After year of momentous change, UN girds for uncertain future….’2016 In Retrospect’ by Arul Louis
A year of momentous changes at the UN and around the world sets the stage for a year of uncertainties at the world body.
This was the year another man, the ninth, was elected the Secretary-General — defying the clamour for a woman to head the global body.
In the UN’s main financier and the world’s unparalleled superpower, the United States, Donald Trump was elected president on a pledge to upend the world order showing an open contempt for international organisations.
Across the Atlantic, British citizens voted to leave the European Union raising questions about the future of the international institution and globalisation.
Civil war-wracked Syria descended into hell, as Secretary-General Ban Ki- moon put it, with hundreds of thousands dead and cities pulverised while the UN was paralysed by the permanent members’ feuds.
Yemen and South Sudan were not far behind. And a nuclear-armed North Korea with an erratic regime seemingly beyond the pale of the comity of nations is possibly another hell in the making.
Into this maelstrom descends former Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Guterres as the new Secretary General, having beaten out strong women candidates like Unesco Director General Irina Bokova and Eastern Europe’s claims to the office.
But on the positive side, the election was historic for its relative transparency, with openly-nominated candidates subjecting themselves to scrutiny in Town Hall-style meetings and for being possibly the smoothest process ever in the UN’s 71-year history as the permanent members quickly agreed on him.
When he takes office, he is unlikely to see the level of cooperation that got him elected to continue.
India’s Permanent Representative Syed Akbaruddin has described the Security Council’s working “as an interesting and random mix of ad-hocism, scrambling and political paralysis”.
There are no signs that will change and, if anything, omens say it could worsen.
Even before Trump takes over as president and sends in Indian American Nikki Haley, his nominee to the cabinet-level post of UN ambassador, he tried to dictate US policy — on Israel — in the Security Council and was roundly rebuffed by every member, including his own country.
On the other hand, his detente with Russia may contribute to a solution in Syria.
The UN, though, is also bracing for the fallout of his attitude to China and the Middle East, and approaches to nuclear proliferation and disarmament, and development.
The 2015 Paris Agreement on fighting climate change was among the singular UN achievements of the year when it was ratified by early October by 73 countries accounting for more than 55 percent of greenhouse gas emissions and went into force the next month.
“This is our chance to set us on course towards a safer, more sustainable and more just future for all on a healthy planet,” said Ban. It was one of the defining moments of his tenure where a lot of his pleadings, threats and demands have been ignored.
The long-festering scandal of sex abuse of civilians by UN peacekeepers came to a head with reports of scores of women and children sexually attacked in Central African Republic by both those under the UN flag and French troops sent by their government to its former colony.
Atul Khare, the Undersecretary General for field support, became the point person for dealing with the problem and enforcing a zero tolerance policy for sex abuse by UN forces. The nearly 7,500 Indian peacekeepers, who make up the second largest contingent, received a clean chit.
In an organisation made up primarily of governments, corruption is an ever-present risk. Former General Assembly President John Ashe of Antigua and Barbuda was prosecuted by New York federal prosecutor in a $1 million bribery case involving the use of his office. Ashe, who was married to an Indian, died in an accident while exercising at his home.