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Sunday, 26 October 2014





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The UN at 69

'The United Nations is needed more than ever at this time of multiple crises. [...] At this critical moment, let us reaffirm our commitment to empowering the marginalised and vulnerable. On United Nations Day, I call on Governments and individuals to work in common cause for the common good.'

These are the words of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who was at the centre of UN Day celebrations on Friday October 24 in New York, USA.

The UN Day marks the anniversary of the entry into force in 1945 of the UN Charter. 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. October 24 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 UN and its member states are facing a multitude of challenges today that are not easy to resolve by any means. The United Nations, which turns 70 next year, is needed more than ever at this time of multiple crises. Poverty, disease, terrorism, discrimination and climate change are exacting a heavy toll. Millions of people continue to suffer deplorable exploitation through bonded labour, human trafficking, sexual slavery or unsafe conditions in factories, fields and mines. The global economy remains an uneven playing field.

As the UN Secretary General notes “the founding of the United Nations was a solemn pledge to the world’s people to end such assaults on human dignity, and lead the way to a better future. There have been painful setbacks, and there is much work ahead to realise the Charter’s vision. But we can take heart from our achievements.”


Yes, contrary to popular opinion, the UN and its multiple agencies have had success on many fronts. The UN Millennium Development Goals have inspired the most successful anti-poverty campaign ever. The many United Nations treaties on inequality, human rights, torture and racism have protected people, while several other agreements have safeguarded the environment.UN peacekeepers have ensured peace in some hostile areas of the world and its mediators have settled disputes among nations. Its humanitarian workers have delivered life-saving aid to some of the poorest regions of the world.

The world is changing, and with it the demands on the United Nations. The UN provides a unique platform for international action. It offers unparalleled legitimacy for global engagement, owing to its universal membership; its inclusive decision-making processes; its unequalled reach; and its ability to provide critical services that are essential to international peace, security, stability and prosperity.

Yet, much needs to be done by the UN and its member states. There are two major issues facing the world today - Ebola and terrorism - if you momentarily dismiss the countless other concerns such as abject poverty and hunger. The Ebola juggernaut shows no sign of stopping, even as some countries are preparing to test an experimental vaccine.

A total of 9,936 confirmed, probable and suspected cases of Ebola have now been documented across five countries, including Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Spain and the United States, and two previously affected countries, Nigeria and Senegal, up to the end of October 19. A total of 4,877 deaths have been reported during the same period.

But the global response to Ebola, to contain which the UN agency World Health Organisation (WHO) is doing a great deal, has been lukewarm to say the least. When the UN appealed to the nations of the world, especially the wealthy ones, to collectively donate US$ 1 billion to flight Ebola, only around US$ 100,000 was pledged. The earlier sum could have been raised if the developed countries contributed even a fraction of their defence budgets to the Ebola cause.

Terrorism is raging around the world and even countries that were relatively ‘safe’ from terrorism, such as Canada, had experienced it recently. The rapid spread of terror groups such as ISIS is alarming. Whole countries have been destabilised with the rise of terrorism. There are around 50 conflicts around the world which show no sign of ending. Only a few, such as the conflict that prevailed in Sri Lanka, have been resolved. It is a challenge that the world has to fight together.


As mentioned previously, there are many other global issues that need our attention, including poverty, disease, population growth, climate change and lack of access to education. These are challenges that the UN must tackle head-on. But doubts have been expressed whether the UN is strong enough and willing to do so. There is a notion that the UN system is dominated by a few powerful countries and the UN indeed has to do a lot of work to shed this image. There is also a notion that the UN needs to talk less and do more.

There have been many calls for strengthening and reforming the UN so that it becomes a more balanced, more effective organisation for international cooperation. According to the UN, it is engaged in a continuous process of change and reform to strengthen its ability to meet new demands and deliver its vital services in the most effective and efficient ways.

This means: constant emphasis on transparency, accountability, integrity, efficiency and flexibility and creating an environment in which improvement is expected and innovation is encouraged. This process is most welcome, but it should be result-oriented.

The UN is all about global cooperation. It should provide an equal voice, an equal platform to all 193 Member States irrespective of their status (South Sudan, the newest member country, joined the UN in 2011). The UN should be an instrument for positive change across the world. It does a remarkable amount of work in all areas of the world but it needs more monetary and other resources to fulfill its wide ranging mandate. In doing so, it has the potential to ensure world peace and a bright future for all.



LANKAPUVATH - National News Agency of Sri Lank
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