Last Tuesday, the United Nations opened its 72nd session of its General Assembly since its founding. The general debate will begin this Tuesday. The UNGA is the most democratic organ of the organisation, operating on a principle of equal representation. If it is a forum for heads of major countries to advance grand global visions, it is also an opportunity for leaders of smaller nations to freely reproach the big powers.
Critics argue this is all a waste of time. The UN's reputation has certainly taken a beating since the start of the century, in part because it remains frozen in the geopolitical realities of the 1940s. In an ideal world, five member states would not be endowed with powers of veto over the rest. There is also its ineffectiveness. Over the last half decade, hundreds of thousands of men, women and children have been killed in Syria, some of them gassed to death by forces loyal to Bashar Al Assad, the country's president, while the UN has dithered. Even now, the UN appears incapable or unwilling to act. The same goes for Myanmar, where nearly 400,000 Rohingya Muslims have been driven out of the country in a matter of weeks in one of the most horrifying instances of ethnic cleansing in recent history. Will the UN arrive at a consensus to help their plight? North Korea is another formidable challenge. Its leader, Kim Jong-un, threatens to unleash a nuclear holocaust. Is the UN capable of moderating his behaviour?
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The National has a ringside seat at the General Assembly and will be offering in-depth coverage of the proceedings as the UN grapples with questions that demand very urgent answers.
Having highlighted the UN's failures, it is important, too, to remember its achievements. It has averted conflicts by enabling leaders to engage openly in war of words. At the peak of the Cold War, it prevented a Third World War by creating an avenue for dialogue between the Soviet Union and the United States. The Millennium Development Goals adopted by the UN in 2000 have helped reduce child mortality and, improved environmental sustainability, expanded primary education, and accelerated the fight against malaria, HIV/Aids and other diseases. Its support mission to Libya, unanimously extended by the UN last week, is currently helping that country with the complex work of creating democratic institutions.
The UN's very existence is evidence of our ability to overcome our differences and strive, however imperfectly, to work in a spirit of human collaboration. As Dag Hammarskjöld, the second Secretary General of the UN, once said, "The United Nations was created not to lead mankind to heaven, but to save humanity from hell". Who can deny that the UN so far has succeeded in this mission?
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