author argues that a 1950 General Assembly resolution should be re-examined in the modern context as a possible means of mitigating the bad faith exercise of the veto. The ‘Uniting for Peace’ resolution, drafted by a P5 member, revealed the latent powers of the General Assembly existing within the UN Charter to make recommendations in lieu of a blocked Council, up to and including the use of force. However, it went too far when it assigned to the Assembly a role that effectively usurped the primary role of the Security Council in the maintenance of international peace and security. When P5 members realized that it potentially restricted their respective sovereign interests, it was relegated to obscurity. Nevertheless, read down to reflect a constitutional balance between the UN’s primary organs, the resolution represents a viable tool capable of overcoming the worst effects of a veto exercised in circumstances that cry out for an international response. (13 August 2013)

21-22 September
Multilateralism needs an overhaul. Here’s where to start.
By Yomna Gaafar
The world leaders gathering in New York this week face a world growing more volatile by the day—and they are acting within a system ill-equipped to handle the moment. To meet today’s challenges and take advantage of tomorrow’s opportunities, they must change how they work and rethink multilateralism.
(Atlantic Council) The UN General Assembly is gathering this week at a precarious time for multilateralism. Global economic uncertainty and a major war in Europe have put escalating pressure on the kinds of cooperation and institutions that flowered following World War II and have helped lift millions of people from poverty, promote shared prosperity, and avoid major conflicts. But it will not be possible to solve twenty-first-century challenges with a system designed for the twentieth century. This is an urgent moment to rethink and reform these vital institutions.
Drowning island nations: ‘This is how a Pacific atoll dies’
While world leaders from wealthy countries acknowledge the “existential threat” of climate change, Tuvalu Prime Minister Kausea Natano is racing to save his tiny island nation from drowning by raising it 13 to 16 feet (4 to 5 meters) above sea level through land reclamation.
While experts issue warnings about the eventual uninhabitability of the Marshall Islands, President David Kabua must reconcile the inequity of a seawall built to protect one house that is now flooding another one next door.
That is the reality of climate change: Some people get to talk about it from afar, while others must live it every day.
Natano and Kabua tried to show that reality on Wednesday on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly. Together they launched the Rising Nations Initiative, a global partnership aimed to preserve the sovereignty, heritage and rights of Pacific atoll island nations whose very existence has been threatened by climate change.
At UN, Russia’s war in Ukraine is both text and subtext
(AP) — After two years of discourse dominated by the coronavirus pandemic, this year’s U.N. General Assembly has a new occupant of center stage: the war in Ukraine.
The pleas made by leaders from around the world for peace were both an altruistic amplification of besieged Ukrainians’ plight as well as born from self-interest. As several speeches made clear, the repercussions of the Russian invasion have been felt even thousands of miles away.
“It is not just the dismay that we feel at seeing such deliberate devastation of cities and towns in Europe in the year 2022. We are feeling this war directly in our lives in Africa,” Ghanaian President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo said Wednesday. “Every bullet, every bomb, every shell that hits a target in Ukraine, hits our pockets and our economies in Africa.”
The speeches that elided any direct reference to the conflict were few, but the war resonated even in the absence of its direct invocation. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, the president of Kazakhstan, never let the words “Ukraine” or “Russia” slip from his lips, but he made several seemingly pointed allusions.
