The UN Must Be Closer to the People
Valdai Discussion Club Conference Hall (Bolshaya Tatarskaya 42, Moscow, Russia)
List of speakers

In 2020, the UN will celebrate its 75th anniversary and there are plans to carry out a reform of the organisation, which are designed to restore its former effectiveness and make it worthy of the “parliament of humanity” title. On the eve of the opening of the regular UN General Assembly session on September 17 this year, Ecuadorian statesperson Maria Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, President of the United Nations General Assembly for the 73rd Session, visited the Valdai Discussion Club and presented her vision for the future of the UN and its unchanging mission in the changing modern world.

Talks on UN reform began in the late 1990s and became particularly relevant in recent years, when UN Secretary-General António Guterres said that in its current form, the organisation cannot cope with its responsibilities.

As Maria Fernanda Espinosa Garcés noted during the Valdai Club meeting, there is a worldwide sense of disappointment with the UN and there is a crisis of faith in the organisation: it resembles a proverbial white elephant - a huge, unwieldy machine with incomprehensible tasks and an opaque operating mechanism. That is why today it is so important to recall the main mission of the UN - to be the “parliament of all mankind”, which monitors compliance with international law, including the sphere of fundamental human rights and environmental conservation.

What are the challenges facing the whole world today and what should the UN do in order to meet them? The key challenge of our time is, according to Maria Garcés, not separate problems like migration, local conflicts or climate change, but the inability of people to overcome them together due to the rise of nationalism and the gap between citizens and institutions. Therefore, today multilateralism should be brought to the forefront - a spirit of cooperation and teamwork for the common good. “We live in an interconnected world, and now there is not a single problem that does not require multilateralism, be it migration, terrorism or poverty,” said Maria Garcés. "When I watched the sad news about the fires in Russia, I understood: this is something that should be the concern of the whole world. There should be cooperation, more dialogue, more collective action. ”

According to Maria Garcés, the UN has three pillars that need to be linked together: these include peace, development and security, and you cannot work with them separately. New multilateralism should be based on international law and the principle of state sovereignty. It offers states a way to resolve problems, and encourages them to share costs and risks. “A good example here is the Paris Climate Agreement, and I take this opportunity to thank Russia for ratifying this agreement,” Maria Garcés said.

New UN Secretary General Speaks at Valdai Club on Migration, Conflict and World Order
António Guterres
António Guterres, former Prime Minister of Portugal and UN High Commissioner for Refugees, was recently confirmed as the next UN Secretary-General. In June Guterres talked to the Valdai Club and gave his vision of the solution to the worldwide migrant crisis, and answered questions regarding modern migration issues, conflicts and their resolution.
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It is precisely the concern of certain countries about their own interests that comes at the expense of the common cause and often becomes an obstacle to UN activity. Regarding the internal workings of the organisation, this concerns, for example, the right of veto or dialogue among the member countries as a whole.

“There is a lack of communication,” noted Maria Garcés. - Reform of the office of UN Security Council is one of the most divisive issues, which separates countries. This year [at the upcoming session of the UN General Assembly in September], we will adopt a resolution that will help reduce tensions and strengthen cooperation on the issue of reform of the UN Security Council."

The UN was created primarily to strengthen international peace and security. However, in recent decades, it has often been accused of inaction or said that it has lost its effectiveness in resolving certain conflicts, especially in developing countries.. “It is necessary to transform the structure of the organisation to make it more efficient. We are reviewing our peacekeeping activities to prevent conflicts, and we are revitalising the UN General Assembly. There is nothing to replace the UN, so we need to change it and improve it,” Maria Garcés said.

However, since the entire architecture of peacekeeping is based on agreements between the UN member countries, they must embody it in national programmes, rejecting isolationism.

Answering the question of one of the participants of the meeting, why instead of trying to resolve wars or conflicts that have already begun, doesn't the UN focus on eliminating the root causes of one or the another conflict, Maria Fernanda Espinosa Garcés explained that the UN operates on the basis of mandates, that depend on the wishes of member countries. “We understand that people live in difficult conditions and are working on preventive measures - for example, we provide development assistance, as is the case with the countries of the Lake Chad region,” she said, adding that one of the tasks facing the UN is to make the organisation more relevant, and make it closer to the people.