Tag Archives: multilateralism

The Charter of the United Nations: Ideals for Shaping Our Reality

by Nicolas de Rivière, President of the Security Council for the month of June 2020 and Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations.

“Reconciling the requirements of the ideal with the possibilities of the real”: this is how Georges Bidault, Minister for Foreign Affairs and head of the French delegation to the San Francisco conference, summed up the objective pursued by the drafters of the Charter of the United Nations. On the still living ashes of the Second World War, the fathers of an Organization charged with developing friendly relations between nations, promoting human rights and economic and social progress were less utopian than visionary. They understood that the community of States should have a common constitution. It has been tested by conflict, crisis and upheaval, but its resilience and strength have shaped the very structure of contemporary international relations.

The Charter brings us together. It defines the United Nations as “a centre for harmonizing the actions of nations”, where each member is treated as an equal across social, economic or political differences. With the quadrupling of the number of contracting parties since its inception, the Charter, which has become universal, truly expresses the values and aspirations of Humanity. That is why France attaches so much importance to ensuring that diversity—cultural, legal and linguistic—is duly reflected within the Organization, in its staff and in the way it operates: the United Nations has the heavy but noble task of ensuring the participation of all peoples in international discussion. As revealed by the major consultation under way in the context of the commemoration of the seventy-fifth anniversary, 95 per cent of our contemporaries believe that only international cooperation will make it possible to respond to the challenges of today and tomorrow. But it must also reflect their voice.

The Charter is the summit of an international order based on law: Article 103 gives it primacy over other international legal instruments. In the most difficult negotiations, it remains the frame of reference, and the precious Blue Booklet is never far away. It binds States as well as the principal organs of the United Nations. The Security Council thus exercises its responsibility as guarantor of the maintenance of international peace and security within the strict framework of the Charter, when deciding on measures to combat arms proliferation, establishing peacekeeping operations, authorizing the delivery of cross-border humanitarian aid to Syria or referring situations to the International Criminal Court. These decisions must be respected by all Member States in accordance with Article 25 of the Charter.

The Charter protects us. The COVID-19 pandemic is a wake-up call for multilateralism, because the virus knows no borders, and no one is spared. The global and cross-cutting nature of the health crisis logically points to the United Nations as the only truly universal and multisector forum for responding to it.

It is France’s profound conviction that whenever we accept that the resolution of international crises takes place outside the multilateral framework, chaos threatens to prevail. That is particularly true today in the Middle East, where the risk of conflagration has never been greater. At a time when civilian populations have already suffered too much from the scourge of war and terrorism, we need more than ever to prevent a military spiral and to put an end to the serious human rights violations and humanitarian disasters that continue to take place, in this region as in other parts of the world.

As President Macron said in his address to the General Assembly on 24 September 2019, in a world that has become multipolar, we must reinvent “strong multilateralism”, as opposed to the temptation of national withdrawal. It was on the basis of that conviction that last year France, together with Germany, launched an Alliance for Multilateralism, a flexible framework bringing together countries of good will that wish to promote both the multilateral method and concrete initiatives in various areas that illustrate its importance.

Joseph Paul Boncour

Joseph Paul-Boncour, former Prime Minister and member of the delegation from France, signing the UN Charter at the Veterans’ War Memorial Building, San Francisco, United States, 26 June 1945.UN Photo/McCreary

To be strong, the multilateralism that we embody here in New York must be effective. It must address without delay the greatest challenges of our time, all of which are global: climate change, health and food security, the protection of biodiversity, terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, inequalities, migration, massive violations of international humanitarian law and human rights, and the new challenges posed by technology. The Charter, in its profound modernity, set the goal, 75 years ago, of achieving international cooperation in solving international problems in all these areas. France has taken the initiative to mobilize the international community on these issues, whether by launching the One Planet Summit with the United Nations and the World Bank, or by co-organizing the Generation Equality Forum in the near future, 25 years after the Beijing conference. In the face of global challenges, international cooperation is the only possible way forward; if we do not move forward, we will retreat.

