The UN isn’t ideal, but at least it has ideals
“We the peoples of the United Nations determined ... to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women ...”
These words were written in 1945 before the civil rights movement and Martin Luther King, before the women’s movement of the 60’s and Betty Friedan, before Nelson Mandela and the end of apartheid. It is as if they reached into the future and illuminated a pathway to a better world.
The UN Charter - words to make you gasp.
The searing effect of World War II elicited new and different thoughts about the organization of life on our planet. Its appalling waste demanded a future vision of the ideal. This was the origin of the United Nations.
It is the easiest line of the foreign editor to decry the waste and inertia of the UN. Yet the UN remains the custodian of the finest human ideals. And there is not a serious and credible internationalist who does not invest in and hope for the United Nations.
The experience of Leader’s Week at the UN General Assembly is a vivid demonstration that this investment is returning dividends.
120 world leaders gathered for one week in the one precinct tells you that it matters. One after another they deliver their speeches to the GA with complete freedom. The result is a kaleidoscope of opinion that informs, confronts and inspires.
Outside, the City of New York has established a precinct for protest. Cheek by jowl, different groups use music and megaphones to voice their concerns to the assembled powers across First Avenue.
To take a step back and to see it all, is to see the full spectrum of humanity both in the UN buildings and out on the streets. For New York is the most multicultural city on earth and the natural home of the UN.
For this one week in the year the world’s leadership is one community. All listen to the same speeches and attend the same events. All endure the same coffee and use the same toilets. In this week you can physically see the global village. And it is a village that acts.
In a side meeting on the Sahel, President Hollande, Secretary Clinton and Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra of Mali, among many others, expressed their determination to prevent Northern Mali falling into the hands of Al Qaeda and becoming the next Afghanistan.
In another meeting Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and our own Prime Minister Julia Gillard speak of the transformative power of education for those born of little opportunity.
There are thousands of speeches circulated, and sometimes platitudes are mouthed and empty promises made. But for each of these there is another of substance that delivers action. Sadly we hear too little of them.
The world has rightly been frustrated at the Security Council’s inability to deal with the tragedy unfolding in Syria. Each excruciating disagreement has been flashed across our TV screens.
Yet who knew that at the same time the Security Council had agreed on a course of action in Yemen, a country of similar size and at least as equal vulnerability. Here, the Security Council and other multilateral institutions have supported a brave and determined President, raising billions of dollars of aid, and providing the backing for President Hadi to lead his country on a transition to democracy and security.
The work of the Security Council has blossomed from making 21 resolutions in 1985, when Australia last served on the Council, to 66 in 2011. This has only occurred because countries are putting their faith in the Security Council to make a difference. And it is.
From Timor-Leste to Liberia, from Somalia to Haiti, the Security Council has provided the legal backing for conflicts to be resolved and law and order to be improved. And with more than 3,000 Australians serving around the world today under UN Security Council mandates or multilateral missions, why wouldn’t we seek to serve – for the first time in a quarter of a century – on the most important body determining their fate.
Through multilateral efforts around the Millennium Development Goals the percentage of children living to the age of 5 is more than ever before, and for the first time on record the global rate of poverty is falling.
While we live in a far from ideal world, the UN remains a place of ideals and it is living up to its aspiration.
Julia Gillard addressed the UN General Assembly last Wednesday. Her words captured the dream of the UN: “... extending freedom and ... lifting billions more out of poverty and oppression. This has been the work of the United Nations ...”
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