Guest Columnist

UN remains relevant and necessary

United Nations Security Council members vote on a resolution about Yemen’s security at UN Headquarters in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., December 21, 2018. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
United Nations Security Council members vote on a resolution about Yemen’s security at UN Headquarters in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., December 21, 2018. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

The world will observe United Nations Day on October 24. As we near the anniversary of the U.N.’s creation, questions are raised about its relevance. Overwhelmingly, voters believe it is important that the US provide positive leadership in the U.N. Over 75 percent of voting Americans — across party lines — support payment of U.N. dues. The U.S. has a prominent status within the U.N., serving as a veto-wielding permanent member of the Security Council, hosting its headquarters in New York, and is the largest financial contributor.

The U.N. was established in October of 1945 with a charter that tasked the organization to maintain international peace and security, foster cooperation between countries to address humanitarian, economic, and social issues, safeguard human rights, and advance development of international law. The organization is successfully meeting these hefty challenges.

U.N. peacekeepers are deployed in dangerous areas of conflict: protecting civilians from violence, facilitating humanitarian assistance, encouraging and supporting democratic elections, and laying groundwork for peaceful solutions. Countries in crisis where the U.N. has peacekeepers include Yemen, Syria, South Sudan, Iraq, Myanmar, Afghanistan, and Venezuela.

Armed conflict, political instability, and climate change have led to severe humanitarian crises. Leading the global response to these crises are the World Food Program (WFP), the U.N. High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA). Over 25 million refugees, mostly women and children, are in need of assistance. We often think of refugees as victims of armed conflict, but growing numbers are fleeing their homeland because of conditions, caused by climate change, that cannot sustain life.

The U.N. continues to make considerable progress in the area of health. Disease knows no border and in a highly interconnected world public health epidemics in one country can spread quickly across the globe. The World Health Organization (WHO) is responsible for the monitoring and responding to outbreaks of infectious disease. Vaccination campaigns have been highly successful.

Since its inception, advancing and elevating human rights has been a key pillar in the U.N.’s work. The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) conducts fact-finding missions and provides support for independent investigations into human rights abuses. These activities help raise public awareness of human rights violations, magnify the voices of dissidents, and can provide pressure on repressive governments.

The U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s), adopted in 2015, set targets for the mission of the U.N. The goals, to reach by 2030, include peace and justice, women’s rights, children’s rights, education, health, economic development, gender equality, sustainable cities and communities, climate action, clean water, and combating poverty, among others.

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Climate change is the focus of the 2019 U.N. Day commemoration in the US. UN Secretary-General Antonio Gutérres has recently expressed concern that we are “losing the battle.” Increasing numbers of endangered plants and animals, severe weather, rising temperatures, and climate refugees are commonplace. The U.N. recently hosted a climate action summit in New York which unfortunately resulted in little commitment. Across the US climate action has intensified, often mobilized by youth. Locally, Sen. Rob Hogg has hosted climate action forums attended by Democratic presidential candidates. We must all work together to make something change.

The U.N. is not without imperfections. What large institution is? It benefits from periodic assessments and carefully considered and planned reforms, including those requested by the U.S. Calls for the U.S. to scale back U.N. involvement and financial support are concerning. The world is facing numerous challenges that transcend national borders, from climate change, poverty and violent conflicts — all which result in forced displacement of many of the world’s citizens. The U.N. provides a platform for countries to work out differences peacefully and respond to common threats and challenges collectively. When global resources are combined and the entire world community collaborates to meet the challenges, no one country’s taxpayers or soldiers need bear the whole responsibility for taking action.

The UNA-USA Linn County Chapter is one of 200 chapters across the U.S. committed to supporting the U.N. global engagement and believe that each of us plays a critical role in advancing its mission and achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

On October 24 the Linn County US-USA chapter is hosting a program on climate action. Featured will be a short video from Secretary-general Gutérres, a keynote from Michael McColpin from the national UNA-USA office, and representatives from local climate groups. The meeting is at 7 p.m. at First Lutheran Church located at 1000 Third Ave. SE in Cedar Rapids.

Ann Woodward is president of the Linn County Chapter of UNA-USA.

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