The Charter is the foundation of our collective action. It offers a method, rules and tools. It enshrines negotiation as the main way forward. The principles it lays down, and in particular the universality of human rights, are non-negotiable. It provides several means of action, including peacekeeping operations and international sanctions. The specific prerogatives that it confers on certain members should not be received as licenses but as responsibilities. That is why France, together with Mexico, has, since 2013, called for the suspension of the veto in the event of mass atrocities in the form of a political, voluntary and collective commitment by the five permanent members of the Security Council. To date, 105 Member States have joined this initiative.

The Charter in no way prevents the necessary modernization of the Organization, which, on the contrary, has been constantly reinventing itself. The decompartmentalization of the various pillars and components of the United Nations galaxy, as reflected in the vision of “Delivering as One”, is necessary for the pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda. The efforts undertaken in that regard, in particular the triple reform undertaken by the Secretary-General (reform of the peace and security architecture, development reform and management reform), must be supported. Each of the principal organs must play its part by optimizing its work.

Like a robust building that has stood the test of time, the Charter can be amended to better reflect the realities of the contemporary world. In that regard, France would like the Security Council to be expanded, as it was for the first time in 1963, to take into account the emergence of new Powers and to allow for a stronger presence on the African continent.

For 75 years, the Charter has been our highest common denominator. Its relevance remains unaltered. Sometimes a home, sometimes a bulwark, it allows the pursuit of an ideal of peace and prosperity towards which we must strive, with modesty but also with courage. It is incumbent upon us to pass on its values and promises to future generations.

26 June 2020

Featured photo credit: Nicolas de Rivière, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations, addresses the Security Council meeting on the situation in the Great Lakes region. New York, 3 October 2019. UN Photo/Laura Jarriel

The  UN Chronicle is not an official record. The views expressed by individual authors, as well as the boundaries and names shown and the designations used in maps or articles, do not necessarily imply official endorsement or acceptance by the United Nations.

Global Wake-Up Call

by António Guterres

From COVID-19 to climate disruption, from racial injustice to rising inequalities, we are a world in turmoil.

Antonio Guterres

At the same time, we are an international community with an enduring vision – embodied in the United Nations Charter, which marks its 75th anniversary this year. That vision of a better future — based on the values of equality, mutual respect and international cooperation — has helped us to avoid a Third World War that would have had catastrophic consequences for life on our planet.

Our shared challenge is to channel that collective spirit and rise to this moment of trial and test.

The pandemic has laid bare severe and systemic inequalities both within and between countries and communities. More broadly, it has underscored the world’s fragilities – not just in the face of another health emergency, but in our faltering response to the climate crisis, lawlessness in cyberspace, and the risks of nuclear proliferation. People everywhere are losing trust in political establishments and institutions.

The emergency is compounded by many other profound humanitarian crises: conflicts that are continuing or even intensifying; record numbers of people forced to flee their homes; swarms of locusts in Africa and South Asia; looming droughts in southern Africa and Central America; all amid a context of rising geopolitical tensions.

In the face of these fragilities, world leaders need to be humble and recognize the vital importance of unity and solidarity.

No one can predict what comes next, but I see two possible scenarios.

First, the “optimistic” possibility.

In this case, the world would muddle through. Countries in the global North would engineer a successful exit strategy. Developing countries would receive enough support and their demographic characteristics – namely, the youth of their people – would help contain the impact.

And then perhaps a vaccine would appear in the next nine months or so, and would be distributed as a global public good, a “people’s vaccine” available and accessible to all.

If this happens, and if the economy starts up progressively, we might move towards some kind of normality in two or three years.

But there is also a second, bleaker scenario in which countries fail to coordinate their actions. New waves of the virus keep occurring. The situation in the developing world explodes. Work on the vaccine lags — or even if there is a vaccine relatively soon — it becomes the subject of fierce competition and countries with greater economic power gain access to it first, leaving others behind.

