Since the annual general debate of the United Nations General Assembly is fast approaching – when heads of state and top politicians from member countries deliver speeches on global problems – it makes sense to tackle the cliché that the assembly is an “ineffectual talk shop.” Indeed, the annual debate is considered a place where government officials hold “shop-window speeches” to protect their reputations and the powerless UN body engages in endless debates, producing resolutions that are not legally binding but mere political recommendations and moral rebukes. This criticism is factually wrong and unfair.
When the General Assembly replaced the Commission on Human Rights with the Human Rights Council to reform the United Nations’ work on protecting individuals’ rights, it let the Council to decide whether it would set up a complaint procedure comparable to the Commission’s “1503 procedure.”
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s term ends on Dec. 31, and he announced his bid for a second term on June 6. But months earlier, he had already begun his political activities to gauge his chances of receiving consent of the permanent five members of the Security Council, the most important precondition for his re-election by the General Assembly. The Security Council may make its recommendation by late June, as it did in the re-election of Kofi Annan.
For insiders, the volumes of the Yearbook of the United Nations have always been a treasury of information. The annual Yearbook details all the activities of the UN for the respective year in summarizing thematic chapters and includes the full texts of all major resolutions and decisions of the General Assembly, the Security Council and the Economic and Social Council.
Many of the nongovernmental organizations working with the United Nations are virtually unknown to the broad public. This is certainly true for the Academic Council on the United Nations System, or Acuns.
The United Nations is faced with major global problems like civil wars, human rights violations and environmental pollution – yet to a large extent academia is ignoring the question of how it can help the UN understand and tackle these complex issues. The academic world also overlooks opportunities to help develop legal and political tools as well as institutional structures to help solve the problems and evaluate the results of such efforts. Given my experience as a UN researcher since the mid-1980s and through an e-mail survey I recently conducted among a number of UN researchers in Europe and the US, I look at the strong and weak points of current UN research.
There it sat in January 2010: the second edition of the Concise Encyclopedia of the United Nations, its 900-page-plus contributions written by an idealistic bunch of UN people, as I like to call all those who work at the UN or do research on it -- and just a free copy of the book as their reward.
After more than a decade of informal reform efforts to make the Security Council better functioning and accessible to countries that are not members and to nongovernmental organizations, such moves are now at risk to being partly or completely lost because of new restrictions put forth by the permanent-five members – China, Russia, Britain, France and the United States.