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September 13, 2005

UN Reforms Live to Fight Another Day
Posted by David Shorr

Earlier today the UN General Assembly approved the text of a so-called "Outcome Document" to be endorsed by world leaders who begin their summit meeting tomorrow. The final days of negotiations were so contentious and extended so many times that Canadian Ambassador Allan Rock earlier today said they had a "movable deadline."

At a certain point, the talks became a salvage operation, in which supporters of the reform package contained in earlier drafts worked to lock in what modest gains they could. As a result, several of the key provisions are tentative first steps or markers rather than fully realized reforms. In other words, reform lives to fight another day. For those of our viewers keeping score at home, the prize for predicting how this would play out goes to DA's wise Solomon Nossel.

So where does this leave the ambitious reform agenda?

  • The world leaders will "resolve to create a Human Rights Council" Yet all of the features that would distinguish the new body from the existing discredited Human Rights Commission -- election procedures, a peer review mechanism, a year-round schedule -- remain disputed. Proponents of the Council avoided sending the issue to diplomatic purgatory by keeping an "open-ended working group" from being set up.
  • The proposed new Peacebuilding Commission, whose job will be to coordinate efforts to rebuild conflict-ridden countries and prevent renewed rounds of violence, is subject to a tug of war over how it will relate to the Security Council the Economic and Social Council. It, too, gets a promised future birthing, but with an end-of-2005 deadline.
  • The definition of terrorism that had been in earlier drafts was dropped from the text; a consensus that not even liberation struggles justify terror apparently hasn't been reached. The summit statement calls for the conclusion of a comprehensive convention on terrorism and "welcomes" UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's holistic anti-terror strategy. The intention of the latter is to give counterterrorism a broader context, to "internationalize" the issue so that efforts no longer seem so American-driven.
  • There is no section on disarmament and proliferation. There wasn't enough agreement even to salvage.  A sad statement on the state of non-proliferation affairs -- but certainly a clear statement.
  • The development section is sprawling and deserves a fuller treatment than I can give it. An African ambassador today, though, told me that the Bush Administration's willingness to accept the 0.7% of GDP target for aid donors (albeit it as a goal for others) was appreciated.
  • The language on the responsibility to protect victims of genocide and ethnic cleansing was one of the few passages that remained relatively intact. The key sentence reads, "we are prepared to take collective action ... should peaceful means be inadequate."
  • The section on management asks the Secretary-General to submit a reform proposals in early 2006, based on a review of budgetary and personnel regulations. Provision for outside experts to oversee audits was not included.

Solomon (aka Suzanne) talked in her post about how the summit outcome would be spun. At the UN today, you could tell agreement had been reached when ambassadors started going in front of the cameras to put the bravest, cheeriest face on. For his part, US Ambassador John Bolton pronounced the document a good first step he was pleased with.


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