UN and us: Hopes belied?

Tomorrow is World United Nations Day. How relevant is it now? AJAY MENON finds that local folks are disillusioned.

IT HAS been several decades since a group of nations joined together to create an organisation that symbolised hope. Hope of the highest order, representing the basic dreams of many a world citizen. The world was just ending its tryst with the most devastating conflict that humankind had ever seen-the Second World War. Statesmen from round the world felt that they must commit themselves to ensuring that such extreme devastation should never again occur.

And hence, in the preamble to the United Nations Charter signed on June 26th 1945, national representatives resolved "to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war... to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights ... to establish conditions under which justice and respect for... international law can be maintained, and to promote social progress."

Years later, what do people feel about that hopeful statement? Citizens from various walks of life seem to have strong, well-sculpted opinions to that question. "The United Nations has been reduced to a mere debating society. One super power controls the organisation through brute force and because of its immense financial clout," says Colonel P.M.Menon (retd). He seems to be echoing opinion that is being expressed in public forums and seminars, in drawing rooms and college debates all over the world.

If the League of Nations, the precursor to the United Nations had collapsed because it had failed to adequately reflect the world's political realities, the current world body seems to be sinking in some ways because the reality of naked power is being highlighted. Sherif Marakkar, State Secretary, INTUC Kerala says, " The Iraq war has clearly shown that the United Nations is nothing, that it has no role. All the objectives of the world body have been rendered void."

Mr. Marakkar adds that the UN is increasingly becoming something of a decorative piece. "It seems to be helping the United States in all its endeavours and it's quite far away from achieving the objectives it had initially drawn up," he asserts.

"Whenever one nation wants to attack another, it simply goes ahead bypassing the UN," says Naveen Philip, Director, Popular Mega Motors. He points out that it has indeed become the `the survival of the fittest' as far as world affairs are concerned. "I think the UN has become a defunct organisation," he adds emphatically.

However, the importance of the idea of a world body representing the interests of the individual states still lights up hope in the hearts of many. "The idea of the United Nations is one that needs to continue and it must be refreshed from time to time for the sake of humanity," says Colonel Menon. He draws attention to the fact that there are several organs of United Nations, which seem to be functioning well. "I refer to the World Health Organisation and bodies such as UNESCO, UNIDO and the like," he says.

"There doesn't seem to be any real alternative," admits Mr. Philip. And that is a view expressed by many. So what does the younger generation feel about the future of this world body? What can be done to build an organisation that will truly carry out its tasks?

Sekhar, a college student says, "There must be greater cooperation among countries at the UN. The veto power given to the permanent members of the Security Council has to be taken away if there is to be any justice in the world body's policies and practices." He feels that the United Nations Organisation has outlived its utility in its present format and structure. The organisation has been a silent witness to a series of gruesome wars and the fringe benefits obtained have not really created lasting change, he adds. The younger generation may have perhaps hit the nail right on the head. The mighty have often abused the powers vested in them at the United Nations.

There has hardly been any real attempt by the United Nations to tackle the most crucial issues facing humankind, feels Sekhar. And that may increasingly be true though there have indeed been significant achievements in the educational and social sectors over the years. The United Nations' Global Fund, established in 2001, has received just $4.6 billion from rich countries. This, when the United States alone spends $400 billion a year on defence.

Without support from the major powers, no resolution can be effectively implemented. The attitude taken by the United States, the nation with the greatest clout, towards crucial issues perhaps highlights its contempt for the world body and its willingness to go against world opinion, as can be seen from the following example.

On 18 December 1982 in the United Nations General Assembly, 131 nations voted in favour of resolution 37/199. The resolution declared that education, work, health care, proper nourishment, national development etc are human rights. One nation alone, the United States, voted against the resolution. It repeated the same `no' when resolution 38/124 was considered on 16 December 1983 on a theme of similar content with 132 nations voting in favour. Hardly anything needs to be said on the issue of resolutions with a political content, which have been mocked at with impunity by the great powers.

The League of Nations had been set up at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919. Most people have forgotten that it did substantial work in supplying aid to refugees, controlling the slave trade and in the battle against drugs and epidemics. Nevertheless it failed in its most important duty, in its attempt "to promote international cooperation and to achieve international peace and security."

Many citizens of Kochi feel that the United Nations is at a crossroads and may be following its predecessor's path to oblivion. Despite its courageous attempts in the educational, economic and social sectors the United Nations is failing where it matters most. And that is cause for concern, grave, immediate concern.

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