The piano and its stool
How to reform the United Nations
March 22, 2005
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan
has proposed a series of reforms of the world organization, including
new rules for use of military force and adopting a tough anti-terrorism
treaty that would. Among other things he is seeking to enlarge
the membership of the Security Council, overhaul the discredited
Commission, increase development
aid and debt relief to poor countries and stem the proliferation
of weapons of mass destruction.
Obviously, the Secretary General whose term in office will end
in about two years, wants to appear as the restorer of international
confidence in a body that has been traumatized in the past three
years by divisions over the war in Iraq and revelations of financial
improprieties and sexual misconduct by U.N. personnel. Even if
he fails to move Member States on the road to reform, Annan would
at least be remembered for trying to bring the 60-year-old organization
up to date.
Annan has titled his report to the General
Larger Freedom: Towards Development, Security and Human Rights
For All". It is based on the conclusions of
a high-level panel of specialists he himself nominated in 2003.
Ambitious as it is, the Secretary General's proposals are not
new or surprising. The ideas it contains have been discussed more
or less privately over
the years, to no avail. During my years of
association with the U.N. system, either on the governmental or
secretariate levels, I had heard similar suggestions. Member
States always resist new ideas. They don't want to alter
institutions or ways of dealing with matters that are benefitial
Already some major
Member States have objected to parts of Annan's report. Most
of the proposals are, if I may say so, too large to handle. Even
if consensus could be reached, they would take years to implement.
Annan and other reform-minded
people insist on the urgency of the reforms to restore
the credibility of a badly battered U.N.
While reading last December the report of the high-level panel,
and now Mr. Annan's proposals, which are more or less the
same, a childhood memory popped in my mind.
Back in the 1930s,
the celebrated European clown Grock was prepared to retire. In
one of his farewell appearances he tried to play a piano. He sat
the stool and extended his arms. But his fingers did not reach
the board. He got up and attempted to push the huge piano towards
the stool, provoking hearty laughs from the audience.
The ideas put forth by Annan -- and other reform-minded people
for that matter -- remind me of my childhood clown! Instead of
moving the stool,
they are trying
to push the heavy piano.
Indeed not the problem is not the number of seats in the Security
Council or in the Commission of Human Rights. Rather what is ailing
the United Nations is the fact that Member States often
disregard the principles on which it was (and still should be)
The U.S. Charter, for instance, proclaims
that one of the purposes of the U.N. is to promote and encourage
"respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without
distinction as to race, sex ,language or religion
" (article one , paragraph 3). It particularly reaffirms
in... the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal
rights of men and women."
How many of U.N.'s 191 members
respect and apply these principles? Actually more than two-thirds
ignore them, either totally or in part. Under these circumstances
can one expect a smooth and positive operation of the organization?
Adding seats to the Security Council would not change
Yet there is a simple way of correcting this sorry situation.
I think it is the principal duty of the Secretary General to list
in his annual report to the General Assembly the names of countries
that are in violation of the principles of the Charter. But
to perform such a duty, the Secretary General
should serve only one term so that he would not feel compelled
to enlist the backing of Member States for re-election.
violating the Charter do not change their ways, they should be
deprived of the right to vote.
In the 1960s, South Africa was singled out because of its Apartheid
policies and after several warnings, its voting right within U.N.
organizations was suspended.
This should become a common policy. Indeed if Member States,
big or small, powerful or weak, respect and apply basic
principles of human rights, then the the U.N. will function
properly. This is an easy reform which can be carried out immediately
and without difficulty.
Most reform advocates, including Annan, insist that the U.N.
should reflect the changes that have taken place in the world.
I diasgree. In my opinion it is the new
world that must reflect principles and values of the United
Fereydoun Hoveyda (www.hoveyda.org)
is a Senior Fellow at the National Committee on American Foreign
As a young Iranian diplomat , he was involved in the preparatory
work for the San Francisco Conference that adopted the Charter
of the U.N. (1945) In 1947 and 1948 he participated in the drafting
and voting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
From 1952 to 1966 he became an international civil servant in
UNESCO's Department of Mass Communications where he specialized
in development of free flow of information in the developing countries.
From 1966 to 1970 he represented Iran in the annual General Assembly
sessions of the U.N , as Iranian deputy foreign minister in charge
of international organizations . From 1971 to 1979 , he served
as Iran's ambassador and chief delegate to the United Nations. He
is the author of The
Broken Crescent: The Threat of Militant Islamic Fundamentalism (2002), The
Shah and the Ayatollah, Iranian Mythology and Islamic Revolution (2003) >>> See his
articles in iranian.com