The United Nations at 75
The United Nations this week embarked on its 75th General Assembly in a most unprecedented way. The pomp and ceremony normally expected for such an auspicious occasion had to be shelved in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic which is racking so many countries around the globe. Instead the Assembly is being conducted virtually with online presentations from the respective Heads of State and Government from their respective capitals.
It is very new ground for this global body for never since its foundation has its General assembly been so affected.
Not even the numerous wars, hot and cold, waged internationally in the last 75 years have been able to impact on the General Assembly in such a manner. The situation gives added reason for reflection on the role of this most global of international institutions.
The UN was grounded in the critical situation facing the world at the end of the Second World War, the deadliest and most devastating war in global history. Estimates of persons who lost their lives in the war reach as high as 80 million, 27 million of them from the former Soviet Union. Europe, which ruled vast colonial territories in Africa, Asia and the western hemisphere was a ruinous rubble and unable to resist the demands for decolonisation from those under the colonial yoke.
Indeed decolonisation under the umbrella of global cooperation to ensure the universal enjoyment of fundamental human rights, political, economic and social, became one of the central focus areas on this international body. No doubt there has been progress, especially in political terms with the recovery of Independence by most countries which were colonies in 1945, but serious challenges continue to confront the UN.
The pre-1945 inequality is still very much evident as indicated by the need to establish Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be attained by 2030. The fact that many nations are still lagging behind in this target attests to the difficulty of achieving them in a world, the economics of which is based on the exploitation of human resources and the plundering of physical resources to the detriment of the future of the planet itself.
The fundamental underlying premise of global cooperation is being shattered by the insistence of some nations, led by the United States to insist on unilateralism and hegemony. More and more this foundation stone of the world body is undermining global cooperation, including withdrawal from those bodies if its dictates are not followed. The withdrawal from and attacks on the World Health Organisation (WHO) in the midst of the COVID pandemic is perhaps the most dramatic illustration of contempt for the fundamental aims of the UN.
There is also the resistance to reform in the global institutions, not just by the US mind you, and the continuing resort to unilateral sanctions and even force against weaker nations. This has caused some to question the very viability of the UN itself, yet difficult as it seems there is no substitute for global cooperation and the ongoing struggle for democratisation of all global institutions and insistence that the fundamental principles of the United Nations are upheld, observed and stoutly defended. It is a difficult but absolutely necessary task facing us all.