One day after Zelenskyy speech, US, Russia square off at UN
By PIA SARKAR and JENNIFER PELTZ
(AP) — One day after Ukraine’s president laid out a forceful case against Russia’s invasion at the United Nations, the United States made its own assertions in front of the U.N. Security Council on Thursday about why Russia should face further censure and isolation. Minutes later, Russia came right back, calling the claims unfair and saying Ukraine is to blame.
Antony Blinken, the United States’ top diplomat, spoke to Security Council members on Thursday, detailing allegations of what he called war crimes and other atrocities committed by Russia and urging them to “send a clear message” to the country to stop its nuclear threats.
Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, addressed the Security Council shortly afterward, repeating his country’s frequent claims that Kyiv has long oppressed Russian speakers in Ukraine’s east — one of the explanations Moscow has offered for the invasion.
Biden criticizes Iran and China on human rights and security issues.
President Biden pledged that the United States would work to defend human rights throughout the world, and called out abuses by China, Iran, Afghanistan and Myanmar.
In his speech to the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday, President Biden criticized the governments of Iran and China for their human rights records, while vowing that the United States would always stand up for those rights.
Alluding to the protests that have erupted in Iran over the death in custody of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who was arrested by the country’s morality police last week allegedly for violating dress codes, Mr. Biden said the United States stood with “the brave citizens and brave women of Iran, who right now are demonstrating to secure their basic rights.”
And with talks stalled on restoring the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which President Donald J. Trump abandoned, Mr. Biden implicitly threatened to use force if necessary to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, but said that he wanted to prevent conflict.
Biden called for reforms to the UN Security Council (UNSC) to make it more inclusive and better equipped to respond to global challenges.
He said the number of countries who sit on the 15-member body should be increased. Currently, the UNSC has five permanent members – China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the US – and 10 rotating states elected to two-year terms.
“We have long supported permanent seats for countries in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean,” Biden told the General Assembly.
Permanent members of the council have veto power that limits the council’s ability to pass resolutions against them or their allies.
Although Washington has deployed its veto power on the Security Council dozens of times to shield Israel, a top US ally, from criticism over violations of international law, Biden said on Wednesday that vetoes should be used sparingly.
At UN, hope peeks through the gloom despite a global morass
(AP) Hope: It can be hard to find anywhere these days, much less for the people who walk the floors of the United Nations, where shouldering the world’s weight is central to the job description. After all, this is an institution that listened last year as the president of the not-yet-at-war nation of Ukraine described it as being “like a retired superhero who has long forgotten how great they once were.”
And when world leaders are trying to solve some of humanity’s thorniest problems — or, to be frank, sometimes to impede solutions to those same problems — it’s easy, from a distance, to lose sight of hope through the haze of negative adjectives.
Yet beneath the layers of existential gloom Tuesday — and this is no doubt a pandemic-exhausted group of people representing a world in a really bad mood from so many disquieting challenges — there were signs of brightness poking through like persistent clovers in the sidewalk cracks.

