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IMAGINING A WORLD WITHOUT THE UNITED NATIONS – The Importance of Solidarity & Unity – Will the World sustain these gestures?

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WHAT IF THERE IS NO UNITED NATIONS?: I personally have not, in the past few decades seen a more united world than we currently have.  I have continued to wonder, going by experiences of world leaders if the United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres and his top aides sleep. Religions say only God does not sleep. But for nature, I would have argued vociferously that it is impossible for Guterres –  the world’s No 1 Public Servant to sleep in this type of situation, considering the number of nations and territories the UN serves. There is most probably not a soul in the world who is not worried about the unfolding scenario of unpredictability foisted on humanity by a virus that has thrown the global community into commotion. Thanks to advancements in technology that has drawn back the cruel hands of COVID-19 from the termination of more than 157,847 deaths so far, and 2, 314, 621 confirmed attacks. (WHO records as at Monday April 20, 2020)

The pandemic has operated as a leveller, invincibly and mercilessly humbling the strongest people, as well as the most powerful nations. A Yoruba adage says: ‘’Anything without a mouth cannot be wiser than a human being.’’  It seems to me that Coronavirus has proved this wrong! It has turned the counsel of the wisest into foolishness, as the global community continues to muster methods of defeating the pandemic. In a form, COVID-19 appears to have succeeded in uniting the world through the United Nations, possibly more than ever before in its agenda of confronting common enemies.  Imagine the world is not as advanced as it is at this age! Thanks too,  immeasurably to the founders of the United Nations and those who have sustained and continued to hold the international organization together —  Even if it is an ordinary talk shop, as some say in derision, the UN is achieving results.

FIGHTING INEQUALITIES, POVERTY, CONFLICTS, IGNORANCE & DISEASE: CORONAVIRUS has sent the whole world into panic,  economies are in shambles, a monumental health crisis has surfaced, and fears of the unknown have enveloped the world. Heads of government have been hit. Personal physicians to leaders of governments cannot be queried for any inability to anticipate and read health situations correctly. The whole world is in a crucial period, engaged in the search for viable solutions to an issue has pushed troublesome matters like terrorism, armaments, disarmaments and related issues to the back row.  COVID-19 is more recognized as terror than conventional terrorists who themselves, must now be afraid of the unseen killer.  WHO has revealed that ‘’Coronavirus is 10 times deadlier than the 2009 flu pandemic with alarming acceleration in other countries. Education of 1.4 billion children had been affected as of 10 April 2020. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres  declared coronavirus ‘’a common enemy’’ in a Statement, and announced the UN’s policy of ‘’prioritizing the most vulnerable – children in conflict situations; child refugees and displaced persons; children living with disabilities, and ‘’commitment to building back better by using the recovery from COVID-19 to pursue a more sustainable and inclusive economy and society in line with the Sustainable Development Goals’’

MORE LANGUAGES FOR THE UN SYSTEM? Yesterday at the Geneva headquarters of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus raised hopes of a more united world in his address:  ‘’We would like to make our UN truly UN, truly multilateral by including more languages and communicating with the whole world’’ His press conference was interpreted in all official United Nations languages: Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian and Spanish, with a promise by the WHO to start Swahili and Hindi.’’  The WHO DG announced at the conference that: ‘’WHO is proud to have co-organized this event with Global Citizen, my brother Hugh Evans and Lady Gaga, and I also want to thank my colleague Paul Garwood who came up with the idea and has worked incredibly hard for several weeks to make it happen. Paul Garwood is one of our colleagues in the front line. I ask my colleagues to give me crazy ideas, and he did. But as a boss I take all the credit and I shouldn’t do that. All the credit goes to my colleague Paul Garwood from our communications department. I hope all my staff will continue to give me crazy ideas. I’m proud to be WHO – very, very proud. The event raised more than US$127 million to support several organizations responding to COVID-19, including US$55 million for WHO’s Solidarity Response Fund. The fund has now raised more than 194 million dollars from more than 270,000 individuals, corporations and foundations. Yesterday I had the honour of addressing health ministers from the G20 countries. I appreciate the expressions of support from many countries for WHO’s coordinating role and our technical guidance. I also appreciate the statements of the G77 and the Non-Aligned Movement expressing their strong support for WHO.  As you know, the G77 -133 countries and the Non-Aligned Movement, 120 countries. This is a big vote of confidence, and we thank NAM and we thank the G77 countries.’’

