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The UN reform projects

For Kofi Annan, international law no longer guarantees anything

The sessions of the United Nations General Assembly that will begin in New York on September 14th, 2005, will assess various reform projects of the organization. Although everyone agrees on the need to improve it, nobody interprets this need in the same way. After having analyzed the American projects in our columns, we now give the floor to Marie Heuzé, UN Information Director, who gives us the viewpoint of Secretary General Kofi Annan.

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Sandro Cruz: Is it necessary to carry out political reforms within the United Nations?

Marie Heuzé: Yes. Retaking the expression, “in order to live protected from fear, to live protected from necessity and to live with dignity”, structures accepted by member states are needed. They work in the United Nations, in several bodies, such as the Security Council (regarding global security, peace and the use of force whenever it is necessary).

However, this Council, though it was modified in 1965, was originally conceived for a community of 50 member states. The reforms suggested now by Secretary General Kofi Annan or by member states - recommendations that are not always coincident - foresee a significant expansion of the Security Council (from the current 15 to 25) so that the international community is better represented.

In the political level, the role of the General Assembly is very important but its agenda is often extremely packed. It adopts many resolutions that are not always put into practice. That is why the Secretary General recommends a revision of its work.

The third aspect, very important, has to do with Human Rights. The Commission on Human Rights, that is currently subordinated to the Social and Economic Council (ECOSOC), has no authority and very little political influence. Mr. Annan’s recommendation consists in reducing the number of member states (currently more than 50) to create a Human Rights Council that would act as a body parallel to the Security Council (that is, with some 25 members too). This Council would have the same authority as the Security Council. It would be one of the pillars of this political building, for development and rights.

The United Nations favor a multilateral dialogue among peoples while the US superpower uses an increasingly unilateral speech. The decision to launch the war in Iraq without the approval of the Security Council is an example.

Sandro Cruz: How does the United Nations see its relationship with the Bush administration, particularly after his government’s harsh criticism of the international organization?

Marie Heuzé: First, it is necessary to note a historic paradox. The United Nations were created upon a very American philosophy. President Roosevelt and a reflection group worked, before 1945, in the preparation of the Charter. The “United Nations” philosophy came from the United States or, in any case, from the winning allies of World War II.

The second paradox is that, 60 years later, one gets the impression - and it is certain - that the nation that created and hosted the San Francisco Conference, the nation that worked in favor of this international organization, is no longer identified with it. It is disappointed by certain decisions made too slowly for its liking. It is disappointed because it is too difficult to control the General Assembly and it would act faster in certain issues such as in the case of Darfur, although we could mention other examples. The United Nations is blamed for its inefficiency, and for a number of actions (...).

They blame the UN for the “Oil for Food” scandal. However, that was not a mechanism created by the international body. The Security Council invented it. Many things are said, but when you analyze what happened, when you analyze history, you realize that what is said is often inaccurate.

Anyway, the United Nations needs to be reformed because we live in a different world (...). The concern for transparency, justification and efficiency is valid for the private sector, for civil society and also for international organizations. The time when decisions were made and funds were earmarked in the secrecy of a Commission is over...

The reforms recommended by Kofi Annan did not appear as if by magic. They are the result of extremely accurate studies. He entrusted Jeffrey Sachs with the task of making an analysis of the funding and development mechanisms of international organizations, of the way to make new recommendations and the way to arrange the structure of the United Nations.

He also asked for a report by a group of experts from all continents who are extremely specialized on aspects such as development, people’s protection and security. This group of eminent personalities, including Mrs. Ogata, Mrs. Teré and many others, took into account a wide field of analysis to present extremely accurate recommendations. Mr. Annan chose some of those recommendations and is presenting them...

The Americans announced, exactly a week ago, that some of them seemed excellent. They wrote it. They said it. They want a radical reform of the Human Rights Commission. They also want a radical reform of the mechanism of funding for development. The only problem lies on the image in the official speech and among several Congress members. There is hostility towards the United Nations. It is so significant that it goes beyond this reform project and the risk exists that it may endanger the whole building. Sandro Cruz: You spoke about financing. The president of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the US House of Representatives, Henry J. Hyde, recently introduced a bill urging the UN to yield to 38 structural reforms on pain of having its budget sabotaged. Is the superpower using financial blackmail?

Marie Heuzé: Yes, Mr. Hyde asked for a dramatic reduction of the UN budget. Mr. Annan spoke of the issue and explained how dangerous that decision would be. It is not healthy that, within an international democracy or an international system, one country submits the other member states to any kind of unilateral blackmail. It is clear that it does not favor the reform.

When I spoke of reactions by the US administration I was referring to reactions officially expressed by Mr. Burns. He explained that the US administration supported or would support a number of reforms (...). If you put the United Nations to any kind of bargaining, eliminating or reducing by half the contribution of the main donor [1], you would be creating a very delicate situation - that is the least that can be said - for the member states who are studying the reforms recommended by Kofi Annan. In addition, you would be interfering in a process and, theoretically, as we are an intergovernmental agency, it is the governments that have to express themselves, not parliaments. It is the government, the administration that represents the State (...) and that decision, or that bill rather as it has not been voted yet, is not only embarrassing but it can also endanger a normal and calm analysis of the recommendations made by Kofi Annan, some of which have not been excluded by the US administration.

