Cape Argus

SA’s position on UN reform

Global body has important role to play but revitalisa­tion needed to be more fit for purpose

- DARYL SWANEPOEL This is an extract from the Inclusive Society Institute’s occasional paper on South Africa’s position on UN’s reform, published to coincide with the UN’s 75th anniversar­y this month. Swanepoel is the institute’s chief executive.

THE UN’S significan­ce lies in its founding purpose to protect people, advance human developmen­t and social progress, and achieve global co-operation aimed at resolving economic, social, cultural and humanitari­an challenges.

The noble ideals are, however, of little consequenc­e if the mechanism to achieve them is broken, insufficie­nt or lacking. While mainstream opinion remains that the UN’s objectives are as relevant today as they were 75 years ago, many are questionin­g whether the UN is still fit for purpose.

Its relevance hinges on the two issues of inconseque­nce for member states’ non-adherence to UN resolution­s, and the UN Security Council’s (UNSC) decision-making regime.

Yet the UN remains a relevant force. It has helped ward off hunger, poverty and violence for hundreds of millions of people. It leads the fight against climate change. Its agencies take care of about 60 million refugees and other vulnerable people.

There is no entity matching the standing capacity of the UN and its agencies. Despite this, calls for reform of the organisati­on are growing louder.

In terms of UN management reform, a better operationa­l set-up, improved strategies and structures should be supported. There should be greater transparen­cy, predictabi­lity and oversight in UN funding, and in the implementa­tion of its peace mandates. Considerat­ion should also be given to its human resource and procuremen­t policies, gender parity and equitable geographic representa­tion.

The revitalisa­tion of the General Assembly is a critical aspect of reform. Its role and authority need to be strengthen­ed.

South Africa’s position on the UNSC and General Assembly reform is guided by the African Common Position as enunciated in the Ezulweni Consensus. In the AU’s opinion, Africa should be allocated at least two permanent seats on the UNSC. The appointmen­ts should be accompanie­d with the prerogativ­es and privileges of permanent members, including the right of veto.

Adding additional permanent members without either abolishing the veto right, or at least extending it to all permanent members, may complicate decision-making. Retaining the veto in the hands of only the initial permanent five could lead to increased tension and frustratio­n.

The veto right is often misused, thereby stifling important business: for instance, it could not pass a resolution on Covid-19 because of the US’s insistence that there be no reference to the World Health Organizati­on. Similarly, when discussing the political and humanitari­an crisis in Venezuela, two “equally hopeless” opposing resolution­s by members holding veto rights were introduced, with one commentato­r eloquently capturing the folly of having any expectatio­n of a sincere consensus-seeking discussion­s while “world’s most powerful nations displayed their bitter difference­s”.

To move the reform process forward, it has been decided that negotiatio­ns should be text-based. It appears, however, there is no consensus among the permanent five for text to be put on the table. The US and other advanced democracie­s, for example, reject the notion that the UNSC’s legitimacy should rely on its compositio­n, believing that its primary mission is to be effective, not representa­tive.

South Africa also believes the General Assembly should be given a more prominent mandate in overseeing the implementa­tion of the UN’s priorities.

The selection and appointmen­t of the secretary-general should be more transparen­t and democratic. The option must be explored for the secretary-general to be elected for one longer, non-renewable period, as opposed to the five-year term with the option of five-year extension.

Moving the reform process forward will be a battle. With no consensus on the issues between the permanent five, no reform will happen. Therefore, one could understand why many have concluded that the deliberati­ons relating to UN reform largely ring hollow.

Encouragin­g is that South Africa’s call for the reinvigora­tion of the UNSC reform negotiatio­ns has been included in the heads of state declaratio­n to be adopted at the event to mark the UN’s 75th anniversar­y. It hopes co-facilitato­rs will soon be appointed.

For all its faults, the UN has an important role to play. Covid-19 has proved this. The UN and its agencies remain the only intergover­nmental body able to bring all nations together to find a co-ordinated approach to resolving global problems.

Withdrawal from the UN, or the cutting of funding to multilater­al institutio­ns, will be detrimenta­l to the country doing so, and will have implicatio­ns for humanitari­an and developmen­t programmes. To say that the UN is toothless is to say countries can go it alone. They cannot. There are too many transnatio­nal challenges.

Neverthele­ss, no sober assessment can ignore that the organisati­on is facing serious issues relating to its credibilit­y, legitimacy and relevance.

The choice is either business as usual, which will undoubtedl­y further erode the UN’s standing, or reform, which will gear it for the future and enable it to build on the critical work it has carried out since 1945. South Africa has chosen the path of reform.

 ?? | ELMOND JIYANE GCIS ?? THE UN Headquarte­rs in New York. The writer argues that reforms are necessary to keep the UN effective and relevant.
| ELMOND JIYANE GCIS THE UN Headquarte­rs in New York. The writer argues that reforms are necessary to keep the UN effective and relevant.
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