COMMENDING & RECOGNIZING THE IMPORTANCE OF THE UNITED NATIONS – KEEP THE FLAG FLYING – The whole world might not appreciate the United Nations and its efforts. But people who think deeply would know the very salient contributions of this global body to the continued existence of mankind. The United Nations, whose membership comprises almost all the States in the world, is founded on the principle of the equal worth of every human being. It serves as an international organization that addresses the interests of all states, and all peoples of the world, through this global organization that has continued to serve as an indispensable instrument of human progress.  The 1919 Treaty of Versailles that ended the World War 1 preceded what the world adopted at the end of the World war 11 that gave birth to the League of Nations that transformed into the United Nations, that formally came into existence on October 24, 1945. As early as 1947, the General Assembly linked the enjoyment of human rights with the maintenance of international peace and security in a Resolution contained in the publication cited above, recall that “all Member States had pledged themselves to take joint and separate action to promote universal respect for, and observance of all forms of propaganda… designed or likely to provoke or encourage any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression.” From: ‘The United Nations and Human Rights’ published by the UN Department of Public Information, 1984).

Two years later, in 1949, in a Resolution entitled “Essentials of Peace”, the Assembly called upon every nation “to refrain from any threats or acts, direct or indirect, aimed at impairing the freedom, independence or integrity of any State, or at fomenting civil strife and subverting the will of the people in any State”.  Obviously, the position taken by the United Nations was influenced by the Second World War which was fought between 1939 and 1945 and which dislocated several parts of the world and sadly, claimed many lives. The whole world, through the United Nations is conscious of the importance of peace as an essential ingredient of development. Paragraph 1 of article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ proclaims: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family; including food, clothing, housing, and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”  From: ‘The United Nations and Human Rights’ published by the UN Department of Public Information, 1984).

Two UN agency chiefs are pledging to accelerate work to expand refugee children’s access to protection, education, clean water and sanitation, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread across the globe. – UN News

But again, do these top UN officials led by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres sleep in times of crises like these? One reason why they may be too much troubled and lose their sleep was reported by the UN News: “The needs of refugee children have become even more acute,” said Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi in a joint statement on Monday. They emphasized that the 12.7 million child refugees and 1.1 million asylum seekers driven across borders by conflict and violence are among those with the most limited access to COVID-19 prevention services, testing and treatment. The pandemic also presents a range of additional threats to displaced children, from increased hunger to stigmatization, as fear spreads through communities.  

The importance of the United Nations was recognized through the award of a Nobel Peace Prize in 2001, jointly shared with its Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who  in one of his great speeches honoured  the legacy of President  Harry S.  Truman. ‘’If President  Roosevelt was the architect of the United Nations, President Truman was the master-builder, and the faithful champion of the Organization in its first years, when it had to face quite different problems from the ones FDR had expected. ‘’Truman’s name will forever be associated with the memory of far-sighted American leadership in a great global endeavor’’.  In an attempt to appreciate the United Nations, Terrific Headlines now yields space to the speech delivered by Kofi Annan at the conferment of the Nobel Peace Prize Award on the United Nations and Kofi Annan in 2001.

But again, do these top UN officials led by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres sleep in times of crises like these? One reason why they may be too much troubled and lose their sleep was reported by the UN News: ‘’Truman’s name will forever be associated with the memory of far-sighted American leadership in a great global endeavor’’.  In an attempt to appreciate the United Nations, Terrific Headlines now yields space to the speech delivered by Kofi Annan at the conferment of the Nobel Peace Prize Award on the United Nations and Kofi Annan in 2001.

THE UNITED NATIONS WINS YEAR 2001 NOBEL PEACE PRIZE – Shared With Kofi Annan The Norwegian Nobel Institute described Kofi Annan as: ‘’Africa’s Foremost Diplomat the seventh Secretary-General of the United Nations, is the first to be elected from the ranks of UN staff. ‘’His first five-year term began on 1 January 1997 and, following his subsequent re-appointment by the UN Member States, he will begin a second five-year term on 1 January 2002. As recorded on its website, its centennial year in 2001, the Nobel Committee decided that the Peace Prize was to be divided between the United Nations (UN) and the world organization’s Secretary-General, Kofi Annan. The choice showed the Committee’s traditional support for organized cooperation between states. Annan pursued a varied career in the UN until he took over as the United Nations’ seventh Secretary-General.

