Annan Calls for Bold Moves to Reform United Nations

NEW YORK, New York, March 21, 2005 (ENS) - Secretary-General Kofi Annan today urged the 191 nations of the UN General Assembly to overhaul the United Nations with a set of proposals that includes new actions to ensure environmental sustainability. Annan's plan is slated for decision by national leaders when they gather in September to mark the world body's 60th anniversary.

The report takes its name from a phrase in the UN Charter, “In Larger Freedom: towards development, security and human rights for all.” If acted on, the proposals in Annan's report would mark the most dramatic change in the UN's functioning ever achieved at one time.

Proposals range from a nine member increase in the Security Council, from 15 to 24 members, to the establishment of a new Human Rights Council to replace the current Commission on Human Rights, “whose capacity to perform its tasks has been undermined by its declining credibility and professionalism,” Annan wrote.

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UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan addresses the UN General Assembly (Photo courtesy UN)
Annan's report is the core of a new UN move towards reform after deep divisions among member governments over the war in Iraq and a series of damaging revelations involving UN management. The Iraqi oil-for-food scandal, sex abuse by peacekeeping troops in Congo, and the resignation of UN refugee head Rudd Lubbers after sexual harassment charges have marred the UN's reputation.

Calling for action, not words, Annan told the General Assembly today, "I have deliberately spared you any flights of rhetoric. This hall has heard enough high-sounding declarations to last us for some decades to come. We know what the problems are, and we all know what we have promised to achieve. What is needed now is not more declarations, but action to fulfil the promises already made."

Annan's report calls for new action to deal with climate change that includes more nations than the UN's Kyoto Protocol, which covers only 35 industrialized countries.

"Scientific advances and technological innovation must be mobilized now to develop tools for mitigating climate change, and a more inclusive international framework must be developed for stabilizing greenhouse gas emissions beyond the expiry of the Kyoto Protocol in 2012, with broader participation by all major emitters and both developed and developing countries," Annan writes. "Concrete steps are also required on desertification and biodiversity."

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Oasis of Ntekem-Kemt at Chinguetty, Mauretania threatened by dune enchroachment. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization's tree planting effort fights desertification here. (Photo by I. Balderi courtesy FAO)
Other priorities for global action called for in the report include stronger mechanisms for infectious disease surveillance and monitoring, a worldwide early warning system on natural disasters, support for science and technology for development, support for regional infrastructure and institutions, reform of international financial institutions, and more effective cooperation to manage migration.

"The General Assembly should take bold measures to streamline its agenda and speed up the deliberative process. It should concentrate on the major substantive issues of the day, and establish mechanisms to engage fully and systematically with civil society," Annan wrote.

Annan told the General Assembly delegates today that his proposal should be treated as a comprehensive package rather than as an a la carte menu to be picked over.

“It gives equal weight and attention to the three great purposes of this organization - development, security and human rights - all of which must be underpinned by the rule of law,” he declared.

The first section - Freedom from Want – calls on developing countries to improve their governance, combat corruption and adopt an inclusive approach to development to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, which seek to halve extreme poverty and hunger, slash maternal and infant mortality, ensure environmental sustainability, and increase access to education and health care by 2015.

The second section - Freedom from Fear - calls on all states to agree on a new security consensus, “by which they commit themselves to treat any threat to one of them as a threat to all, and to work together to prevent catastrophic terrorism, stop proliferation of deadly weapons, end civil wars and build lasting peace in war-torn countries.

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The UN World Food Programme fed 1.6 million people in the Darfur region of Sudan in February, the highest monthly total since the start of the agency's emergency operation in April 2004 to feed people uprooted by ethnic cleansing. (Photo courtesy WFP)
The third section - Freedom to Live in Dignity – stresses the need for the international community to embrace the principle of the responsibility to protect as “a basis for collective action against genocide, ethnic cleansing and crime against humanity – recognizing that this responsibility lies first and foremost with each individual state, but also that, if national authorities are unable or unwilling to protect their citizens, the responsibility then shift to the international community.”

“You may or many not find my argument convincing," the secretary general said. "But please remember, in any event, that if you need the help of other states to achieve your objectives, you must also be willing to help them achieve their objectives. That is why I urge you to treat my proposals as a single package."

Two recent UN reports provided the foundation for Annan's plan: the report of the Secretary General's High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, released in December 2004, and the report of the Millennium Project by Jeffrey Sachs, released in January 2005.

UN member governments have not yet responded to Annan's proposals.

The international aid agency Oxfam came out in support of Annan's plan. Governments can save millions of lives by acting on Kofi Annan's blueprint for a safer, fairer world, Oxfam said. Governments must now make long overdue commitments to protect civilians in conflict, the agency said, as well as deliver urgently needed aid, debt relief and trade reforms.

"Millions of people are dying because of conflict and poverty while rich countries are busy jostling for Security Council seats," said Nicola Reindorp, head of Oxfam's New York office. "Governments must come together at the UN this year and focus on the real task of ending poverty and protecting innocent people caught in deadly conflicts."

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Mark Malloch Brown, the Secretary-General's chief of staff, called Annan's proposals bold. (Photo courtesy UN)
Mark Malloch Brown, the Secretary-General's chief of staff, refuted press accounts suggesting that the report is “a panicked response to the current crisis affecting the UN.” To the contrary, he said the timing “is highly propitious because it allows us to lay out an ambitious agenda for the future.”

Briefing reporters in New York, Brown said the proposals are “bold and achievable.”

He characterized the package as balanced. “Like any deal, we hope it's got something in it for everybody, but also in the nature of such deals, it's got some things in it that everybody will also be mad about,” he said. “The great virtue of a well-stitched together deal at the UN is it's not the same people in each case.”

Read Kofi Annan's proposals, "In Larger Freedom..." online at: http://www.un.org/largerfreedom/