In this scenario, we could also see greater movement toward fragmentation, populism and xenophobia. Each country could go it alone or in so-called coalitions of the willing to address some specific challenges. In the end, the world would fail to mobilize the kind of governance needed to address our shared challenges.

The result may well be a global depression that could last at least five or seven years before a new normal emerges, the nature of which is impossible to predict.

It is very difficult to know if we are moving in one direction or the other. We must work for the best and prepare for the worst.

The pandemic, as horrible as it is, must be a wake-up call that prompts all political leaders to understand that our assumptions and approaches have to change, and that division is a danger to everyone.

This understanding could lead people to recognize that the only way to address global fragilities is through much more robust mechanisms of global governance with international cooperation.

After all, we cannot simply return to the systems that gave rise to the current crisis. We need to build back better with more sustainable, inclusive, gender-equal societies and economies.

In doing so, we must reimagine the way nations cooperate. Today’s multilateralism lacks scale, ambition and teeth — and some of the instruments that do have teeth show little or no appetite to bite, as we have seen in the difficulties faced by the Security Council.

We need a networked multilateralism, in which the United Nations and its agencies, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, regional organizations such as the African Union and European Union, trade organizations and others work together more closely and effectively.

We also need a more inclusive multilateralism. Governments today are far from the only players in terms of politics and power. Civil society, the business community, local authorities, cities and regional governments are assuming more and more leadership roles in today’s world.

This, in turn, will help lead to an effective multilateralism with the mechanisms it needs to make global governance work where it is needed.

A new, networked, inclusive, effective multilateralism, based on the enduring values of the United Nations Charter, could snap us out of our sleepwalking state and stop the slide towards ever greater danger.

Political leaders around the world need to heed this wake-up call and come together to address the world’s fragilities, strengthen our capacity for global governance, give teeth to multilateral institutions, and draw from the power of unity and solidarity to overcome the biggest test of our times.

António Guterres is the Secretary-General of the United Nations

UN Charter 1945

Marking 75 Years of the Charter of the United Nations

UN Charter Day – 26 June 2020

The Charter of the United Nations has been a constant presence in my life. My awareness of it started with the usual brief introduction to the basics of the United Nations as an organization that many young people receive in school. Later, as my political awareness took shape against the backdrop of military rule in Portugal and my country’s status as a colonial power, the Charter’s calls for self-determination and other freedoms registered with urgency. During the time I spent as a volunteer in the poor neighbourhoods of Lisbon, the Charter’s vision of social justice was equally resonant. In subsequent service as a parliamentarian and then as Prime Minister, I was privileged to have an opportunity to advance not only national progress but one of the Charter’s other main objectives: international cooperation. Across a decade as High Commissioner for Refugees and now in my current role, the Charter’s power inspires me onward every day in serving “we the peoples”, including the most vulnerable members of the human family, who have a special claim on that landmark document’s provisions and protections.

View of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, United States, the city in which the Charter of the United Nations was signed on 26 June 1945. ©Kishan Rana

The adoption of the Charter of the United Nations was a pivotal and historic moment. The document enshrined a determination to establish a new international order built with the purpose of avoiding a third world war following two such cataclysms that took place within the space of a single generation. Over the past seventy-five years, the Charter has proven to be a solid yet flexible framework. Its ideals have endured, and its legal foundation has progressively adjusted to new situations and needs. Amidst crisis and complexity, the Charter has remained the touchstone we all refer to and rely upon to uphold our shared responsibilities and achieve our global commitments.

In an era of spreading hatred and impunity, the Charter reminds us of the primacy of human dignity and the rule of law. And in a time of rapid transformation and technological change, the Charter’s values and objectives endure: the peaceful settlement of disputes; the equal rights of men and women; non-intervention, self-determination and the sovereign equality of Member States; and clear rules governing the use of force, as set out in Article 2, paragraph 4, and Chapter VII of the Charter.

