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UN is a mirror of our world: Tharoor

By Suman Guha Mozumder
September 23, 2006 00:52 IST
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Shashi Tharoor, United Nations under-secretary general on Friday said despite its failures at times, an effective world body is an indispensable global institution at this time of globalisation.

Speaking on 'The Future of the United Nations' at the Asia Society in New York on Friday, Tharoor, who is running for the post of Secretary General, made a historical assessment of the world body, its failures and achievements, especially in terms of preventing war and regional conflicts and what needs to be done to make the organisation more efficient and effective.

"The United Nations has never been and will never be a perfect body. It has acted unwisely at times and has failed to act at another times," he said.

"Sitting in this room all of us can find examples of the United Nations' failures and setbacks. But the United Nations at its best and worst is a mirror of our world. It reflects our divisions and disagreements as well as our hopes and convictions," Tharoor said.

Tharoor, who joined the world body 28 years ago, said the UN remains at the heart of the challenges of world disorder and it must respond effectively to the challenges.

Over the years, he said, more than 170 UN-assisted peace settlements have ended regional conflicts and over 300 international treaties have been negotiated creating international framework that reduces prospects of conflicts among sovereign states.

"The UN remains second to none in its unquestioned experience, leadership and authority in coordinating humanitarian action. When the UN succeeds, the whole world wins and these are the achievements we can build on," he said.

Tharoor acknowledged that in recent years the world body has been criticised for being ineffective and many dubbed it as irrelevant. "The division over the Iraq war dramatically affected the UN's standing. The world body went down in the United States because it did not support the US administration on the war and it also went down in many countries because the United Nations was unable to prevent the war," Tharoor said.

"So, some powerful voices began to speak about UN's irrelevance. This is ironic because as I said earlier the UN reflects the reality of the world and our willingness to cooperate with each other."

He said when the joined the organisation in 1978, it would have inconceivable that the United Nations would one day run elections in sovereign states, that it would conduct inspections for weapons of mass destructions and impose comprehensive sanction on a medium-sized country's entire import-export trade or even send human rights monitors to see how a monarch was treating his own subjects.

'If I had suggested any of these to my seniors at the world body, they would have said, 'young man, you simply do not understand what the United Nations is all about,'" Tharoor said.

"Yet, the United Nations has done everyone of these things in the past three decades and more. The world body has evolved in response to changing times and remains a highly adaptable institution," Tharoor said.

Tharoor, who is among the frontrunners for the secretary General's election, acknowledged the need for reform of the world body, but cautioned the audience that the need does not arise because of the failures of the world body.

"We need reform, not because the institution has failed, but because it has succeeded enough to be worth investing in future," he said.

Tharoor gave a laundry list of the areas where he would like to work to improve the efficacy and efficiency of the UN, including improved peacekeeping operations and fulfilling the Millennium Development Goals.

"I would also ensure that the staff of highest competence and integrity from both sexes and from every geographic region are appointed to responsible position and then to remove cronyism and nepotism, of which we have been sometimes, not unfairly, been accused of," he said.

Quoting from Mahatma Gandhi that 'you must be the change you wish to see in the world,' Tharoor said although Gandhi referred to individuals, it applies to organisations like the UN as well.

"If the UN wishes to change the world, we better change too,' he said.

"My United Nations of the future must be firmly anchored in its own experience even as it sails onward," Tharoor said, "The UN of the future must never forget that it is both a result and a source of hopes for a better world, hopes that human beings share all over the world."

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Suman Guha Mozumder

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