20 September
Russia’s Invasion Shadows U.N. Assembly Amid ‘Colossal Global Dysfunction’
Presidents Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and Emmanuel Macron of France used the gathering as a stage to cast themselves as would-be peacemakers in the war in Ukraine.
(NYT) Divided by war, strained by shortages and faced with the cataclysm of global warming, dozens of world leaders convened at the United Nations in New York on Tuesday for the first full, in-person General Assembly since the pandemic began.
Among all the global crises, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine dominated the day, with heads of state addressing the violence of the conflict, the chaos in supply chains, the soaring energy prices and the other ripple effects of the war.
“We cannot go on like this,” said António Guterres, the U.N. secretary general, in opening remarks to the assembly. “We have a duty to act. And yet we are gridlocked in colossal global dysfunction.” …
As a member of the U.N. Security Council, Russia holds veto power over its actions, leaving nations and allied blocs to come up with their own policies — and forcing Mr. Guterres to focus on specific crises, like a deal to get grain exports out of Ukraine’s ports and a mission to stabilize a Russian-controlled nuclear plant in Ukraine.

19 September
Ian Bremmer: War in Ukraine looms large as world leaders meet at the United Nations
The mood in New York ahead of the 77th UN General Assembly is understandably bleak.
World leaders are gathering this week in sunny New York City for the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly, after more than two years of limited in-person attendance due to pandemic restrictions.
The mood is sure to be gloomy. From the war in Ukraine to growing food insecurity, the global energy crisis, and the devastating impacts of climate change, there is no shortage of problems to discuss.
… Tensions are running especially high this year, as geopolitical rifts between the United States and its allies on one side, and Russia, China, and most developing nations on the other, are hardening on the back of the Russia-Ukraine war and its knock-on effects. These growing divides “are paralyzing the global response to the dramatic challenges we face,” Guterres said.
President Volodymyr Zelensky will address the General Assembly via a pre-recorded video—an exception granted exclusively to him—while Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba is attending in person. Russian President Vladimir Putin, the proverbial elephant in the room, is staying home, instead sending a delegation headed by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov—a wise decision in light of the lukewarm reception Putin got at the presumptively much friendlier Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Uzbekistan last week.
The leaders of Russia, China, India and Ethiopia will miss the General Assembly.
They will be represented by ministers who, in accordance with United Nations protocol, will deliver speeches later in the week after all the heads of states and governments have spoken at the General Assembly hall.
World leaders meet this week at UN General Assembly: All you need to know
The opening of the 77th session comes as the planet is beset with crises on nearly every front. Russia’s war in Ukraine, inflation and economic instability, terrorism and ideological extremism, environmental degradation and devastating floods, droughts and fires and the ongoing pandemic are just a few of the rampant perils.
Highlights: United Nations General Assembly High-Level Week 2022
The seventy-seventh session of the General Assembly opened on 13 September under the theme, “A watershed moment: transformative solutions to interlocking challenges.”
The theme stems from the recognition that the world is at a critical moment in the history of the United Nations due to complex and interconnected crises, including the COVID-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine, humanitarian challenges of unprecedented nature, a tipping point in climate change as well as growing concerns about threats to the global economy.
It is therefore necessary to find and focus on joint solutions to these crises and build a more sustainable and resilient world for all and for the generations to come.

9 September
Austrian Takes Over as Top U.N. Human Rights Official
One of Volker Türk’s toughest challenges will be determining what to do about a highly critical report on China that his predecessor, Michelle Bachelet, released just before departing.
A week after Michelle Bachelet stepped down as the United Nations’ high commissioner for human rights, the U.N. has approved Volker Türk, an Austrian who is a trusted adviser to the secretary general, to take on the notoriously challenging job. … When Mr. Guterres led the U.N. refugee agency between 2005 and 2015, Mr. Türk worked alongside him, rising to become assistant high commissioner for protection. And when Mr. Guterres moved to New York to lead the United Nations, Mr. Türk followed to join the secretary general’s executive office, where he has worked since 2019 as undersecretary general for policy.
Among the most visible challenges awaiting him in his new post is how to follow up on the blistering report Ms. Bachelet released minutes before departing last week on China’s mass detention of Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim groups in its far western region of Xinjiang. The report accused China of serious human rights violations and found that the country might have committed crimes against humanity in its crackdown in the region.
31 August
U.N. Says China May Have Committed ‘Crimes Against Humanity’ in Xinjiang
The organization’s human rights office delivered its much-delayed report minutes before Michelle Bachelet, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, was to leave office.
In a long-awaited report released on Wednesday, the United Nations’ human rights office accused China of serious human rights violations that “may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity,” in its mass detention of Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim groups in its far western region of Xinjiang.
The assessment was released shortly before midnight in Geneva and minutes before Michelle Bachelet, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, was set to leave office.
The release ended a nearly year-long delay that had exposed Ms. Bachelet and her office to fierce pushback by rights groups, activists and others who had accused her of caving to Beijing, which had sought to block the report.
The report is “an unprecedented challenge to Beijing’s lies and horrific treatment of Uyghurs,” said Sophie Richardson, the China director for Human Rights Watch. “The high commissioner’s damning findings explain why the Chinese government fought tooth and nail to prevent the publication of her Xinjiang report, which lays bare China’s sweeping rights abuses.”

