Happy birthday, United Nations! On October 23, our beloved organisation is going to be 70 years old. On 26 June 2014, Ban Ki-moon announced a series of events to celebrate 70 years of “Strong UN. Better World”. But one question comes into my mind, is it time for the UN to get retired?
Firstly, I must acknowledge the importance of the UN as a promoter of peace, democracy and human rights. Its World Food Programme is the largest organization for hunger relief worldwide that assisted 24.3 million people in 2006; the Unicef has been essential for improving the life of millions of children in troubled countries, such as vaccinating 248,758 kids against measles in Namibia or allowing 12,500 children to access early education.
However, the UN has also a long history of scandals, paralysed bureaucracy, corruption and undemocratic decision-making.
Its slow paced bureaucracy prevents young talents to progress in their career and reach senior positions.
Allocations of jobs are quite corrupted. Members of the Security Council demand that someone from their own country would occupy senior posts within the UN agencies; this raises the question on whether officials or diplomats get their job because of their merits or is it a matter of politics and power.
The lack of co-ordination due to institutional and historical boundaries between different UN agencies and other NGOs has caused inadequate assistance to the 1.4 millions of Syrians and Iraqis, who have fled their homes since 2003 to find shelter in Kurdistan. Lack of communication and a slow funding system have resulted in delayed distribution of resources, worsening the humanitarian crisis.
The UN’s history has also been marked by a series of scandals. In June 2015, a UN report suggested that more than 225 Haitian women have been sexually abused by UN “so-called” peacekeepers involved in humanitarian work in the Caribbean country. In 2014, the UN secretary general disclosed, in his annual report, 51 allegations of exploitation against UN peacekeepers.
In April 2015, the senior UN aid worker Anders Kompass was suspended from its director position because he leaked a “confidential” report about sexual abuses of children in Central African Republic by French peacekeepers.
The UN is also quite undemocratic, although it acts under the flagship of democracy.
The Security Council, the UN’s most powerful body that has security enforcement and mandatory powers, includes 5 permanent members – the winners of World War II – with veto powers; US, Britain, China, France and Russia are the most powerful members of the UN, since they can block any resolution that could be against their specific interests. For example, China and Russia vetoed in 2014 the French-drafted resolution to carry out a UN investigation on alleged war crimes by the Syrian government and non-state actors. As a consequence, UN actions rely mostly upon the interests of the permanent members and this leads us to wonder whether UN resolutions are about universal security or the outcomes of political and strategic processes.
Finally, the Security Council seems pretty outdates, given that countries like India, the second most populous nation, don’t occupy relevant positions.
Considering all these facts makes me wonder whether the UN is still relevant in todays world. It’s been nearly 70 years from the day when the UN Charter came into force; world politics has massively changed since then and new concerns and insecurities have emerged. But the UN doesn’t seem to be in line with the time, since it has remained basically the same since its foundation. After 70 years of achievements and faults, it’s time for the UN to carry out radical reforms, changing drastically from its basis; otherwise it will only end up reiterating those relations of power, injustices and insecurities that it claims to fight.
By Roberta Alidori