“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 ...”

Babel fish sold separately. Pic: AFP

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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    • cheap white trash says:

      06:46am | 03/10/12

      Julia Gillard addressed the UN General Assembly last Wednesday. out of poverty and oppression. This has been the work of the United Nations ...”

      And so is this,
      Nth Korea,where is the FREEDOM?
      Poverty and Oppression,Nth Korean Style.
      What has the UN done for The ppl of Nth Korea
      The United Nations has wasted tens of millions of dollars in its peacekeeping operations in Sudan according to the findings of U.N. auditors examining the financial practices of the global body’s overseas missions.

      And what about this Dozey, The UN and the allegations of kickbacks, and the billions of dollars in graft in the oil-for-food scandal.

      “Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad calls for restructuring the UN, which he says is heavily skewed towards a few countries. “
      I ThInk he is spot on,we should create a “UN of Democracies” as in free countries with a charter such as in “you don’t kill, starve, etc., your people”?
      I’m sure you can think of other qualities But having despots telling the world about human rights has turned the UN into a corrupt and a vile Organization.

      Watching world leaders take turns on the podium such as,
      Qaadafi, Amedinejad , Robert Mugabe
      Kim il Song no-showed, Hugo Chavez, Bashar al-Assad who likes shopping in NYC and then goes home on a machine gun rampage.
      This is the UN Richard,and we are part of this UNREPRESENTED SWILL.

      Her words captured the dream of the UN: “... its more of a nightmare.

    • TChong says:

      07:48am | 03/10/12

      Your list is a good start CWT, here are a few more.
      The US with its hegemony , and its “kill or incrcerate “foreign policy.
      The UK for being little more than a US puppet
      Australia , for its bi-partisan race to be seen to do US backing.
      Israel- and its collective punishment of the palestinians
      Saudi Arabia , ,and Bahrain where internal dissent can be lethally crushed, ,with US support.
      France- in order to secure oil, finances fundamentalist insurgents to overthrow Gaddafi, and leave the place in chaos.
      Liberia- where homosexuality is vigorously persecuted, ( despite Ms Prez, accepting the Noble Peace Prize)
      Japan, where the traetment of Ainu in ways that would make a racist blush.
      Varios monarchies , everywhere- where one clan of people are given special rights and priveleges, not extended to fellow citizens. 
      Afghanistan , where the US mayor of Kabaul, runs his Corruption Inc.
      The list is endless.
      All of the above leaders also get a say at the UN.

    • cheap white trash says:

      08:47am | 03/10/12

      @TC,yep and thats why we shouldnt waste our time and money on the UN,
      pull the plug,i can think of many more ways to spend my money at home,not on this bunch of IMBOS.

    • Tom says:

      10:13am | 03/10/12

      cwt, IMBOS? I did a lazy google but ...

      @ TChong,
      1. Who provides the major portion of the funding for the UN?
      2. Is there a hegemony you would prefer other than the US?
      3. Or are you trying to make us believe hegemony is not inevitable on a world scene?
      4. Can you provide references to the US “kill or incarcerate foreign policy” or is this another one of your undergraduate who never grew up moments?

    • TChong says:

      10:41am | 03/10/12

      Hi Tom
      1) Who provides most funding ?  Why the US of A !. Thats why the Hillarys and Condoleezas have traditionally treated the UN as just another branch of the State Dept.
      2 + 3 ) No hegemony, no spheres of influence, or allignment to any superpower, out to empire build. Why the compulsion?
      Indonesia and Switzerland ( amongst others) are officially non aligned,
      hasnt harmed their foreign policies.
      4) drones, drones, and more drones. Plus draconian laws designed to silence whistleblowers.
      Your simplistic “All the way with LBJ” undergrad theme would have some promise, if it wasnt 40 years old.

    • Tom says:

      11:57am | 03/10/12

      Strike 1. Ever looked at the currency cross rates? The Swiss Franc is in there. No hegemony? Sorry fella, you just don’t get it do you?
      Strike 2. “All the way with LBJ” predates my undergraduate days but I can assure you that it was not a common chant among the undergrads at the time.

      You wanna try for strike three or would you prefer a walk to first?

      PS: Just love the way you hold up Indonesia as a role model. Not sure the East Timorese would be cheering you on that one. Anyway, thanks for the laugh.