Sandro Cruz: It is also another big paradox that the United States, who claims to be a democracy champion, has not signed or ratified international treaties that are very important for the human kind. I am thinking, for example, of pacts regarding Human, Civic and Cultural Rights....

Marie Heuzé: This is one of the paradoxes. We have to recall that by the end of World War I, the Americans did not sign the Treaty of Versailles. That is why when the League of Nations predecessor of the United Nations was born, it was already weakened. It is part of the legal tradition, of the American legal model and that is the way it has been for many years. The Anglo-Saxons, in particular the Americans, do not want any kind of binding commitment with international treaties. I mentioned the Treaty of Versailles because it is emblematic. It is exactly the same. The arguments are the same that I have always heard, for example, about the Convention on Children’s rights, which is the treaty most widely ratified around the world. The Americans signed it but did not ratify it although it looked like the most natural thing to do. The same happens with the Convention about the End of Discrimination against Women, signed by a lot of states. The Americans have not ratified it yet. It is part of their culture, of the history of the US public law, of not being bound by any international treaties (...). The same thing happens with the International Court of Justice. We return to the same discussion. It is nothing new. It is something that we know very well.

Sandro Cruz: How do member states participate in the reforms? Based on which criteria have the experts been chosen?

Marie Heuzé: Mr. Kofi Annan has not chosen the states. He chose individuals according to their record and their responsibilities. He believes they are personalities with great influence who can obtain the support of important leaders. That is why, for example, Kofi Annan chose former Mexican president Zedillo to convince some leaders of the region of the reasons for the reform. That is, he did not choose Mexico but a Mexican personality that should act as a diplomat in explaining the reasons for the UN reform.

Sandro Cruz: So, is it Mr. Kofi Annan who chooses these personalities?

Marie Heuzé: Yes.

Sandro Cruz: And do those personalities have any political or public links with the current governments?

Marie Heuzé: Theoretically, no. They are regarded as diplomats at the service of the reform.

Sandro Cruz: Should they make the list of reforms?

Marie Heuzé: Exactly. But a lot of diplomatic work has also been made in the framework of the General Assembly. The Secretary General had already chosen in New York a number of officials, generally experts on international affairs who do not necessarily have direct links with their countries, to explain to different groups, not geographically but about the question of law, how to create a consensus on the topic. (...) The project of declaration presented to the General Assembly was the first draft. There is already a lot of progress and there are also positive points (...). All documents should be ready in July and then they will be translated (...). We are in an extremely important moment. That is why it is very inappropriate that a state, or a group of Congress members of a state rather, tries to exert a lot of pressure on the ongoing process that is taking place in the framework of discussion and dialogue (...)

Sandro Cruz: What would be the consequences of these reforms on the UN Security Council?

Marie Heuzé: Kofi Annan has made several recommendations. However, other proposals seem to have a larger consensus (...). I will only say that some of the choices being consider include an increase in the number of permanent members. Some people suggest adding two, others recommend adding four. A third group supports increasing the number of non permanent members with a system of geographic rotation (...).

In order to assess the possibilities of the different formulas, two groups are working right now. One of them, called G-4, re-groups four states that want to have a permanent seat in the Security Council. They are Japan, India, Brazil and Germany. They made recommendations in May 2005, but they had to present others because they wanted to modify the veto right, to which they renounced. There is another group, “the friends of consensus”, led by certain states - Pakistan and Italy - that compete with the other four for geopolitical and historic reasons. There is also the group of developing countries, the Group of 77... Anyway, the member states have to reach a consensus. The issue here is whether this goal would be achieve on time. Will there be a consensus by September 14th, for the beginning of the General Assembly?

Sandro Cruz: Can it be said that, after the US invasion of Iraq, international law no longer guarantees anything?

Marie Heuzé: It is not me who says it; it is Mr. Kofi Annan. The UN was weakened after that episode. He has said it several times: “The war of Iraq was not launched in accordance with the UN Charter”. Kofi Annan went even further using the word “illegal”, and they are making him pay right now.

You could say that the United Nations is weakened if you take into account public opinion. It is very important as the UN is an intergovernmental organization led by governments but at the service of the peoples. If you analyze the image of the United Nations around the world, you would find, once again, a double paradox. The countries of the Gulf and Arab countries in general do not see us with good eyes because we could not stop the war and we are seen with worst eyes in the United States and in certain countries of the Coalition because we opposed the war. That is, it is a “no win situation”. We can not win and we always lose. It is evident. The UN is weak and it is not seen with good eyes. The role of the United Nations is confused with the political responsibility of its member states.

Interview by Sandro Cruz, journalist and vice president of Voltaire Network.

[1] The main donor, that is, the United States, provides 22% of the funding for regular programs and 27% of funding for peace-keeping operations.

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