by Saeed Shabazz
UNITED NATIONS—United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan Sept.
23 proposed a broad set of reforms to be implemented within the world
body, including simplification of administrative procedures and a
reduction of expenditures.
He told reporters at a morning briefing that his ultimate objective
was improving efficiency.
"What I am putting before you today is a package of pragmatic
improvements that amount to a very different way of doing business," Mr.
Annan told reporters, unveiling his second reform report in five years.
The secretary general has authored a 55-page report entitled
"Strengthening the United Nations an Agenda for Further Change."
Observers say this is the most radical shake-up of the UN since 1997,
when Mr. Annan offered his first report on reform. The new report calls
for a wholesale re-evaluation of the work the United Nations does. The
report also said waste must be reduced, overlap and duplication stopped,
resources pooled and an end put to an unwieldy number of meetings and
During 2000/2001, the United Nations held 15,484 meetings and issued
5,979 reports. While this trend is an inevitable result of an
increasingly complex global agenda, it can and should be reversed, Mr.
"We must take a critical look at all activities," said Mr. Annan, who
told reporters that he took the action on his own.
Responding to a Final Call question about some activists’
accusations that the new UN program of only making reports available
electronically would deny people in developing nations access to
information, Mr. Annan replied: "In those cases where they would want to
have hard copy, they have access to it. We are not depriving them."
Activists and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have also charged
that by allowing UN staff to choose what conferences would be held,
developing nations’ concerns would disappear from the UN radar screen.
"We are not saying that we should not meet. This is our business. We
bring people together, we dialogue, and we gain from the exchanges. But
I believe we can do it better," Mr. Annan responded to that concern.
Mr. Annan’s reform package comes amid an ongoing financial crisis at
the UN, where unpaid dues have reached $2.11 billion. According to a UN
spokesman, the United States owes $1.2 billion. The UN and its agencies
employ 52,100 people worldwide, including 4,500 at the New York
headquarters. The organization has an annual budget of $13 billion to
carry out programs, including peacekeeping operations.
"We must focus our energies on the major challenges of our era and to
the things that really matter to the world’s people," Mr. Annan said.
Two specific areas in need of immediate revamping are the UN Human
Rights Commission, which serves as the international community’s human
rights monitoring and standard-setting body, and the Security Council,
Concerning the Human Rights Commission, Mr. Annan wants to expand UN
capacity to help countries build strong human rights institutions.
Human Rights Watch circulated a statement Sept. 23 that did not
mention Mr. Annan’s reform package but suggested "advance proposals"
were being circulated that seemed designed to weaken the role of the UN
Human Rights Commission and limit participation of activists in the
process. The group said budget cuts were already having an adverse
impact on the commission’s effectiveness.
"The non-governmental community will have to play an active role in
holding governments accountable," said Peter Takirambudde, director of
the Africa Division of Human Rights Watch. The rights group said it has
begun an appeal to UN member states to exempt the Human Rights
Commission from current budgetary constraints.
Mr. Annan said the revamp was not intended to eliminate staff, cut
the budget or save money. The blueprint for UN reform aims to streamline
the organization to make programs effective, he said.
No amount of restructuring will change things in the United Nations
until people are ready to deal with the systemic culture of its
"good-old-boy" network, said Adrian Karatnycky, president of Freedom
House. The organization monitors political rights and civil liberties
worldwide and has offices in New York, Washington and Poland.
"This is a ‘headquarters culture’ at the UN, where delegates
routinely trade favors to ensure support for their own candidacies to
key posts. The UN system is a vast patronage pool that represents
opportunities for well-paying jobs," Mr. Karatnycky said.
Concerning Security Council reform, Mr. Annan said he was worried
over the tardy progress of the General Assembly. It has been discussing
expansion of Security Council membership to make it more representative
for the last decade, he noted. He warned that the delay is affecting the
world body’s credibility.
"No reform of the United Nations will be complete without the reform
of the Security Council," Mr. Annan said.
A proposed abolition of veto power held by the council’s five
permanent members has been high on the agenda of a UN working group
dealing with reform of the Security Council. But the group has remained
deadlocked for the past five years.
The council’s five permanent members are the U.S., the United
Kingdom, France, Russia and China. The General Assembly elects 10 other
members from various regional groups for two-year terms. But the
permanent members have veto power and hence are the most powerful.
Delegates say India is a strong candidate for permanent membership.
But African representatives say Africa must also have a permanent seat
on the council.
The prime minister of Lesotho, Pakalitha B. Mosisili, told the
General Assembly Sept. 15 that he could not conclude his remarks without
referring to the Security Council. "The process of democratization is
indeed very difficult, and yet inevitable," he said. "My delegation
wishes to reiterate its concerns that this organ of the United Nations,
which is charged with the maintenance of international peace and
security, has itself not yet moved to be more inclusive and more