      PPS: “4) drones, drones, and more drones.” Are you referring to political drones that saturate our ABC?

    • Babylon says:

      04:21pm | 03/10/12

      I heard nobody was in the room when Gillard spoke

    • Mahhrat says:

      08:15am | 03/10/12

      We really are bad at governing ourselves, aren’t we.

    • Robinoz says:

      08:35am | 03/10/12

      The League of Nations was a failure as is the United Nations. As someone said, we need a United Nations that excludes all but democratic, free countries who practise human rights.

    • Phil says:

      04:47pm | 03/10/12

      For all of the cricket nuts, you can include the ICC also. Talk about graft and corruption…

    • Ozymandias says:

      08:35am | 03/10/12

      The United Nations, heir to the dreams of the League of Nations, was formed to try and make the world a better place. Sure, it has faced an uphill battle, and sure, it has failed in many many ways. But the question I ask myself is, what would the world be like without it? Better or worse? I’d have to say the world would be worse without such a forum.

      Though I do like the ‘Leage of Democracies’ idea, that has real promise.

    • L. says:

      09:42am | 03/10/12

      “But the question I ask myself is, what would the world be like without it? Better or worse? I’d have to say the world would be worse without such a forum.”

      Really..?? Why..??

      Has it managed to stop any wars since 1947?

      Has it managed to stop any massacres since 1947?

      Has it had a detrimental effect on many countries, including ours?

      Does it wish to control every nation on the planet (via Agenda 21)?

      Does it promote countries such as Lybia to be the chair of the UN committe of Human Rights?

      Does the UN, through the ITU, seek to give countries such as China & Russia a say on the evolution of a ‘free internet’?

      Does it waste truly staggering amounts of (our) money? (Yes, I have served in two UN missions)

      Seriously, what good does it actually do?

    • Tator says:

      11:13am | 03/10/12

      the reason behind most of those failures is the voting bloc called the Group of 77.  This voting bloc consists of most third world countries and currently numbers 131 countries.  The member states consists of basically every third world country including every Islamist theocracy,tin pot dictatorship and busted arse state and most are in real terms, minor players in the economic world.  This voting bloc is the main reason for the disfunction of the UN General Assembly as they all vote in favour of wealth redistribution from wealthy nations to the poorer.

    • L. says:

      01:54pm | 03/10/12

      “the reason behind most of those failures is the voting bloc called the Group of 77.”

      While I don’t completely agree.. I actually met the man who designed the pre-massacre Rwanda mission, voted down by teh US, not 3rd worlders.. The fact remainds that it hasn’t acheived squat.

      The first thing it did.. create the states of Isreal and Palestine.

      The second thing it did.. failed to prevents the attacks on Isreal and Palestine.

      Been failing ever since.

    • Tator says:

      02:36pm | 03/10/12

      the G77 has no power in the Security Council where the Rwanda plan would have been voted down, but has enormous power as they hold around 2/3 the total votes in the General Assembly and is responsible for issues such as giving Libya the chair in the committee against human rights abuses and every single UN resolution condemning Israel is supported by the G77 bloc.

    • Johnny atheos says:

      08:42am | 03/10/12

      Take off the rose coloured glasses, the UN has some success by its failures are great.

      Its greatest failure is the protection of Free Speech and The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Both of these are continually opposed by a block Islamic countries who on 28 March 2008, finally killed of the 60 year old Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, a document whose articles 18 and 19 guarantee freedom of thought, conscience, religion, opinion and expression. 

      This same block is now trying to impose Islamic blasphemy laws on Western countries via the UN and the European Union. These is no small issues, the ideas of free enquiry and free speech are the foundation of all progressive societies for the past two hundred years.

      The suspension of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a disaster but the Islamic blasphemy laws are catastrophic for the UN and free societies everywhere.

    • Doc says:

      09:12am | 03/10/12

      Well, hey, we can have countries like Iran and (the old) Libya sitting as chair of the human rights and equality for women tables.

      If that doesn’t make your eyebrows jump and have you realise what a waste of time & space the organisation is, then you’re beyond help.

    • Mick In The Hills says:

      09:29am | 03/10/12

      The fact that windbags like Rudd and Biggles aspire to infest the UN demonstrates it is nothing but an extremely expensive and unaccountable gabfest that produces sfa just like Rudd’s 2020 ideas gabfest.