SECRETARY-GENERAL KOFI ANNAN’S ADDRESS — The Nobel Peace Prize Award 2001 Today’s real borders are not between nations, but between powerful and powerless, free and fettered, privileged and humiliated. Today, no walls can separate humanitarian or human rights crises in one part of the world from national security crises in another. Scientists tell us that the world of nature is so small and interdependent that a butterfly flapping its wings in the Amazon rainforest can generate a violent storm on the other side of the earth. This principle is known as the “Butterfly Effect.” Today, we realize, perhaps more than ever, that the world of human activity also has its own “Butterfly Effect” — for better or for worse.

We have entered the third millennium through a gate of fire. If today, after the horror of 11 September, we see better, and we see further –- we will realize that humanity is indivisible. New threats make no distinction between races, nations or regions. A new insecurity has entered every mind, regardless of wealth or status. A deeper awareness of the bonds that bind us all –- in pain as in prosperity –- has gripped young and old.

In the early beginnings of the twenty-first century –- a century already violently disabused of any hopes that progress towards global peace and prosperity is inevitable — this new reality can no longer be ignored. It must be confronted.

The twentieth century was perhaps the deadliest in human history, devastated by innumerable conflicts, untold suffering, and unimaginable crimes. Time after time, a group or a nation inflicted extreme violence on another, often driven by irrational hatred and suspicion, or unbounded arrogance and thirst for power and resources. In response to these cataclysms, the leaders of the world came together at mid-century to unite the nations as never before. A forum was created -– the United Nations — where all nations could join forces to affirm the dignity and worth of every person, and to secure peace and development for all peoples. Here States could unite to strengthen the rule of law, recognize and address the needs of the poor, restrain man’s brutality and greed, conserve the resources and beauty of nature, sustain the equal rights of men and women, and provide for the safety of future generations.

VANQUISIHING POVERTY, IGNORANCE & DISEASE: We thus inherit from the twentieth century the political, as well as the scientific and technological power, which — if only we have the will to use them — give us the chance to vanquish poverty, ignorance and disease. In the twenty-first century I believe the mission of the United Nations will be defined by a new, more profound, awareness of the sanctity and dignity of every human life, regardless of race or religion. This will require us to look beyond the framework of States, and beneath the surface of nations or communities. We must focus, as never before, on improving the conditions of the individual men and women who give the State or nation its richness and character. We must begin with the young Afghan girl, recognizing that saving that one life is to save humanity itself.

Over the past five years, I have often recalled that the United Nations’ Charter begins with the words: “We the peoples.” What is not always recognized is that “We the peoples” are made up of individuals whose claims to the most fundamental rights have too often been sacrificed in the supposed interests of the State or the nation. A genocide begins with the killing of one man — not for what he has done, but because of who he is. A campaign of ‘ethnic cleansing’ begins with one neighbour turning on another. Poverty begins when even one child is denied his or her fundamental right to education. What begins with the failure to uphold the dignity of one life, all too often ends with a calamity for entire nations.

In this new century, we must start from the understanding that peace belongs not only to States or peoples, but to each and every member of those communities. The sovereignty of States must no longer be used as a shield for gross violations of human rights. Peace must be made real and tangible in the daily existence of every individual in need. Peace must be sought, above all, because it is the condition for every member of the human family to live a life of dignity and security. The rights of the individual are of no less importance to immigrants and minorities in Europe and the Americas than to women in Afghanistan or children in Africa. They are as fundamental to the poor as to the rich; they are as necessary to the security of the developed world as to that of the developing world.

From this vision of the role of the United Nations in the next century flow three key priorities for the future: eradicating poverty, preventing conflict, and promoting democracy. Only in a world that is rid of poverty can all men and women make the most of their abilities. Only where individual rights are respected can differences be channelled politically and resolved peacefully. Only in a democratic environment, based on respect for diversity and dialogue, can individual self-expression and self-government be secured, and freedom of association be upheld. Throughout my term as Secretary-General, I have sought to place human beings at the centre of everything we do -– from conflict prevention to development to human rights. Securing real and lasting improvement in the lives of individual men and women is the measure of all we do at the United Nations.

