France assumed the presidency of the UN Security Council for one month on December 1. On this occasion, I stated that I wanted France to implement a program focused on 4 priorities. Given the seriousness of the situation in the Central African Republic, which may implode, the international community should lend its immediate support to the African force (MISCA [AFISM-CAR]). We’re taking action to ensure that the Security Council adopts a resolution to that end in the next few days. Syria (...)
Guide to the United Nations
On the third Tuesday in September every year, the United Nations General Assembly opens for the largest diplomatic get-together on Earth.
However, the complex operations of what is known as the United Nations system are poorly understood, except for a few key moments and emblematic images such as the adoption of resolutions in the Chamber of the Security Council, the Blue Berets receiving the Noble Peace Prize in 1988, UNICEF greeting cards, and the convoys of white World Food Programme (WFP) lorries at times of conflict or humanitarian crisis. This handy guide is intended to present in simple terms the UN’s institutions, working structure and current reforms.
The United Nations Organisation celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2005 and embodies an international legitimacy with universal reach. The UN is an essential element in the foreign policy of France and the European Union. This principle is enshrined in France’s white papers on foreign and defence policy and in the European Union’s security strategy as updated during the French Presidency of the EU.
The United Nations has changed considerably over the years and is constantly adapting and reforming itself, despite the somewhat bureaucratic impression it may give. On the occasion of the UN’s 60th anniversary in 2005, the Heads of State and Government decided to launch reforms in three areas, with special emphasis on the interactions between them: peace and security, human rights and humanitarian issues, and development.
But the United Nations had already changed before that date. In the field of peace and security, its peacekeeping operations have helped save many lives and restored stability in countries round the world. The deployment of hundreds of thousands of blue-beret troops over a sixty-year period has been a creative and pragmatic response to situations of war and crisis, despite the fact that it was not explicitly provided for by the drafters of the United Nations Charter. These increasingly complex operations, deployed in situations closer to civil war than international conflict, cover all aspects of a crisis. They now extend to issues of human rights, gender, reform of security sectors, training for police and magistrates, and even to the protection of natural resources. The traditional distinction between Chapters VI and VII of the Charter concerning the conditions for the use of force has also changed over time. To meet these growing challenges, France and the United Kingdom launched a joint initiative in January 2009 to improve the professionalisation of the UN’s operations and enhance its military expertise. The various sanctions regimes are also being tightened up. The United Nations contributes to the development of new international rules and takes action against new transversal threats (terrorism, organised crime, drugs, piracy, environmental security, etc.). The Commission for the Consolidation of Peace, a new organ created by the General Assembly and the Security Council, works to ensure continuity in the actions of the international community during post-crisis phases. These are topics on which France has often taken the initiative.
The UN is also the source and guardian of human rights. It lays down standards in the form of major conventions which are binding on the States that ratify them. These international instruments can be invoked before domestic courts and may also provide defenders of human rights with a legal basis for action, be it to enhance the respect of those rights or to oppose the most flagrant breaches. The UN is an irreplaceable forum for discussion, particularly its Human Rights Council, although the debates are more controversial than before New topics of disagreement have appeared and some deem that respecting religions implies restricting freedom of expression.. The progress that has been made over the last twenty years may well be jeopardized by the relativism of those who contest the universality of human rights in the name of regional culture, specific traditions or religious belief. An innovative procedure of peer review (Universal Periodic Review) requires States to make commitments which defenders of human rights may use to change those States’ laws and practice.
Coordination of humanitarian action for the international community as a whole is provided by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), set up in 1991. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has extended its activities from refugees to internally displaced persons as internal conflicts now prevail , and started examining the new issue of “climate refugees and displaced persons”.
The fight against impunity has come to the fore with the development of criminal courts which ultimately led to the creation of the International Criminal Court. Further demands have emerged with the responsibility to protect, endorsed by the 2005 Summit, whose implementation now needs to be specified in detail.
The UN’s contribution in the third area, development, is undeniable. It has changed our thinking by introducing the concept of human development and defining the Millennium Development Goals. Actual practice is divided among agencies, funds and programmes that are financed and managed differently. Some fragmentation recently occurred, such as in the field of health, with the creation of new agencies and “vertical funds. In the field of the environment too, convention secretariats are increasing in number. UN structures are likely to be rationalised as governance issues are examined with a view to achieving better synergy between operational activities. . The Global Compact is designed to persuade companies to subscribe to the values advocated by the United Nations.
France is deeply involved in this ongoing reform process because of its special responsibilities as a permanent member of the Security Council. The Council is the linchpin of the system established in 1945. This is why it must remain representative of the state of the world. Its membership structure has not been modified since 1965. In order to adapt to the changes that have occurred in the world since then, France supports the reform proposed by the “G4” (i.e. the extension of permanent membership to Brazil, Germany, India and Japan, and better representation of Africa). Together with the United Kingdom, France therefore suggested moving beyond the current stalemate by adopting an interim solution..
Cooperation between the United Nations and the European Union, a new player on the world scene, has greatly increased in recent years. On crisis management and security, the European Union offers its expertise to the United Nations and acts to support United Nations forces (in DR Congo), to prepare their way (Chad/CAR) or, via its Member States, to provide the bulk of their troops (Lebanon). The European Union also gives vigorous support to the United Nations’ activities in the fields of human rights and development. The entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon causes the EU to re-examine the way it acts and expresses its views within the United Nations system.
At a time when the international system is undergoing rapid upheavals and reforms are underway in global governance, particularly in the economic and financial spheres (G14, G20, etc.), the United Nations remains more than ever the central player in providing a multilateral approach to these changes, enabling dialogue between all States, structuring their discussions and working towards a shared definition of the challenges they have to face.
Director for the United Nations, International Organisations, Human Rights and the Francophonie
- Guide to the United Nations
- Download the guide to the United Nations
- Current United Nations peacekeeping operations
- Main United Nations sites
- The United Nations in films