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UN Assembly Proposes Reforms, but Leaves Large Gaps


The president of the U.N. General Assembly has circulated the first draft of a plan for remaking and strengthening the world body. The document is intended as the basis for a debate leading up to a September summit at which world leaders will be asked to approve a wide-ranging package of reforms. The assembly document sidesteps the most contentious issue facing the assembly.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan
With the world body due to celebrate its 60th anniversary this year, Secretary-General Kofi Annan challenged its 191-member states in March to update the organization.

"The cause of larger freedom can only be advanced if nations work together. And the United Nations can only help if it is remolded as an effective instrument of their common purpose," Mr. Annan says.

Mr. Annan called for some of the broadest reforms in U.N.'s history. Among them are enlargement of the Security Council, fixed rules for waging wars, a stronger human rights body, as well as revamping the U.N. bureaucracy.

He summoned world leaders to a 60th anniversary summit, and told them to come prepared to makes changes in the way the organization works.

"This hall has heard enough high-sounding declarations to last us for some decades to come," Mr. Annan says. "We all know what the problems are, and we all know what we have promised to achieve. What is needed now is not more declarations or promises, but action to fulfill the promises already made."

The document presented by General Assembly President Jean Ping of Gabon Friday contains lofty goals. They are aimed at making the U.N. more efficient, open and accountable after a year of scandals over the Iraq oil-for-food program and sex abuse by U.N. peacekeepers.

But the proposal sidesteps the most contentious issues facing the membership, including Security Council enlargement, defining terrorism and guidelines for using force

The question of expanding the Security Council is already threatening to wreck the entire process.

The most popular expansion plan would create six new permanent Council seats and four additional non-permanent seats. Its main backers, Brazil, India, Germany and Japan, known as the G-four, are pushing for a General Assembly vote on the plan this month as part of a strategy that would have them named permanent Council members as early as September, along with two African countries.

China's U.N. Ambassador Wang Guangya last week called the G-four proposal "dangerous". He said forcing an early vote on the measure could split the U.N. membership and derail the entire reform process. Speaking to VOA, Ambassador Wang said there is too little time between now and September to consider such an important decision.

"I think there are many good points in other formulas. I think that's why we need more time to discuss a good formula," Mr. Wang says.

The United States is also cool to the G-4 proposal. Washington has endorsed Japan's candidacy, but has made no commitment on the others.

G-four ambassadors express confidence they have the backing of two-thirds majority, or 128 countries necessary to win approval of their plan in the General Assembly. But German Ambassador Gunther Pleuger says intense negotiations are under way in hopes of avoiding a damaging split.

"The G-4 has put on table a clear-cut proposal for a draft resolution, but there are several other proposals on the table, quite a few, and we want to find out what the status of all of these proposals is, and whether there is a possibility of agreement," Mr. Pleuger says.

Ambassador Pleuger said the G-four countries are determined to push for a vote on expansion in the next few weeks.

But even if the assembly approves the creation of new permanent seats, the current permanent members still have an effective veto. The legislatures of all five permanent members must ratify any change in the U.N. charter.

German and Brazilian diplomats have said they hope a strong vote of support for their plan will isolate opponents and force them to give in to the enlargement plan. But opponents, led by veto-wielding China, show no sign of budging.

The stage is set for months of hard bargaining in advance of the September summit, leading many U.N. diplomats to conclude that the U.N. reform will once again prove impossible.

Still, General Assembly President Jean Ping says he remains optimistic that a workable compromise can be found.

"I can assure you that nothing is impossible," he says.

Diplomats involved in the negotiations say dozens of meetings are planned in the coming days on various aspects of the overall document, both in New York and in capitals. The outcome of these talks will determine the relative success, or failure, of the September summit.

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