Democratizing the United Nations

The theme of making the world more democratic through a reformed United Nations system prevailed at the Second Conference on a More Democratic UN (CAMDUN 2) held at the Vienna International Centre in Austria, Sept. 17-19. Over 125 delegates from every continent debated and discussed 60 papers.

The hope is that we are at a moment in history when the spirit of democracy and pluralism is sweeping through humanity. It is time for a reformed UN to play a vital role in a people’s new world order based on human rights and common security.

A great gap exists between the idealistic vision of the UN Charter’s preamble and its actual rules and procedures regulating the exercise of power. Over two-thirds of the nation states had no role in developing the original Charter. The victorious powers in 1945 created an organization they could control exclusively by means of the veto power … not exactly sovereign equality. World democracy appears impossible without a restructured Security Council.

Most delegates in Vienna opposed the methods of legitimizing a disproportionate, excessive use of force in Gulf War II by some permanent members of the Security Council. UN Secretary-General Perez de Cuellar said: ‘This was not a UN war. General Schwarzkopf was not wearing a blue helmet.’

The UN Charter was used selectively and questionably from a legal basis. The Security Council has ‘primary’ responsibility for international peace and security, but played a small role in its conduct. Its Military Staff Committee was not used. It failed to determine under article 42 the impact of sanctions. The General Assembly has no authority.

Respect for the clearly expressed will of the majority is a foundation stone of democracy, regardless of who wields military or economic power. Yet CAMDUN delegates felt we have seen this flouted often in the UN by an economically and militarily powerful minority. According to former UN official Erskine Childers, that minority has refused for over ten years even to enter into dialogue with the majority of members on the grave issues of grossly unequal international economic and financial relationships. He said the World Bank and International Monetary Fund are governed by weighted voting according to economic power …. practices which the oldest democracies prohibited in their own countries nearly a hundred years ago. We must fight the old-fashioned maxim of ‘might makes right’ to develop the UN’s credibility. The United Nations must not become an instrument in the hands of the North used for the domination of the South.

It is incorrect and dangerous to put the nation first in one’s thinking. The state is simply an agency to serve the human being. The UN system now makes the citizens hostages to the power politics of their respective governments. The main elements of a new world order must be grouped around the sovereignty and dignity of the individual. Traditional international law places too much emphasis on state sovereignty. It should become inadmissible to propagate certain rules of law at home on the national level while excluding them from application abroad.

The United Nations Charter must be amended along democratic lines to protect the weak against the strong. Many felt the present Charter provides protection for those who are in least need of it. Others stressed the great poverty in three-quarters of the world.

One speaker, Margarita Papandreou, representing Women for Mutual Security, asked that female candidates be considered for the top UN spot. She had been to Baghdad to visit the Iraqi Federation of Women just before and again after the Gulf War. Their attitude there had changed from one of hope to one of bitterness, cynicism and fatalism. They believed persons of good intentions could do nothing.

Mrs. Papandreou was affected by the faces of babies and children sick and dying from dehydration and malnutrition. A doctor spoke to a Westerner and told him of the need for a particular medicine. ‘But you’d need tons of that — we can’t arrange that,’ the visitor responded. ‘But you sent us tons of bombs,’ the doctor replied.

The key organizers of this Conference on a More Democratic UN (CAMDUN) were co-founders Jeffrey Segall of London and Harry Lerner of New York, and Hans Koechler of Vienna, convenor and president of the International Progress Organization. Among their many recommendations was an appeal to the UN General Assembly to approve an Independent International Commission on Global Governance as proposed by 36 world leaders who signed the Stockholm Initiative in April. It should be open to submissions from NGO’s and the public.

A network of some 100 organizations support the proposal for a Second Assembly at the United Nations. A detailed motion prepared by Michael Meadowcroft of the UK, an ex-Member of Parliament who is chair of the Electoral Reform Society, was approved. It established a working party to prepare specific proposals for a UN Second Assembly for determination at CAMDUN 3 in India in 1992. Most delegates seem to prefer an elected Second Assembly which could be allowed under Article 22 of the present Charter as an advisory body.

In order to further the cause others are encouraged to organize speakers, conferences and seminars on a regional or national basis on democratizing the United Nations. The author presented a brief paper on the importance of gaining public support for UN democratization.

This CAMDUN conference was the follow-up for the first one held in New York in October 1990. The views expressed in this article were selected from the papers and speeches presented, and attempt to represent the majority viewpoints of those present.

The peace constituency should make democratization and reform of the United Nations an issue on~*~ the public agenda.

Note: Ross Smyth is past president of the United Nations Association (Montreal), past president of World Federalists of Canada, and presently chairman of the World Government Organisations Coalition.