On United Nations Day: Reform is Essential

Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry addresses the United Nations about the nuclear nonproliferation treaty at U.N. headquarters in New York.

In the wake of a shattering war, and following months of incessant  negotiations, Egypt along with representatives from 50 nations labored in 1945 to overcome differences and agreed to found the United Nations; an enduring global institution for peace, security and human progress. Since the entry into force of its Charter, the United Nations has consistently struggled to adjust itself to a constantly changing world. As we celebrate the organization’s 71st anniversary, and Egypt concludes one year into its term as a non-permanent member of the Security Council, light must be shed on the inherent paradox; the United Nations Reform.

The United Nations’ reform has always been a multifaceted process that encompasses all areas of UN activities, as well as all of its entities, institutions and agencies. Its mandate is to lift the effectiveness of UN activities in the current context, and reinforce its capacities in countering multiple global threats and challenges. Over the decades, member states, in the face of these global threats and challenges, have directed the UN to take on new responsibilities ranging from responding to refugee flows, preserving human rights, to building sustainable development. The challenge, however, is that the UN and its agencies have continued to operate in the same mould as they were decades ago. In this vein, the member states have always been far more geared up to expand the UN mandate or tasks than to alter existing ones. Agreement over the reform of the UN has proven to be challenging. Notwithstanding the many UN successes over the decades, today there are no serious doubts on the need to modernize the United Nations in order to deal with its tasks effectively. Recent twenty first century challenges have brought into stark relief the reality of a struggling twentieth century UN. Most recently, on SyriaIraq and the war against Daesh (ISIS), the UN has clearly fallen short of its creditable aim towards safeguarding international peace and security. On Syria, the United Nations is obligated to help end war crimes and crimes against humanity. Complexities relating to humanitarian access, negotiating a political solution and ending impunity for mass atrocities remain fraught with political danger.

Similarly, as the UN Security Council is endowed with sufficient powers necessary for the proper execution of its resolutions by the member states of the UN, unfortunately sometimes it does not execute its resolutions or properly follow the application of the requirements of its verdicts. Furthermore, the use of the veto has been inconsistent with the aspirations of a 193-member General Assembly. The expansion of membership to include new permanent and non-permanent members shall create an equitable balance between the developed and the developing states members of the UN. While the Security Council often stalemates to act, falling victim to the political rivalries between its permanent veto members, revitalization of the General Assembly is a major aspect of the process of strengthening and reforming the United Nations. The General Assembly and its mandate should not be overtaken by other UN organizations. However, further strengthening of the status of the General Assembly and creating conditions for effective implementation of its authority under the Charter, must be at the heart of any efforts exerted for the interests of advocating multilateralism in settling international problems through improving coordination between the Security Council and the General Assembly, more consistently implementing GA resolutions; holding thematic debates on critical topics with participation by experts and national policy makers; strengthening the selection process for and role of the president of the GA; and improving the visibility of the GA.

Egypt, substantively contributing to the work of the Organization since 1945, remains fully dedicated to a multilateral system of global governance based on a strong independent United Nations that delivers its message independently and neutrally. The primary element of Egypt’s position regarding the UN reform reflects and revitalizes the principles enshrined in the UN Charter. Since the inception of the international organization, Egypt has been busily engaged in several regional and international endeavors to address root causes of conflict in various regions of the world. As a non-permanent member of the Security Council, Egypt’s permanent mission to the UN spared no efforts in supporting all resolutions that promote the enhancement of the integrity of the fundamental foundations of the Organization that is an important requisite for States’ peaceful coexistence and attainment of a just international order; voice the concerns and protect the interests of African and Arab states in particular and developing countries in general; and finally prevent the Security Council from encroaching into the mandates of other UN principal organs. To this latter issue, we call upon all UN member states to seek to improve the Security Council’s working methods and enhancing its transparency towards the General Assembly, Member States, and other UN bodies.

Finally, it is impractical to call for a major transformation of the UN. While the window for dramatic change opens up in rare historical moments, we must continue to seek practical reforms that will enable the system that exists today to live up to its original purposes. The existing mechanisms of the UN Charter, in particular in the field of upholding international peace and security, have proved to be quite viable and the possibilities of their adaptation to the changing international situation have not been exhausted. We do hope that the new Secretary General of the UN will lead the reform efforts that should be undertaken on the principles of transparency, impartiality and accountability.

The UN Charter calls for a system that would promote human rights, economic progress, individual health, and world peace – the last, most importantly, coming from nations standing firm on principle and joining together to deal with threats before they  become ruinous. Fear of reform, not its prospect, holds the greater risk for the United Nations. Reform will not be simple. But the effort will be worth it.

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