These principles are not favours or concessions. They form the bedrock of international relations and are central to peace. They have saved lives, advanced economic and social progress and inspired the further elaboration of international law, encompassing key areas such as human rights, the environment and international criminal justice.

When these principles have been flouted, put aside or applied selectively, the results have been catastrophic: conflict, chaos, death, disillusion and mistrust. Our shared challenge is to do far better in upholding the Charter’s values. One of the most effective ways to fulfil our commitments is to invest in prevention, as envisaged in the Charter’s Chapter VI. Another is by working more closely with regional organizations, as foreseen in Chapter VIII. And while peacekeeping is not mentioned in the Charter, it epitomizes the kind of collective action for peace that the Charter envisions and is an indispensable tool that merits strong international support.

Resilient and visionary, the Charter of the United Nations speaks to all people; it belongs to everyone, everywhere. At a time when the world is wrestling with the COVID-19 pandemic, rising geopolitical tensions and growing climate disruption, the Charter points the way to the solidarity we need today and across generations. As we strive to maintain international peace and security, protect human rights, achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and strengthen multilateralism, we must return to fundamental principles; we must return to the framework that has kept us together; we must come home to our Charter.

25 June 2020

About the author
António Guterres is the ninth Secretary-General of the United Nations.

Feature Photo Credit: António Guterres, laying his left hand on the Charter of the United Nations, takes the oath of office as Secretary-General of the United Nations for a five-year term that began on 1 January 2017. Peter Thomson, then President of the General Assembly, administers the oath. 12 December 2016. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

The  UN Chronicle is not an official record. The views expressed by individual authors, as well as the boundaries and names shown and the designations used in maps or articles, do not necessarily imply official endorsement or acceptance by the United Nations.

The UN at 75: Now is the Time to “Build Back Better”

Photo: Fabrizio Hochschild, Special Adviser on the Preparations for the Commemoration of the Seventy-Fifth Anniversary of the United Nations, at a commemorative event to mark the 74th anniversary of the signing of the Charter of the United Nations. New York, 26 June 2019. ©UN Photo/Manuel Elias

The United Nations turns 75 this year. It is a time of great upheaval for the world, as it was in 1945 when the Organization was founded. Many of the trends we grapple with today could not have been imagined by people back then: that human actions would fuel global temperature rise, posing an existential risk to our species and a million others. That new technologies would radically reshape how we live, work and interact with each other. That greater affluence and longevity would be accompanied by challenges of their own.

But many of the problems we face would have been all too familiar: from conflict to mass displacement, big power rivalries to corrosive nationalism, and inequality to pandemics. The experience of the 1918 H1N1 flu outbreak, estimated to have infected a third of the world’s population, would still have been present in many people’s minds.

We have come a long way over the past seven decades, with huge strides forward in education, and in tackling extreme poverty and hunger. We have moved from a world in which a third of the population lived in non-self-governing territories and most women did not have equal voting rights to one that is freer by many measures.

We have won great victories. The eradication of smallpox—spearheaded by the World Health Organization, with sustained political and financial support from the international community—alone has saved millions of lives. It remains the only infectious disease to have been wiped out.

Yet progress has been uneven, and failures well-documented and tragic. As we mark the International Day of Multilateralism and Diplomacy for Peace, it is important that we remember not only our successes, but also the lows that continue to haunt us. After three decades in the field, I carry with me the privilege and burden of both.

The United Nations represents people’s aspirations. Its creation gave hope to the world that countries would work together to prevent future wars, and the factors that lead to conflict, such as poverty and human rights abuses. But it was also a pragmatic response by world leaders, who realized that cooperation and compromise were less costly than war. Multilateralism is, and always has been, an interplay of national and shared concerns.