    • ibast says:

      08:42am | 03/10/12

      The UN cops a lot of crap, but when it comes down to it, it’s the power of veto, held by the 5 permanent members of the Security Council, that stops it from working properly.

      If that mechanism were removed (revoked) the UN would begin to work much, much better.

    • wakeuppls says:

      09:06am | 03/10/12

      Why don’t we just abolish nation states, like the EUSSR. Nothing like a bunch of people from far-away lands determining actions taken by our government. What could possibly go wrong there?

    • simonfromlakemba says:

      11:00am | 03/10/12

      The 5 Permanent members kill the whole thing. They just side with who they deal the most arms to.

    • fml says:

      09:11am | 03/10/12

      I’m all for the U.N. In fact it doesn’t go far enough, merge the lot and make a one world government.

      More bureaucracy than you could poke a stick at, cushy government jobs for all!

    • Babylon says:

      04:09pm | 03/10/12

      At 31 fml you can expect to be called up to fight in a war sanctioned by the UN. As the need for fresh souls is required to satisfy the demand in multiple all theatres of war. Where do you fancy dying? Afghanistan, Syria, Iran?

      We cannot afford to be involved with US foreign policy and the UN now.

    • A Concerned Citizen says:

      09:29am | 03/10/12

      Firstly, I would ask WHAT exactly is our spot on the security council supposed to achieve? It won’t help Syria because permanent members can veto. So what does it achieve, specifically?

      Secondly, the UN should never have been a political body, merely a moderating and dialogue body. With a push for a religious blasphemy law by theocratic and despotic nations, you can hardly claim the UN is an ‘ideal’ anymore- merely another sobering political reality.

      More importantly, the UN’s problem is that it is essentially a monoculture that insists its right. And aside from the numerous complaints about refugee laws, is that trade laws allow considerable exploitation of native communities by excluding their notions of ownership from international law. Remember that ‘Sweet Lullaby’ song by “Deep Forest” that SBS used to play? That is one example.

      The only ‘laws’ the UN should have declared were harmonizing the legal rights between different nations, rather than a blanket ‘monoculture’ laws that largely disregard anyone with a different approach.

      That aside, do I want Australia to be wasting money bidding for a role that it has no positive gain from, no international credibility to occupy compared to competitors (we are seen as US lapdogs, don’t forget- and that may be the reason we are bidding to begin with), and on behalf of an increasingly dubious organization with poorer moral credentials every year?

    • Stephen says:

      09:52am | 03/10/12

      No surprise that a socialist embraces the UN as a pillar of global peace. It is an anachronistic, biased, dysfunctional, impotent epicentre of high morals and low achievement. It stands by as innocents are slaughtered, yet lectures us on our apparent disdain for illegal immigrants.

      Time to leave. Waste of money.

    • DavidT says:

      10:49am | 03/10/12

      There was a damn good letter in the Advertiser last week about why we should not have a seat on the Security Council.  Perhaps one of the Punch team could find it and post it here?
      The UN is powerless because it cannot take action - only member states can do that. It is also corrupt.  All a seat on the SC is going to do is constrain foreign policy for another two years and make it harder to juggle our relationships with super powers China and the USA.  We’re fence sitting - never a good idea.

    • John says:

      11:02am | 03/10/12

      The UN is marxist organization, pushing the guide lines of Leon Trotsky and International Revolution. It’s also too leaning to the US, which makes it a sanctioneer of war. UN needs to wiped off the face of the earth. For it’s support for marxism and the US massacres and genocide in the middleast. It enforces nations to take in immigrants that country’s don’t want also. It’s subversive organization, that has marxist international revolution as it’s agenda. If i was leader of the country I would have the UN expelled from my country.

    • Anjuli says:

      11:16am | 03/10/12

      The UN a toothless tiger Bosnia proved that without any doubt ,now Syria proves the point more so.

    • St. Michael says:

      11:39am | 03/10/12

      The answer to this article is simple, and comes from two well-known aphorisms: actions speak louder than words, and the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

    • Peter says:

      11:49am | 03/10/12

      When is the last time we got to vote for our UN representatives? It is an undemocratic bureaucracy which centralises power and imposes unwanted edicts on sovereign governments and people, calling them “international obligations”.

      It is not even democratic at the country level, with special veto rights given to the favoured nations.

