August 2022
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A. Chowdhury: A New Focus for the UN

The agenda of the United Nations has expanded over the years. It covers almost all dimensions of human activity. Think of countries such as my own, Bangladesh. We became independent in 1971, and as that country has been building itself, from less than scratch, every aspect of our lives has been touched by the United Nations. Be it health, education, infrastructure, governance, every dimension of Bangladesh’s society has been embellished by the support from the United Nations.

This is the story of country after country in the developing world, particularly those that are the poorest and the weakest. The value of the United Nations becomes most clear when we know that it has made a direct impact on the lives of those individuals in this world whose needs are the greatest.

When we talk about vision and leadership, we might first look into the past to get direction for the future. During the past ten years under the leadership of former Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the United Nations made great progress. There are five areas that stand out as his legacy: Restructuring the Secretariat so that it can better serve the cause of the world for which the organization was set up; articulating and championing of the Millennium Development goals; bringing together development, security, and human rights as the tripod on which the work of the United Nations rests; restructuring that gave greater efficiency to UN peacekeeping operations; allowing a greater role to the private sector through the Global Compact, which brings together private-sector organizations to support the larger objectives and goals of the United Nations.

But the problems are different, the focus is different, and challenges are much more complex and difficult as the new leadership in the United Nations takes over

In these circumstances I believe that it is very important for us to focus on the original vision articulated in UN Charter. Even though the Charter was launched in 1945 in the name of “we the peoples of the world,” every word of that charter is still valid and still relevant and still important for the organization. We need new leadership. I would like to identify four areas where special attention is well deserved.

The role of civil society

The United Nations cannot perform effectively if it remains solely as an organization of the member states. It has to embrace the larger international community, including civil society organizations such as the UPF. There are hundreds of them working everywhere, and I believe that to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, peace, and security, the UN needs civil society. These organizations are integral to the UN’s work.

It is unfortunate that at many of the meetings that determine the future of humanity, civil society organizations are not allowed to attend. It is necessary to involve young people more effectively and involve women more engagingly in the work of the United Nations. These young people and women, with their energy and talents, will enhance our work in the United Nations. The United Nations gives a token recognition of the role of the young people, but it needs to engage them much more fully.

Participant democracy

This is absolutely essential for economic, social, and national development for every country. By participant democracy I mean democracy not only at the parliament level but also even at the grassroots level, including local councils and the smallest administrative bodies. The work of development is done through village councils, and their participation is important to ensure efficient delivery of development assistance.

Good governance is also in the best interest of everyone. By good governance, I mean accountability, transparency, and the ability to perform efficiently. Closely connected to with participant democracy is the need to ensure that all human rights are enjoyed by all.

Poverty and development

The United Nations is composed of 192 countries. Fifty of them are considered to represent the weakest and poorest segment of humanity, the least developed countries. Out of those fifty, thirty-four are in Africa. These countries should be at the top of the agenda of the United Nations. I have been an advocate for these countries for many years in my role as an ambassador of Bangladesh, which is one of the fifty, and also as the UN High Representative for these countries. I believe that the United Nations should a give bigger voice to these countries. These countries are so weak and so poor that they have no means of determining the United Nations’ agenda and supporting themselves

Promoting a culture of peace

The UN tries to work as a fire brigade. Wherever there is a “fire,” we send a fire brigade, a peacekeeping operation, and try to put it out. But more important than putting out fires is to cultivate a culture of peace in the mind of each person.

We should develop the ability to understand the rich diversity of the world. Diversity is not something negative. Diversity is positive energy in this world. Because we should inculcate this culture of peace among the young people, we need to engage the young people. We the adults have somehow failed the world, but we will be failing it even more if we leave the young people out of the multilateral and universal work of the United Nations. We need to tell them that the culture of peace starts with individuals, and we need to transform ourselves.

The United Nations also needs to engage the family. Peace starts with caring parents who tell their children about the world and teach the values of tolerance and understanding. It is very important that we tell our children about the values of all human life. If we can give that message and example, it will stay with them for the rest of their life.

I think a universal value system is absolutely essential to the broader concept of a culture of peace. I believe that should be the main stage and the anchor of the work of the United Nations for humanity. In this way we can at least hope that in the next decade we can succeed in making this a secure, peaceful, and better world.

H.E. Anwarul Chowdhury is a former United Nations Under-Secretary-General for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States