United States and other governments may thwart chance for major UN reforms

Published: 1 November 2005

The United States and Non-Aligned Movement of states could end the chance to effectively reform the United Nations by demanding last minute and sweeping changes during negotiations before the UN World Summit.

The United States and Non-Aligned Movement of states could end the chance to effectively reform the United Nations by demanding last minute and sweeping changes during negotiations before the UN World Summit.

The warning came from international agency Oxfam today as crisis talks begin at the United Nations to try to save the biggest meeting of world leaders in history, the UN World Summit, from failure. Just two weeks before the Sept. 14-16 Summit, a core group of 30 governments, including both reformist and conservative governments, has been selected by General Assembly President Jean Ping of Gabon to try to save negotiations on the Summit’s outcome document.

The gathering of world leaders is a crucial chance for countries to commit to ending the terrible poverty, injustice and suffering that kill millions of people every year, as well as to implement reforms to improve the operations of the United Nations.

Yet Nicola Reindorp, head of Oxfam’s New York office, said that the historic chance to reform the United Nations was slipping away as countries squabbled and refused to find common ground.

“If they insist on fighting in their respective corners and refuse to meet halfway, the United States and the Non-Aligned Movement, led by Malaysia, will head the World Summit towards failure,” said Reindorp. “But trading off poverty reduction measures against endorsing the responsibility to protect civilians is a lose-lose deal for the world’s poorest people.”

The United States has proposed major changes to the current draft outcome document, including some that would substantially weaken wording on all governments’ “responsibility to protect civilians” in cases of mass killing such as the Rwandan genocide. The US has also proposed cutting wording on poverty reduction, including on overseas development aid, education and debt relief, and removing the term “Millennium Development Goals” -- the internationally agreed upon targets for halving world poverty. In addition, the United Sates wants to cut references to small arms controls from the outcome document.

The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) is composed of 115 developing countries currently led by Malaysia and including India, Pakistan, Venezuela, Egypt, Cuba, Iran, and Syria, and is one of the largest blocs of governments in the UN negotiations. It has emphasized the need for summit agreement on poverty-reduction measures but has been hostile to a draft measure that all governments have a “responsibility to protect” civilians, despite the measure’s potential to save millions of lives.

This draft measure would involve governments agreeing that they share the responsibility to protect civilians at risk of genocide, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing and war crimes, when the government of the people concerned is unwilling or unable to do so. The NAM argues that this compromises the sovereignty of individual states and is concerned it will not be enforced consistently.

The NAM is reportedly also refusing to agree to reforms on changing UN management and personnel systems. Achieving agreement on UN management reforms are among the priorities for the US government at the summit.

“In order for the Summit to be a success, the United States and all governments must commit to measures that will tackle poverty and commit to act consistently to protect civilians from future genocides and brutal mass killings,” Reindorp said.

Contact Information

For further information contact:
US: Caroline Green 1 202 321 7858
UK: Brendan Cox on: 44 7957 120 853
Background for editors:
• For a copy of the draft Summit outcome document please visit:
Members of the Core Group
Established by General Assembly President Jean Ping to advance work on the draft outcome document for the General Assembly High-level Plenary Meeting of September 2005:
Group of 77 and China (Jamaica), Non-Aligned Movement (Troika : Malaysia, Cuba and South Africa), African Group (Troika : Morocco, Mauritius and Mozambique)(1)
European Union (Troika : United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Austria and European Commission), Group of Arab States (Lebanon), CARICOM (Grenada and alternatively Trinidad and Tobago or Saint Kits and Nevis), CANZ* (Canada), Nordic countries (Norway), GUAM** (Republic of Moldova), Algeria, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, China, Egypt, France, India, Iran, Japan, Lithuania, Mexico, Pakistan, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, Switzerland, United States of America
These proposals are currently under discussion and will need to be concluded before negotiations on the substantive issues continue. On 5 August Ambassador Ping circulated his revised draft Outcome Document for the summit, listing 6 issues which needed cooperation to achieve the broadest possible agreement. They were “certain aspects of terrorism, issues concerning disarmament and non-proliferation, specific details concerning the establishment of the Human Rights Council, the concept of responsibility to protect, the composition of the peace-building commission and reform of the Secretariat, in particular its management”.
The current draft wording on the ‘responsibility to protect'' is below:
118. We agree that the protection of populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity lies first and foremost with each individual State. We also agree that this responsibility to protect entails the prevention of such crimes, including their incitement. We accept this responsibility and agree to act in accordance with it. The international community should, as appropriate, encourage and help States to exercise this responsibility and support the efforts of the United Nations to establish an early-warning capability. The international community, through the United Nations, also has the obligation to use diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means, including under Chapters VI and VIII of the Charter to help protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. In this context, we recognize our shared responsibility to take collective action, in a timely and decisive manner, through the Security Council under Chapter VII of the UN Charter and in co-operation with relevant regional organizations, should peaceful means be inadequate and national authorities be unwilling or unable to protect their populations. We stress the need to continue consideration of the concept of the responsibility to protect within the sixtieth session of the General Assembly. 119. We invite the permanent members of the Security Council to refrain from using the veto in cases of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. 120. We support the implementation of the United Nations Action Plan to Prevent Genocide and the work of the Secretariat to this end.
(1) To be confirmed by the African group
* CANZ represents: Canada, Australia, New Zealand
** GUAM represents: Georgia, Ukraine, Armenia, Moldova.