By Dr Sam Okuonzi
The 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly ended on Oct 1, as its other meetings continued for a couple of weeks. The main debate ended on a heated address by Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Piling pressure on Iran, Netanyahu said he did not believe the new President of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, who had submitted that Iran was developing nuclear energy for peaceful and civilian purposes.
Netanyahu said he would never accept nuclear weapons in the hands of a “rogue regime” or contemplate the threat of nuclear war against Israel, even if Israel had to stand alone against the whole world.
On Palestine, he said he wanted a demilitarized Palestine, peaceful and existing as a state side by side with Israel, and a Palestine that would recognize Israel as Jewish state. On the “right to respond”, Iran said it had signed non-proliferation treaty on nuclear weapons (which it said Israel had not) and that its nuclear programme was under scrutiny and verifiable by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Chaired by the assembly President, Mr John Ashe (of Antigua and Barbuda), the 68th UN session ran under the theme “Post-2015 development agenda”.
The session is one in series held annually since the first one held on January 10, 1946 in London, UK. Out of the ashes of the second world-war, which had ended a year earlier, the UN had just been formed to keep peace, to develop friendly relations among nations, to help nations work together to improve people’s lives, and to be the centre of harmonizing actions in achieving these tasks.
The UN consists of 5 bodies: General Assembly of 193 member countries, Security Council, Economic and Social Council, Trusteeship Council, and International Court of Justice.
The main theme was overshadowed by emerging and re-emerging issues of terrorism, chemical weapons, the targeting of African leaders by the International Criminal Court (ICC), the ideology of “openness”, different world views about economic and social systems, UN reforms, and the ongoing conflicts in Syria, Israel/Palestine, Armenia/Azerbaijan, and North / South Korea.
On MDGs, most countries reported remarkable progress in all MDGs but acknowledged that the current MDGs did not cover all aspects of development. And even within the MDGs, there were numerous challenges and that they were an incomplete agenda.
Our President Museveni reported that Uganda’s major obstacles to the attainment of MDGs were ideological disorientation, weak institutions, inadequate infrastructure, unskilled workforce, small internal markets, lack of modernization and industrialization, and incorrect assessment of the private sector.
Nevertheless, he said Uganda had satisfactorily achieved MDGs 1-3, but that progress in 4 and 5 (infant and maternal mortality) had been slow because “we ourselves made some mistakes”.
He castigated the ICC for the “shallow” way it was treating elected leaders of Kenya. Museveni said Uganda’s main challenge had been with funding, whereby Uganda had to a large extent depended of external donor funds. He described donor funds as “limited, slow, unfocussed, and erratic”. He said much more could have been done with donor aid if it had been focused and stable.
Most countries condemned terrorism in “all its forms”, basing on the recent and fresh example of the Westgate hold-up in Kenya, which ended up in many deaths, injuries and destruction of property. They urged UN to put more effort on its role of “drug control, crime prevention, and combating terrorism”.
UN’s other recently defined roles include promoting sustained economic growth and development, maintenance of peace, development of Africa, promotion of human rights, coordination of humanitarian assistance, promotion of justice and international law, and disarmament.
The session was also marked by expositions of different world views on global economy, politics and social life, as exemplified by UK, China, Russia and the Civil Society.
The deputy Prime Minister of the UK (fully registered at the UN as United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland) Mr Nick Clegg spoke “in defense of openness”. He warned that those who thought that liberal societies had fallen out in the ongoing global financial crises, claiming this to be the proof that the western model had failed, were wrong.
On the contrary, he said, open societies had demonstrated remarkable resilience to these crises and upheavals. He said the values of democracy (free speech, participation, equality before the law, right to peaceful protests, etc) were not western values but were freedoms sought by people everywhere.
He said UK was a leading open-society that would support democracy and political stability in North Africa and Middle East. He said UK recognizes poverty as a threat to social stability and freedoms just as much as the threat of conflict and oppression are to social stability and freedoms.
He said UK had announced to provide USD 1.6 bn for Global Fund against Aids, TB and Malaria; and to support women and girls’ education, end gender inequality and violence against women. UK would use multilateral forums to seek to tackle the biggest global challenges such as climate change.
Russia’s minister of foreign affairs, Sergey Lavrov warned that the desire to “portray in a simplified way the developments in the Arab world as a struggle for democracy against tyrannies or good against evil has obscured the real problem…of extremism”.
That is why Russia-US agreement had to make Syria to join the Convention on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, and fulfillment of its due obligations. Lavrov advised that negotiations be used with respect to Iranian and North Korean nuclear programmes, and “we must stop using the language of force and return to the path of civilized diplomatic and political settlement”.
China’s minister of foreign affairs Mr Wang Yi said China always embraced trade not foreign aggression and expansionism. It adhered to patriotic duty to defend its home land, rather than the colonialist doctrine to seize new territories.
He said China was now the second largest economy in the world, but China would never seek hegemony in the world. Yi said China was moving to harvest four dividends: 1) industrialization with new IT applications, new types of urbanization, and agricultural modernization; 2) reforms and innovation; 3) structural adjustment; and 4) opening up farther.
Civil society convened on September 22 and proposed wide ranging and radical changes of the UN and of the national and global economic, social and political systems. International policies should not be through G8 and G20, and the power to veto collective decisions should be abolished, they said.
The IMF and the World Bank should be subjected to reforms and close oversight. The proposed stringent regulation of trade and investment, reform of financial and development architecture, promote redistribution through progressive taxation and subsidies, and scale up social and solidarity enterprises and groups.
The focus on people with disabilities featured prominently in the post-2015 development agenda. So did migration. It was argued that well managed migration could bring about poverty reduction and development. It was estimated that 230million migrants around the world supported one billion people in developing countries.
Key points about migration were protection of migrants’ human rights, lowering the costs of migration, addressing the plight of stranded migrants, integrating migration into development programmes, and strengthening evidence on migration.
As the assembly wound down, the host country, USA was facing a crisis of a “partial government shutdown” due to political differences over a universal health insurance scheme labeled “Obamacare”.
The writer is Chairman of Foreign Affairs Committee of Parliament and MP for Vurra County.