4 July
Rethinking the Global Order
Turki bin Faisal al-Saud
For decades, it has been obvious that the UN system needs to be reformed to account for the realities of the twenty-first century. Yet recommendations to restructure global governance have been ignored by those with the power to carry them out, leaving us with a world of multiplying crises for which there are few solutions.
(Project Syndicate) Intensifying great-power confrontations and deglobalization are jeopardizing world peace and security. New crises seem to be lurking around every corner, but appropriate solutions are nowhere to be seen – not in the Far East, South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, Eastern Europe, or Latin America. The popular mood has darkened, reinvigorating populism, nationalism, Islamophobia, and other atavistic trends that threaten the progressive achievements humanity has made since World War II. The Ukraine crisis itself is a symptom of deeper structural problems in the international order. That order, led by the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States), has failed to live up to the principles of good governance enshrined in the UN Charter.
… while our increasingly integrated world has changed dramatically since the UN’s founding, our organizing principles still reflect the mentality of the post-war and Cold War era. Within the current framework, a failure to respond to global challenges is a failure of the entire international community. Can the system be reformed? Calls since the early 1990s to restructure the UN system – the avatar for the broader international order – have consistently fallen on deaf ears. Worse, Russia and China are now using their seats at the helm of the international order to push for a more multipolar system. Rather than working to reform the current framework, they are challenging its validity.

29 June
New report by UN Human Rights shows the shocking toll of the war in Ukraine
The armed attack of the Russian Federation on Ukraine has led to a grave deterioration of the human rights situation in the country with thousands of civilians killed and injured, massive destruction to civilian infrastructure and housing, arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance, torture and ill-treatment, and conflict-related sexual violence, says the new UN Human Rights report issued today.
The report is based on findings by the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU) and covers the period from 24 February until 15 May 2022.

27 April
UN takes a step towards addressing ‘veto problem’ which stopped it condemning Russia
Emma McClean, Senior lecturer in Law & Aidan Hehir, Reader in International Relations, University of Westminster
(The Conversation) The “veto problem” has plagued the UN since its inception and efforts have been made over the years to reform this. One or another of the P5 – the US, Russia, China, the UK and France – has always stymied those efforts in the past. But now, thanks to some imaginative thinking by the UN General Assembly, there is at least some progress in this area.
From now on, the General Assembly will automatically review any use of the veto by any of the P5. Within ten days of casting its veto, the P5 state is “invited” to justify its use of the veto before the General Assembly.
The problem of the veto has been a bleeding sore for the UN, effectively dashing hopes and expectations of using the United Nations to maintain a truly collective security. While France and the UK have not formally used their veto since 1989, Russia and the US continue to deploy it and China, having only used it once during the Cold War, has used it 13 times since 1990.
Unsurprisingly, there have been numerous proposals to solve the veto problem – most of which got no further than policy exhortations. By contrast, the most recent proposal for a review of veto use – launched in early April – gathered sufficient momentum not only to be debated, but to be “adopted by consensus” – reflecting the agreement of the entire General Assembly – in less than a month.

21 April
‘This is not about Russia, this is about multilateralism’
Christian Wenaweser, Liechtenstein’s UN Ambassador, on how his country’s veto initiative could help restore the United Nations’ effectiveness
(IPS) … The veto initiative is a simple idea, but we think it politically very meaningful. It simply says that every time a veto is cast in the Security Council, there is automatically a meeting convened by the General Assembly to discuss the proposed veto in the Security Council. So it’s an automatic mandate. It’s not subject to any further intervention or decision
We’re doing it because we believe in strong multilateralism. We have followed with growing concern the inability of the Security Council to take effective action against threats to international peace and security due to the very deep political divisions among the permanent members in the Council.
We are concerned about the negative impact that this has on the effectiveness of the United Nations. So if you look at our statements in the last five years or so, we have consistently advocated for a strong role of the General Assembly in matters of international peace and security as mandated by the Charter of the United Nations. This initiative is a meaningful step in that direction.We’re doing it because we believe in strong multilateralism. We have followed with growing concern the inability of the Security Council to take effective action against threats to international peace and security due to the very deep political divisions among the permanent members in the Council.
We are concerned about the negative impact that this has on the effectiveness of the United Nations. So if you look at our statements in the last five years or so, we have consistently advocated for a strong role of the General Assembly in matters of international peace and security as mandated by the Charter of the United Nations. This initiative is a meaningful step in that direction.
What are the chances for this resolution being adopted? There was some speculation that it is going to be discussed this week and there’s going to be a vote in the coming days.
The vote is not going to be this week. This week we will have a formal presentation with the membership. We will then look to get a date in the General Assembly soon thereafter. We are getting a strong positive response to this. So we are very confident that our text will be adopted.