      It is not just a huge waste of money, it is an evil, power-hungry, resource-consuming politburo full of interfering busybodies.

      Australia should withdraw from the UN, and develop direct multi-lateral relations with countries as required.

    • Wickerman says:

      12:44pm | 03/10/12

      The UN itself is flawed & need of a shake up or getting disbanded, but it has a few shining stars (WHO). But the book “We Did Nothing” by Linda Polman is damning on the peace keeping efforts. Also UN loses credibility when its “human rights” committee gets Libya (under Gaddafi), Cuba etc as members, Gun - Foot - Boom!

      In its defence, & I’m using a Kofi Annan quote:
      “The role of the UN is not to bring humanity up into heaven but prevent it from descending into hell”

    • wakeuppls says:

      02:48pm | 03/10/12

      The reason humanity hasn’t descended into hell on a large scale is because there hasn’t been anyone quite insane enough behind the red button in any nuclear superpower nations since WW2. The Cold War came close, but it was averted with zero influence from the UN.

    • lostinperth says:

      02:06pm | 03/10/12

      The UN proved it was a flawed organisation when it expelled the free democratic country of Taiwan to appease the totalitarian regime of Communist China. It blithely broke it’s own Charters and removed the idea of a democratic freedom free from oppression from millions of people.

      The problem with the UN - every crackpot dictator and despot in charge of a repressive regime ranks equally with every other nation. There are no punishments for breaking the “rules” and the UN has proved itself to be both toothless and craven on numerous occasions.

    • Mike C says:

      02:51pm | 03/10/12

      Yes the UN did expel Taiwan, but it was no free democratic country. It was then the Ch’iang Kai-shek KMT dictatorship, a regime that claimed to be the government of all of China. Neither the PRC nor the ROC would accept the other being a UN member, so the choice of one massive dictatorship over a tinpot delusional one was logic, not appeasement. Of course Taiwan should be a member to reflect the fact that it is effectively a separate nation state and [now] a democratic one to boot.

      The UN is a flawed organisation, and others have listed many of its failures, but the point of the article was to highlight what it does, its ideals and to make the case that there is merit in being part of it. Switzerland, cited above as an example of disengagement from global politics, was not a member for decades but saw the benefit of membership and joined in 2002. I can see no case for walking away from it.

    • Andrew says:

      02:40pm | 03/10/12

      The UN has ideals, ok right, you learn something new everyday.

    • chuck says:

      02:46pm | 03/10/12

      The UN and its off shoots are nothing better than a black hole for the monied nations to pour (read bribe) poorer nations into doing some rather dodgy, ineffectual and incompetent work while maintaining support for the major players within the greater body.
      Our East Timor experience should have taught us that with ~ 90% of funds being swallowed up by the peace keeping experience and 10 % going to the people on the ground.
      I am also amazed that Punch in its “wisdom” does not post e-mails which for example mention the names of member states of the UNHCR or member names. Such is the power of the UN perhaps!

    • ChrisW says:

      02:45pm | 03/10/12

      I know the person who spent a decade of her life getting the International Year of Literacy up and running (she happens to be an Australian). When it was finally announced by the UN her efforts were completely, totally and utterly ignored both by the UN mob in New York and the government in Australia.  There was never so much as a word of thanks.
      There were hundreds of small projects because of ILY and some of them are running to this day. That’s great stuff and at least she has that to quietly feel as if she has done some good.
      But in almost every other respect the UN has failed and as a peacekeeper it has done more harm than good.  It’s not just the veto but the entire structure.
      Some have said Rudd wanted (might still want) to be Secretary-General. Why would anyone want to head an organisation this inept? The last decent Secretary General was Hammarskjold and there is evidence to suggest they did away with him.
      We would do well to do away with the UN unless massive changes are made. Australia should certainly avoid the seat on Security Council

    • Tell It Like It Is says:

      03:52pm | 03/10/12

      The UN Charter is great;  inspiring words.
      The reality is that it is a paper tiger and has been highjacked for years by Leftist crazies and a lot of corruption. It should be dissolved and we should start again with some agency which has some teeth - somehow- which can really help countries resolve their ancient confilicts and internal intolerances of their fellows, stand on their own two feet,  and move on so that they can be independent of the rest of the world and really care for their own people instead of persecuting them and making them flee as refugees.


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