Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Midsummer Madness at the UN

Over the last decade an estimated 2 million children have been killed in armed conflicts and 6 million left disabled. Around 300,000 children now serve as soldiers. Little girls fare the worst. Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, reported last month that "sexual violence is becoming systemic and across the world, classrooms and the kids sitting in them are increasingly seen as legitimate targets."

As the main UN organ responsible for maintaining international peace and security, the UN Security Council has had this matter formally on its agenda since 1999.

What has it done about the situation?

It has established a "name and shame" list of groups using child soldiers and actively victimizing children. Those who abduct, abuse and brutalize children in order to use them as killers are supposed to be "shamed" by having their groups named in a UN document. The Council met last week to expand the list. Other choice bits of UN madness include the following:

Disarmament Conference: On 1 July, Ambassador So Se Pyong of North Korea took over the rotating chairmanship of the Geneva-based Disarmament Conference, the world's only multilateral body to negotiate arms control. Most countries ignored the absurdity of the situation but the Canadians, earnest as ever, declared they would boycott the body till his six month term is over.

ECOSOC: July is when the world's diplomats gather for the annual meeting of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the main coordinating organ of the UN System. It is when the world is hit with a ton of new reports, estimates and projections. Among the notable (if not entirely laudable) efforts this year are the following:

World Economic Survey: Produced by the central secretariat of the UN in New York, this 280-page report calls for the greening of the world economy at the cost of $72 trillion over the next 40 years. This is a pipedream; the total GDP of the United States is $14.6 trillion.

Millennium Development Goals: A 72-page report from the UN tells about progress towards the goal (set by world leaders in 2000), of halving world poverty by 2015. China and India have made significant progress because of their rapid economic growth. The report projects China to have only 5 percent of its 1.4 billion people living in poverty in 2015. India, with a matching population, will have 22 percent below the poverty line then; it used to be 51 per cent in 1990. Sub-Saharan Africa has made very slow progress; 58 percent of its people lived in poverty in 1990; by 2005 that had fallen only to 51 per cent. If the world economy should sink into the cataclysmic crisis that now seems to be building in the financial systems of Europe and China, all projections will have to be radically recalculated.

African Development: The UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), note that Africa accounts only for 1 per cent of global manufacturing and recommend increasing that share. As is historically true of UN reports, UNIDO and UNCTAD do not look at any of the real reasons for Africa’s miserable economic performance – instability, war and corruption, all part of the continued and scandalous neo-colonial exploitation of the continent.
UN Reform: Efforts to improve the performance of the United Nations were briefly energized after the Obama administration signalled its intention to seriously engage in multilateral diplomacy, but they are now back to normal. As in a Noh drama, the action is glue-like, the plot incomprehensible, and the whole thing of interest only to afficianados. There is need for a radical change of focus and approach, but UN member States are so reluctant to give up the devil they know that it is impossible to entertain the slightest hope of real change. (For what is necessary to bring about real UN reform see my Discussion Paper; this is a topic on which we need to get a global conversation going.)

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