United Nations - Reform & Criticism

Reform & Criticism

Main article: Reform of the United Nations See also: Criticism of the United Nations

Since its founding, there have been many calls for reform of the United Nations, although little consensus on how to do so. Some want the UN to play a greater or more effective role in world affairs, while others want its role reduced to humanitarian work. There have also been numerous calls for the UN Security Council's membership to be increased, for different ways of electing the UN's Secretary-General, and for a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly.

The UN has also been accused of bureaucratic inefficiency and waste. During the 1990s, the United States withheld dues citing inefficiency, and only started repayment on the condition that a major reforms initiative was introduced. In 1994, the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) was established by the General Assembly to serve as an efficiency watchdog.

An official reform programme was begun by Kofi Annan in 1997. Reforms mentioned include changing the permanent membership of the Security Council (which currently reflects the power relations of 1945), making the bureaucracy more transparent, accountable and efficient, making the UN more democratic, and imposing an international tariff on arms manufacturers worldwide.

In September 2005, the UN convened a World Summit that brought together the heads of most member states, calling the summit "a once-in-a-generation opportunity to take bold decisions in the areas of development, security, human rights and reform of the United Nations." Kofi Annan had proposed that the summit agree on a global "grand bargain" to reform the UN, renewing the organization's focus on peace, security, human rights and development, and to make it better equipped at facing 21st century issues. The World Summit Outcome Document delineated the conclusions of the meeting, including: the creation of a Peacebuilding Commission, to help countries emerging from conflict; a Human Rights Council and a democracy fund; a clear and unambiguous condemnation of terrorism "in all its forms and manifestations"; agreements to devote more resources to the Office of Internal Oversight Services; agreements to spend billions more on achieving the Millennium Development Goals; the dissolution of the Trusteeship Council, because of the completion of its mission; and, the agreement that individual states, with the assistance of the international community, have the "responsibility to protect" populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity- with the understanding that the international community is prepared to act "collectively" in a “timely and decisive manner” to protect vulnerable civilians should a state "manifestly fail" in fulfilling its responsibility.

The Office of Internal Oversight Services is being restructured to better define its scope and mandate, and will receive more resources. In addition, to improve the oversight and auditing capabilities of the General Assembly, an Independent Audit Advisory Committee (IAAC) is being created. In June 2007, the Fifth Committee created a draft resolution for the terms of reference of this committee. An ethics office was established in 2006, responsible for administering new financial disclosure and whistleblower protection policies. Working with the OIOS, the ethics office also plans to implement a policy to avoid fraud and corruption. The Secretariat is in the process of reviewing all UN mandates that are more than five years old. The review is intended to determine which duplicative or unnecessary programmes should be eliminated. Not all member states agree on which of the over 7000 mandates should be reviewed. The dispute centres on whether mandates that have been renewed should be examined. Indeed, the obstacles identified – in particular, the lack of information on the resource implications of each mandate – constituted sufficient justification for the General Assembly to discontinue the mandate review in September 2008.

In the meantime, the General Assembly launched a number of new loosely related reform initiatives in April 2007, covering international environmental governance, ‘Delivering as One’ at the country level to enhance the consolidation of UN programme activities and a unified gender organization. Whereas little was achieved on the first two issues, the General Assembly approved in September 2010 the establishment of ‘UN Women’ as the new UN organization for gender equality and the empowerment of women. UN Women was established by unifying the resources and mandates of four small entities for greater impact and its first head is Ms. Michelle Bachelet, former President of Chile.

A review of UN action during the final months of the Sri Lanka's civil war in 2009, in which tens of thousands of people were killed, criticized the UN leadership, UN Security Council and top UN officials in Sri Lanka.

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