27 February 2020
2030 Agenda Testing Multilateralism: States Discuss UN75 Declaration
UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
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UN Member States held their first informal consultations on a declaration to mark the 75th anniversary of the UN.

Acknowledging many diverging views on major issues facing the world, delegates suggested that the process “focus on what unites us and avoid what divides us".

The co-facilitators will now prepare an elements paper for the declaration for discussion at the next consultation in early April 2020.

UN Member States held their first informal consultations on a declaration to mark the 75th anniversary of the UN. The anniversary will be commemorated with a high-level event at UN headquarters in New York, US, on 21 September 2020.

The co-facilitators for the consultations are Anne-Karin Eneström, Permanent Representative of Sweden, and Alya Ahmed bin Saif Al-Thani, Permanent Representative of Qatar. Addressing delegations at the start of the meeting on 21 February 2020, Eneström noted divergent views on some of the topics to be addressed, and said the co-facilitators will “hold the pen” in drafting the resolution, using input from delegations. Al-Thani said the co-facilitators will speak with all interested parties and stakeholders.

This organization has enough documents; it is time to deliver on our commitments.

On the tone and function of the document, UN General Assembly (UNGA) President Tijjani Muhammad-Bande said the resolution must resonate with citizens around the world. Eneström said the declaration should: be written in the voice of the heads of state and government that will assemble in September; contain a focused political message; be understandable and inspire action from all stakeholders; speak to youth and others while also being phrased “at a high level,” and give a sense of achievement while inspiring accelerated action.

Governments then offered their views. A few suggested including sections on the UN’s three pillars – development, peace and security, and human rights – as well as references to strengthening, reforming and modernizing the UN. Many said the declaration should reinforce urgency and commitment related to the 2030 Agenda and the Decade of Action. The discussion indicated broad support for reaffirming the principles of multilateralism and the value of a rules-based international system founded on the UN Charter and international law. The “functional nature” of multilateral cooperation should be highlighted, said one government, in order to address the many issues that transcend national borders.

Member States responded to the food-for-thought paper provided by the co-facilitators before the meeting, which suggested that the declaration address five areas: acknowledging achievements; looking ahead; responding to major global challenges; delivering on commitments; and building consensus and mobilizing for change.

On acknowledging achievements, one delegation said the paradigm of the UN has been changed to put the 2030 Agenda at the heart of its work. Governments also highlighted that the UN has: contributed to a strong body of international law, which should be universalized; provided a common covenant on preserving the rights of future generations; prevented further world wars; improved living standards; and achieved the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

On looking ahead, delegations called for genuine reflection on strengthening global governance and multilateralism, for aligning the UN’s intergovernmental bodies with the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs, and for transforming the UN’s values into people’s lived experiences. One government said a better balance must be reached between the peace and security dimension and the development dimension of the UN’s work, noting that all available energy and resources seem to be activated for peace and security issues, but when it comes to development, “everything is just voluntary.”

Some delegations highlighted the importance of the sovereign equality of states, with one saying that “in reality, not all States are created equal, but large or small, all have an equal right to be heard here at the UN, and all have rights and obligations.” Others emphasized the communications role of the UN, noting the need for “a UN that listens to people and can communicate more clearly.” One highlighted the SDGs as a communications asset.

On responding to global challenges, some echoed UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ assessment of challenges and threats set out in January 2020. He had identified as “four horsemen” that endanger progress: geopolitical tensions, the climate crisis, global mistrust and the downsides of technology. Building on these ideas, governments said the world needs a stronger UN than ever before, and highlighted: non-traditional security threats; inequalities within countries; artificial intelligence; xenophobia, hate speech, and migrant rights violations; climate change and pollution, the importance of a successful UNFCCC COP 26 to address the “increasingly existential” threat of the climate and environment crisis, and the need for the UN to mobilize means to address both mitigation and adaptation;

On ways for the UN to better deliver on its purposes and principles, one delegate said that “turning 75 usually means retirement,” but for the UN it must be a time of rejuvenation and reform. Speakers stressed that the UN must modernize in order to not lose confidence of people, and it must adapt to the challenges of the 21st century to remain the primary forum for multilateral cooperation.

Governments highlighted the need for reforms to the UNGA, the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and the UN’s peacebuilding architecture. They emphasized in particular the need for the Security Council to become more representative, but also for reforms to limit the use of the veto, such as in situations of mass atrocities.

Delivering on specific commitments and frameworks from the UN was also a priority for many speakers, with one saying that “this organization has enough documents”; the most important priority now is to deliver on commitments that have already been made. Delegations highlighted the 2030 Agenda and support for small island developing States (SIDS) as particular priorities: “to remain relevant, the UN must be the driving force and catalyst for sustainable development in all countries, especially the poorest and most vulnerable.”

On building consensus and mobilizing for change, the co-facilitators had asked for input on how the Decade of Action can advance implementation of the 2030 Agenda and leave no one behind, as well as how the UN can maximize its use of resources and partner with diverse actors, and how it can strengthen the rights, empowerment and participation of women and youth? Many highlighted the importance of engaging women, girls and all youth, with one noting that events in 2020 make it a particularly important year for women and girls. One delegation said developing countries need funding, especially from the private sector, to pursue the Decade of Action and empower women and youth. Another said “hearing all voices is not enough; we must also act on them.” She called for marginalized groups to have a place at the table to make decisions and take actions with governments and the UN.

On the challenges of reaching agreement on the declaration, delegates suggested that the process “focus on what unites us and avoid what divides us,” noting that this declaration cannot resolve all unfinished business from the last 75 years. Instead it should highlight areas of convergence, so the declaration and the anniversary commemoration can unite rather than polarize the membership.

Going forward, the co-facilitators will prepare an elements paper for the declaration. They plan to convene a meeting to discuss the elements in early April 2020. They said the UN Special Adviser on the Preparations for the Commemoration of the 75th Anniversary, Fabrizio Hochschild, will be invited to that meeting to provide updates on preparations for the anniversary and the related global consultation process.

The commemoration event will take place on 21 September 2020, at UN headquarters in New York, US. [IISD Sources]

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