15 April
A U.N. Security Council Permanent Member’s De Facto Immunity From Article 6 Expulsion: Russia’s Fact or Fiction?
(Lawfare) The conventional wisdom says that Russia cannot be expelled from the U.N., let alone kicked off its seat on the Security Council, because it is a permanent member of that council. In the weeks since Russia’s attack on Ukraine, much has been said and written on its legal implications. From an international law perspective, this failure in diplomacy and deterrence is a case study for students and observers of just war theory, economic warfare, “lawfare,” treaty obligations, jus in bello principles of the law of armed conflict, and the effect of modern technology on the proliferation of propaganda and misinformation as well as on the documentation of unlawful use of force in real time. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attack has been so explicitly worthy of public condemnation and political sanction that reasonable people might expect that one simple and predictable consequence would be to expel Russia from the U.N., the important international organization devoted to protecting “peace, justice, respect, human rights, tolerance and solidarity” across the globe. But the resounding, though reluctant, retort has been to say that such expulsion is legally impossible.
Rather than swiftly dismissing the ability of the U.N. to expel Russia, a close reading of the U.N. Charter’s text and a mostly forgotten decades-old discussion by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) may reasonably suggest that the General Assembly does have that legal authority, regardless of any vote taken or not taken by the Security Council.
Can we? and Should we? are, of course, different questions. This post concerns only the narrower subject of interpreting the expulsion provision of the U.N. Charter; it also avoids the distinct legal and policy matter of whether the Russian Federation is, lawfully, a member of the Security Council at all when the charter itself assigned the responsibility to the U.S.S.R. and was never amended to reflect its dissolution.

10 April
After Russia’s Ukraine Invasion, Sharp Focus On Calls For UN Reform
Russia-Ukraine War: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in a blistering call for the UN to exclude Russia from the Security Council, asked bluntly, “Are you ready to close the UN”

7 April
‘You don’t resign after you’re fired’: Russia quits human rights council after suspension – video
The UN general assembly has voted to suspend Russia from its leading human rights body over allegations of horrific rights violations by Russian soldiers in Ukraine, which the US and Ukraine say are tantamount to war crimes. Speaking after the vote, Russia’s deputy UN ambassador Gennady Kuzmin described the move as an ‘illegitimate and politically motivated step’ and said Russia had decided to quit the human rights council altogether. Under Thursday’s resolution, the general assembly could have later agreed to end the suspension, but that cannot happen now Russia has quit.
Jeremy Kinsman: Russia booted from the UN Human Rights Council – what does it mean? (CTV video)

6 April
What can the UN do to stop war?
Can the General Assembly step in when the Security Council is unable to take a decision on stopping a war?
(New Delhi TV) According to the General Assembly’s 1950 resolution 377A (V), widely known as ‘Uniting for Peace’, if the Security Council is unable to act because of the lack of unanimity among its five veto-wielding permanent members, the Assembly has the power to make recommendations to the wider UN membership for collective measures to maintain or restore international peace and security.
In addition, the General Assembly may meet in Emergency Special Session if requested by nine members of the Security Council or by a majority of the Members of the Assembly.
However, unlike Security Council resolutions, General Assembly resolutions are non-binding, meaning that countries are not obligated to implement them.

15 March
Russia’s veto makes a mockery of the United Nations Security Council
(Atlantic Council) “This is an extraordinary moment,” declared US ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield during a recent UN General Assembly (UNGA) emergency special session on Ukraine. “Now, at more than any other point in recent history, the United Nations is being challenged. If the United Nations has any purpose, it is to prevent war, it is to condemn war, to stop war.”
With this purpose in mind, in a sweeping show of international unity, 141 countries voted in favor of an UNGA resolution demanding an immediate end to the Russian offensive in Ukraine. While non-binding and largely symbolic, this overwhelming show of global support for Ukraine came at a time when it was doubly needed, both for Ukraine itself and for the sake of the UN.
Only four countries joined Russia in voting against the resolution. To the surprise of nobody, the list included Belarus, North Korea, Eritrea, and Syria. Thirty-five nations abstained.

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