By René Wadlow*
Although it is likely that the 2020 U.S. presidential elections will get more media space, the United Nations is preparing a number of 2020 landmarks. Members of the TRANSCEND network may propose avenues of creative action, and we must prepare now, as negotiations on content are already underway.
The UN is sensitive to anniversary dates to look back as to what has been done (or not done) and to look ahead at the new challenges and what can be done to meet them. My first experience as an NGO representative to the U.N. was for the 10th anniversary celebration held in San Francisco in June 1955 at the Opera House where the U.N. Charter had been signed ten years before.
The meeting began with Dwight Eisenhower, the U.S. President, but a good number of people who had been involved at the start were there as well. There was V.M. Molotov, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the USSR, and Paul Henri Spaak of Belgium who had played a significant role in the recovery of Western Europe, Charles Malik of Lebanon who had been important in drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Carlos Romulo of the Philippines who had been President of the General Assembly, Lester Pearson of Canada, V. Krishna Menon of India and John Foster Dulles for the USA.
Former President Harry S. Truman who had spoken at the closing of the 1945 organizational conference also spoke. All gave the talks that were expected of them. The only speaker I quoted in an article I wrote at the time was Mauclair Zephirin, the Secretary of State for Foreign Relations of Haiti who gave an exceptionally strong speech on the need for World Law. Unfortunately, the voice of Haiti as a champion of World Law has been less heard since.
As part of the agreement among governments in 1945, there was to have been after 10 years a review conference on the U.N. Charter to see if its provisions had been met and if revisions were needed. There had been a good deal of discussion among those concerned with international organizations about revisions of the U.N. Charter and detailed proposals had been made. However, there was an agreement between the governments of the USA and the USSR that such a review conference would be counter-productive as delegates from some countries might call into question the ways the USA and the USSR had lived up to the norms set out in the Charter. Thus, the idea of a Charter Review Conference was swept under the rug. In exchange, a log jam of States wanting to join the U.N. but blocked either by the U.S. or the USSR was broken and all were able to join.
The 50th anniversary was also celebrated in San Francisco in 1995, and I again participated as an NGO representative. The then Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali celebrated the role the U.N. in the decolonization process.
“For five decades, the United Nations has permitted nations to join together to deal with the challenges that no single nation can resolve. Universal membership offers a forum for expressing universal ideals…Ways to approach the complex new problems of the planet are urgently being found.”
NGOs and international organization specialists met in one-day forum entitled “We the People: Civil Society and the UN” Boutros-Ghali addressed the forum saying,
“In order for every woman and every man in the world to perceive their true stake in the great ideals of the World Organization, it is necessary to have many more institutions such as yours. Only thus shall we be faithful to the urgent exhortation with which the preamble of the Charter begins: We the peoples of the United Nations”.
I do not recall that any of our recommendations from the NGO forum were acted upon as such, but NGO voices help create an “atmosphere” in which government representatives work. Thus, in preparation for the 2020 celebrations, a coalition of NGOs called “Together First”, facilitated by the United Nations Association of the U.K. is in the process of bringing together ideas on stocktaking, strengthening and renewal of the U.N. system. They have produced a useful working paper How to save the world: Ten lessons for the history of global governance reform.
(Download PDF format: How to save the world- Ten lessons for the history of global governance reform)
It is easy to feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problems we face: destruction of our environment, global poverty, armed conflicts, increasing population. We can also be easily discouraged by the slowness of action on the part of governments, not to mention the many negative actions of governments. However, collective action as we see these days with the climate issues can have a positive impact. The clear presentation of ideas and solutions, a TRANSCEND perspective is a necessary first step to celebrate the U.N. 2020.
*René Wadlow is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment. He is President of the Association of World Citizens, an international peace organization with consultative status with ECOSOC, the United Nations organ facilitating international cooperation and problem-solving in economic and social issues, and editor of Transnational Perspectives.