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from issue no. 09 - 2005

Notes from the United Nations

Too many deletions

by Giovanni Cubeddu

The final document of the Summit of the Heads of State and Government that celebrated the sixtieth birthday of the United Nations prompts some disappointment. We are not referring to the missing reform of the Security Council, postponed sine die after the danger that everything would be resolved by an extension of the status of permanent member to a few more countries, but to the discovery that of the other promises already agreed and signed little, or nothing, remains.
Let me give a few examples, starting with the chapter on the development of poor countries. The paragraph that in the preceding version of the document, affirmed the need of immediately increasing aid to reach the famous 0.7% of GNP, has disappeared completely. Yielding to a colorless and generic commitment in which «the international efforts of some countries is noted with interest».
In the matter of international trade, the precise concessions that had been conceived to immediately facilitate exportation from poor countries or the protection of their weak home markets were conceptually demoted again and put on a par with the «significant liberalization of trade» as an instrument of development, and the mention of that decision of the WTO, of August 2004, all in favor of the emerging markets, was also deleted.
Those countries, then, in which AIDS, malaria or tuberculosis are pandemic will have no relief, with the discovery that there is no more reference to the commitment of the UN to assure long term public financing for scientific research, new medicines and treatments (therefore there will be no certainty of interventions in those medical sectors where there is not a margin of profit for private finance involved in the projects). The Holy See was also not pleased with this deletion, since it was the promoter of the original proposal.
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But the editorial surprises began already on the first page of the document, in the very title “Values and principles”, from which concepts such as “multilateralism” had disappeared (to finish much later in the text, as a corollary to the debate on the use of force in international relations) and the non-recourse to threat or the use of force. In particular, from the paragraph on the use of force, the reaffirmation that this «should be considered an instrument to be used as a last resource» was suppressed, as also the recognition of the «need to continue discussion of the principles relative to the use of force» has disappeared.
Thus the Security Council will have more power to be consulted and act in the face of the bare threat of the use of force.
The Peacebuilding Commission, which it was agreed to institute as a body that formulates integrated strategies of aid and reconstruction for areas hit by conflicts, should however serve to repair the damages of the military interventions. Today this Commission (which fills a conceptual and institutional vacuum in the UN) is one of the few innovations. It well accompanies the ever greater emphasis attributed to the notion of the «responsibility to protect», understood as a duty of States towards populations who are victims of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. And if governments don’t act, the Security Council will step in. Since it was proposed two years ago by Canada, amid the protests of those who saw in it a danger to State sovereignty, the Peacebuilding Commission has come a long way, promoted particularly by the United States and various African governments. Cardinal Sodano dedicated a substantial part of his speech to the UN to it on 16 September (re-echoing the famous «humanitarian interference» requested by Pope Wojtyla already in 1992-1993, even if the Secretary of State never quoted it directly).

Two other points are certainly receiving the attention of the Vatican.
The first is the imminent creation of a Council of Human Rights. This will allow the resumption in the UN almost ex novo of the related and infinite debate, since reference to human rights can be made both in the case of conflicts as well as moral questions and those concerning reproduction. But this territory, however, dealing with politics or ethics, is a minefield; and the recent contribution of the Holy See to the General Assembly of the UN, on 23 September, is right on the mark, where it emphasizes that only a «legitimate pluralism» in the practical protection of human rights can defeat the sterile debate between the proposers of relativism as opposed to those of cultural (and political…) imperialism. But the compromise is still to be defined, as is also the identity of this Council.
The second point is inter-religious dialogue, increasingly considered in the UN as a possible instrument of peaceful settlement of controversies. But the subject, the Vatican diplomats say, is not statutory material of the UN, material with which it must deal, and will certainly be left to the different faiths. It is to be hoped, however, that such an opening to religions does not conceal the danger, not new, of arriving at a universal and blurred ethic “of support”, combined with the desire of some people to make it a permit for sects of any kind to gain access to the halls of the UN, through friends more or less introduced to the UN.
Finally, we have not forgotten the sad disappearance from the final text of the chapter on Disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation.
We’ll talk about it again.

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