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U.N.

The piano and its stool
How to reform the United Nations

March 22, 2005
iranian.com

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 Human Rights 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 Assembly: "In 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 to them.

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. Yet 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 on 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) based.

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 "faith 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 things.

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.

If after several years countries 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 Nations' Charter.

About
Fereydoun Hoveyda (www.hoveyda.org) is a Senior Fellow at the National Committee on American Foreign Policy. 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

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