At UN General Assembly, a spotlight on reforms

Hamrokhon Zarifi, minister for foreign affairs of Tajikistan during the 67th United Nations General Assembly. Zarifi called for a rational reform of the U.N. to allow the global body to respond to challenges more quickly and to address "threats of a new generation." Photo by: Devra Berkowitz / U.N.

One call stood out from the various global issues broached over the weekend at the ongoing meeting of world leaders in New York: Reform the United Nations system.

World leaders and officials who spoke on the fourth and fifth day of the 67th U.N. General Assembly came armed with their own lists of priority reforms, but at least two overarching proposals for reform emerged.

One, several countries said they want changes to how the U.N. Security Council functions. The prime minister of San Marino, Antonella Mularon, best summarized these calls when she sought for an “enlarged, more representative, transparent and efficient Security Council.”

The foreign ministers of Liechtenstein and New Zealand specifically appealed to the five permanent members of the council to accept restrictions on the use of their veto powers. Meanwhile, a number of African ministers called for the creation of a permanent seat for Africa.

Such proposals to expand membership of the U.N. Security Council are not new. France, among others, has been calling for such reforms over the past years. Speakers at the ongoing U.N. General Assembly meeting did add an element of urgency to their call, citing the council’s failure to arrive at a solution to the crisis in Syria.

Alongside these calls to reform the Security Council were proposals to empower the U.N. General Assembly. The foreign minister of Mozambique, Oldemiro Balo, for one, said that the “revitalization” of the General Assembly is necessary to make the United Nations a more effective venue for conflict resolution.

Hamrokhon Zarifi, the foreign minister of Tajikistan, made a similar argument, stressing that a “rational reform” of the global body is needed to renew the United Nations’ capacity to respond to challenges more quickly and to addresses “threats of a new generation.”

A number of other speakers also took the line of argument that the post-World War II realities the United Nations was initially designed to address “no longer exists.”

The United Nations already has an ongoing reform process focused on renewal. Dubbed “Strengthening the U.N.,” the agenda seeks to improve the global body’s effectiveness, ability to deliver results and accountability. The United States has outlined a similar reform agenda for the global body, also focused on accountability.

Samuel Santos Lopez, the foreign minister of Nicaragua, however, argued that this reform plan has not progressed because of politics within the United Nations. Nicaragua, he added, is now pushing for a new charter that will see the “reinvention” and “democratization” of the global body.

The General Assembly also heard more specific reform proposals. Nebojša Kaluderovic, foreign minister of Montenegro, sought an enhancement of the United Nations’ mechanism to prevent conflict while Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Hor Namhong proposed strengthening the 54-member U.N. Economic Social Council.

Despite all these calls for changes, there were those who voiced continuing confidence in the United Nations. Singapore’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam, who sought more adherence to international law, stressed that the United Nations remains the best body to discuss global solutions because of its universal membership.

Gilbert Saboya, Andorra’s foreign minister, agreed. Although the U.N. system may be “far from optimal,” the body helped create a world that “seemed an unattainable dream a century ago,” he told the General Assembly. 

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About the author

  • Ivy Mungcal

    As former senior staff writer, Ivy Mungcal contributed to several Devex publications. Her focus is on breaking news, and in particular on global aid reform and trends in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean, and the Americas. Before joining Devex in 2009, Ivy produced specialized content for U.S. and U.K.-based business websites.