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Children’s Rights

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North-South Collusion

That the U.N. is so handicapped in its capacity to address global problems is the product of an unfortunate congruence of interests between governments of the North and South, often against the interests of their people. Many governments of the industrialized world, particularly the United States, appreciate the U.N. as a place to hand difficult problem countries but distrust the global body too much to allow it the capacity to resolve these problems. The frequent result is the deployment of personnel who are starved of the resources needed to accomplish urgent tasks. Many governments of the developing world also do not like these political deployments. Rather than stand in solidarity with the people of the South whose calls for help might be answered, these governments see a U.N. emergency capacity as a diversion of resources from the U.N. development projects they most cherish and a threat to their own political latitude.


It may be difficult to muster the political will to address these problems, but it is not difficult to identify solutions. Some of the changes are doctrinal, many described in the Brahimi report. For example, the U.N. must abandon its reflexive neutrality when circumstances call for protecting civilians from slaughter. Even when the U.N. enters dangerous situations consensually, it must do so with a sufficiently robust mandate and military capacity to protect U.N. personnel and the civilians they have come to serve. The Security Council must stop treating human rights as an unwelcome irrelevancy best left in its Geneva exile. Instead, drawing on the U.N.'s significant human rights expertise, the council must begin to recognize that human rights abuses are the cause of many conflicts and that ending these abuses is a critical element of lasting peace. In particular, accountability for the most heinous human rights crimes must be seen less as an obstacle to peace than as an essential building block -- a goal worth embracing for pragmatic as well as principled reasons.

Other changes are structural. It makes no sense for the U.N. to squander months at the outset of each new emergency desperately searching the world for qualified personnel and begging national governments to spare them. The U.N. needs a standby capacity - not the caricature of troops drilling on U.N. grounds in New York, but a reserve of personnel that governments would make available on short notice for emergency U.N. service. This reserve should include not only specially trained troops but also police, judicial, legal, human rights, development, and administrative personnel - and the leadership to deploy them effectively.

The U.N. Secretariat in New York must also be bolstered. At current staffing levels, it is designed to be solely reactive. Even when it does respond, it is grossly understaffed to manage complex emergencies. The political and peacekeeping departments do not begin to have therequisite capacity. Preventive work, for example, is impossible in an institution whose limited staff is overburdened with far less significant work. The answer requires not only a substantial increase in the staff of the political and peacekeeping departments but also a cultural change. The nations of the U.N. must accept the need to identify, name, and address problem areas before they explode. They must stop diverting the U.N. from more pressing problems with demands for unread reports delivered to forgotten committees. They must transcend the zero-sum logic that every dollar spent on political or peacekeeping affairs is a dollar less for development and recognize that ending abusive conflict is a prerequisite to development for the countries, and often the regions, involved.

The U.N. is fortunate to have a secretary-general who understands and embraces these truths. But he cannot lead alone. If the U.N. has any prospect of meeting its potential, the nations of the world must accept and support the organization's transformation.


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