United Nations Day

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The birth of the UN took place at an international conference which was held in San Francisco (US) from 25th April to 26th June, 1945 in which 50 countries attended and enacted the Charter of the United Nations.

With the ratification of this founding document by the majority of its signatories, including the five permanent members of the Security Council, the United Nations officially came into being on 24th October.

Every year, 24 October has been celebrated as United Nations Day since 1948. In 1971, the United Nations General Assembly recommended that the day be observed by Member States as a public holiday.

The five “veto-wielding” permanent members, such as China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States of America of the Security Council can nullify any resolution of the Council by its negative vote (veto).  As a result, the UN Charter distances itself from equality of members and makes discrimination between the permanent and non-permanent members.

The Security Council is the most important organ of the UN (also known as cabinet of the UN) which consists of 15 Members of the United Nations ( 5 permanent and 10 non-permanent members).  The Security Council has the enforcement power of its decision on member states by virtue of its Article 25 of the UN Charter.  Besides, all important top positions of the UN including the selection of the Secretary-General of the UN need concurrence of the Security Council.

The General Assembly (Parliament of the UN) elects 10 non-permanent members of the Security Council for 2 years,  on the basis of geographic distribution (two members for each area- for Asia: two members)) to the  Council for maintenance of international peace and security and to the other purposes of the Organization.

It may be noted Bangladesh was elected as one of the non-permanent members of the Security Council in 1978 within four year years of its admission in 1974 to the UN and again in 1999.

The  current UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, (a Portuguese politician and former head of the UN Refugee Agency-UNHCR), on the UN Day urged the men and women of the UN, and those they, serve, to “never give up” tackling the world’s many challenges.  In a video released ahead of UN Day, the Secretary General said despite the odds and obstacles, and growing inequality “we don’t give up because we know by reducing inequality we increase hope and opportunity and peace around the world.”

The UN chief made clear the organization’s determination to implement climate action, fight for human rights and the life of peace that everyone deserves to enjoy. “Climate change is moving faster than we are, but we don’t give up because we know that climate action is the only path.”

He added that human rights are being violated in so many places. “But we don’t give up because we know respect for human rights and human dignity is a basic condition for peace.”

It is reported that he also said that conflicts are multiplying-people are suffering. But we don’t give up because we know every man, woman and child deserves a life of peace.  “On United Nations Day, let us reaffirm our commitment. “To repair broken trust, to heal our planet, to leave no one behind, to uphold dignity for one and all, as united nations,” he reportedly said.

The UN has two offices-one in New York, (the headquarters) which deals with mainly political issues and one in European Office in Geneva which handles principally economic issues.

In recent past, when the Rohingya refugee issue came up in the Council to exercise pressure on Myanmar (Burma),  it could not be adopted because of the possibility of “veto” by Russia and China. (Both countries maintain friendly relations with Myanmar because of import of oil and minerals from Myanmar) However,  the Council adopted a formal statement in November 2017 that asked Myanmar to ensure no “further excessive use of military force” and to allow “freedom of movement, equal access to basic services, and equal access to full citizenship for all.”

The reasons for not-supporting the resolution in the Council on the Rohingya refugee issue appears to be that China have huge infrastructure projects in Rakhine province in Myanmar  namely, the China-funded Kyauk Phyu port, which is to be the starting point of an oil-gas pipeline and railroad link to Yunnan state in China from Myanmar.

The reasons for not supporting the resolution on the Rohingya refugee issue  appears to be that Russia has been faithful to Myanmar, treating Myanmar as a gateway to ASEAN ( Association of South East Nations, established in 1967.   Myanmar-ASEAN would also be beneficial to Russia which is diversifying its cooperation with Myanmar to include the economic, cultural and scientific fields.

Although Russia does not have a big investment in Myanmar, its future interest in oil and gas exploration will increase its investment portfolio. Last year, Russia provided more than 300 scholarships to Myanmar students.

One important function has been evolved in the UN is its UN peace-keeping missions. At present there are 45 UN peace-keeping missions across the world. The UN has sent Bangladeshi peace-keeping missions in 25 countries and Bangladesh has visibly shown its total commitment of global peace. Currently (October 2018) Bangladesh tops the list of the peace-keeping nations and has maintained 12 peace-keeping missions in 11 states.

The League of Nations - predecessor of the UN

Before the UN,  the League of Nations  was an organisation founded on 10 January 1920 as a result of the Paris Peace Conference that ended the First World War. It was the first international organisation whose principal mission was to maintain world peace.

Its primary goals, as stated in its  of the League of Nations, included preventing wars through collective security and disarmament and settling international disputes through negotiation and arbitration.  Other issues in this and related treaties included labour conditions, just treatment of native inhabitants, human and drug trafficking, the arms trade, global health, prisoners of war, and protection of minorities in Europe. By  23 February 1935, it had 58 members.

The diplomatic philosophy behind the League represented a fundamental shift from the preceding hundred years. The League depended on the victorious Great Powers of World War I (France, the United Kingdom, Italy and Japan were the permanent members of the executive Council) to enforce its resolutions, keep to its economic sanctions, or provide an army when needed.

The Great Powers were often found to be reluctant to do so. Sanctions could hurt League members, so they were unwilling to comply with them. During the Second Italo-Abyssinian War, when the League accused Italian soldiers of targeting Red Cross medical tents, Benito Mussolini responded that “the League is very well when sparrows shout, but no good at all when eagles fall out.”  This signalled a negative message for the existence of the League of Nations.

The credibility of the organization was weakened further by the fact that the United States never officially joined the League and the Soviet Union joined late and only briefly.  When Germany withdrew from the League,  Japan, Italy, Spain followed the same path

After some notable successes and some early failures in the 1920s, the League ultimately proved incapable of preventing aggression by the great powers in the 1930s

The onset of the Second World War demonstrated that the League had failed its primary purpose, which was to prevent any future world war. The League lasted for 26 years and  the United Nations (UN) replaced it after the end of the Second World War and inherited several agencies and organizations, (such as FAO and ILO) founded by the League.

Barrister Harun ur Rashid Former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva.

  • DhakaCourier
  • Vol 35
  • Barrister Harun ur Rashid
  • Issue 17
  • United Nations Day

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