Increasingly, though, the line between global and national interest is blurring. We are now more interconnected than ever. Our economies, our societies, the things we rely on in our daily lives, all depend on countries working together. So does tackling the challenges we face. Pandemics, climate change and cybercrime do not respect borders. They cannot be solved by any one country alone, no matter how big or powerful. We need international cooperation to galvanize action and to harness the opportunities the future holds, whether that’s leveraging the benefits of new technologies or building a zero-carbon world.

COVID-19 has shown how crucial it is for us to cooperate across borders, sectors and generations. It has laid bare our underlying dependencies. We are only as strong as the most vulnerable among us. We cannot beat this crisis without working together.

We need a whole-of-society response: to share information and research, to address the damage to lives and livelihoods, and to ensure we build back better. We need to engage youth. The crisis is having a huge impact on young people, mentally and physically. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), more than 90 per cent of the world’s students are impacted by the closure of facilities. Prior to the pandemic, the World Bank estimated that in developing countries an extra 600 million jobs would be needed by 2030 to keep pace with population growth. Job prospects are now even more uncertain. We also need to engage older people, who have, so far, been worst affected by the virus.

Member States’ responses have shown that transformations that seemed impossible just months ago can be achieved in a short time frame when political leadership is aligned with support from stakeholders and the public. In seeking to recover from this crisis, the Secretary-General has called for “a strong focus on building more equal, inclusive and sustainable economies and societies that are more resilient in the face of pandemics, climate change and the many other global challenges we face”.

Now is the time to end business as usual. Now is the time to put into practice the commitment to future generations that is central to the Charter of the United Nations, and to make progress on the United Nations we need for the future we want, as envisaged in the Sustainable Development Goals.

That is the spirit in which the United Nations 75th anniversary was conceived by the Secretary-General last year: not as a celebration, but as a moment of reflection, of listening, of coming together as a human family to discuss how we can overcome the big trends shaping our future, from the rapid changes in the make-up of our population to popular discontent in many parts of the world.

In January, the UN75 team launched the “world’s largest conversation” – a United Nations system-wide initiative to gather public opinion and crowdsource solutions to the challenges we face. The initiative has five strands:

A short survey, to give as many people as possible the chance to make their voice heard
Conversations within communities, to allow for deeper discussion—online, via phone, radio or messaging service, and, where possible, in person Formal opinion polling, to give us statistically sound, representative data, Media and social media analysis, to give us a snapshot of what people think when they are not being asked a question, Academic and policy research analysis, to provide input from experts and practitioners. Together, these five routes will give us insights into the public’s hopes, fears and priorities for the future, as well as ideas on actions we can take to create the world we want.

To date, over 13 million people have taken part. More than 350 dialogues have been held and over 70,000 people in nearly all United Nations Member States have completed our survey (live results are available here). The initial results, featured in our first report, show overwhelming—and increasing—support for global cooperation, across all age and social groups. They show that people think climate change will be the defining trend shaping our future, with conflict and health at numbers 2 and 3. And early indications are that universal access to health care, rethinking the global economy and greater solidarity between people and nations are the top priorities for recovering better from the pandemic.

The results will be presented by the United Nations Secretary-General to world leaders in September 2020, when Member States will adopt a declaration on the 75th anniversary. Amidst the pandemic, the declaration has taken on even greater significance as a vehicle for leaders to set out an inspiring vision, anchored around concrete actions, that sends a powerful message of hope to people across the world.

Ahead of that moment, we invite people from all regions, backgrounds and walks of life to contribute their views. We continue to seek partners who can help us reach young people, marginalized communities, and those who may not typically engage, including our critics. We cannot afford to leave anyone behind. Now is the time to lift everyone up and build a better future for all.

24 April 2020

About the author
Fabrizio Hochschild is Under-Secretary-General and Special Adviser on Preparations for the Commemoration of the Seventy-Fifth Anniversary of the United Nations.

The  UN Chronicle is not an official record. The views expressed by individual authors, as well as the boundaries and names shown and the designations used in maps or articles, do not necessarily imply official endorsement or acceptance by the United Nations.