Dag Hammarskjöld – Gave his life for peace: It is in this spirit that I humbly accept the Centennial Nobel Peace Prize. Forty years ago today, the Prize for 1961 was awarded for the first time to a Secretary-General of the United Nations -– posthumously, because Dag Hammarskjöld had already given his life for peace in Central Africa. And on the same day, the Prize for 1960 was awarded for the first time to an African –- Albert Luthuli, one of the earliest leaders of the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. For me, as a young African beginning his career in the United Nations a few months later, those two men set a standard that I have sought to follow throughout my working life. This award belongs not just to me. I do not stand here alone. On behalf of all my colleagues in every part of the United Nations, in every corner of the globe, who have devoted their lives -– and in many instances risked or given their lives in the cause of peace — I thank the Members of the Nobel Committee for this high honour. My own path to service at the United Nations was made possible by the sacrifice and commitment of my family and many friends from all continents -– some of whom have passed away — who taught me and guided me. To them, I offer my most profound gratitude.

In a world filled with weapons of war and all too often words of war, the Nobel Committee has become a vital agent for peace. Sadly, a prize for peace is a rarity in this world. Most nations have monuments or memorials to war, bronze salutations to heroic battles, archways  of triumph. But peace has no parade, no pantheon of victory. What it does have is the Nobel Prize -– a statement of hope and courage with unique resonance and authority. Only by understanding and addressing the needs of individuals for peace, for dignity, and for security can we at the United Nations hope to live up to the honour conferred today, and fulfil the vision of our founders. This is the broad mission of peace that United Nations staff members carry out every day in every part of the world.

A few of them, women and men, are with us in this hall today. Among them, for instance, are a Military Observer from Senegal who is helping to provide basic security in the Democratic Republic of the Congo; a Civilian Police Adviser from the United States who is helping to improve the rule of law in Kosovo; a UNICEF Child Protection Officer from Ecuador who is helping to secure the rights of Colombia’s most vulnerable citizens; and a World Food Programme Officer from China who is helping to feed the people of North Korea. The idea that there is one people in possession of the truth, one answer to the world’s ills, or one solution to humanity’s needs, has done untold harm throughout history — especially in the last century. Today, however, even amidst continuing ethnic conflict around the world, there is a growing understanding that human diversity is both the reality that makes dialogue necessary, and the very basis for that dialogue.

We understand, as never before, that each of us is fully worthy of the respect and dignity essential to our common humanity. We recognize that we are the products of many cultures, traditions and memories; that mutual respect allows us to study and learn from other cultures; and that we gain strength by combining the foreign with the familiar. In every great faith and tradition one can find the values of tolerance and mutual understanding. The Qur’an, for example, tells us that “We created you from a single pair of male and female and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other.” Confucius urged his followers: “when the good way prevails in the State, speak boldly and act boldly. When the State has lost the way, act boldly and speak softly.” In the Jewish tradition, the injunction to “love thy neighbour as thyself,” is considered to be the very essence of the Torah.

INDIVIDUALS MUST HAVE COMPASSION: This thought is reflected in the Christian Gospel, which also teaches us to love our enemies and pray for those who wish to persecute us. Hindus are taught that “truth is one, the sages give it various names.” And in the Buddhist tradition, individuals are urged to act with compassion in every facet of life. Each of us has the right to take pride in our particular faith or heritage. But the notion that what is ours is necessarily in conflict with what is theirs is both false and dangerous. It has resulted in endless enmity and conflict, leading men to commit the greatest of crimes in the name of a higher power.

It need not be so. People of different religions and cultures live side by side in almost every part of the world, and most of us have overlapping identities which unite us with very different groups. We can love what we are, without hating what –- and who — we are not. We can thrive in our own tradition, even as we learn from others, and come to respect their teachings. This will not be possible, however, without freedom of religion, of expression, of assembly, and basic equality under the law. Indeed, the lesson of the past century has been that where the dignity of the individual has been trampled or threatened –- where citizens have not enjoyed the basic right to choose their government, or the right to change it regularly –- conflict has too often followed, with innocent civilians paying the price, in lives cut short and communities destroyed.

OBSTACLES TO DEMOCRACY: The obstacles to democracy have little to do with culture or religion, and much more to do with the desire of those in power to maintain their position at any cost. This is neither a new phenomenon nor one confined to any particular part of the world. People of all cultures value their freedom of choice, and feel the need to have a say in decisions affecting their lives. No doubt, that is why the Nobel Committee says that it “wishes, in its centenary year, to proclaim that the only negotiable route to global peace and cooperation goes by way of the United Nations”.