Freedom First: United Nations at 71 years
On October 13th, 2016 Antonio Guterres, was elected by the United Nations General Assembly as the ninth UN Secretary- General. He was earlier nominated by the Security Council, in an unprecedented unanimous vote. Guterres was a former Prime Minister of Portugal and U.N. refugee chief. On his election he told the 193 members that the United Nations has ‘the moral duty and the universal right to ensure peace’ — and he will be promoting a new ‘diplomacy for peace, advocating dialogue to settle disputes’. He pledged to put ‘humanity first’ and to make the pursuit of peace in a conflict-torn world his ‘over-arching priority’; “in a world which is more and more multi-ethnic, multicultural and multi-religious, diversity can bring us together not drive us apart.” Further stating, “We must make sure that we are able to break this alliance between all those terrorist groups, or violent extremists on one side, and the expressions of populism and xenophobia on the other side. These two reinforce each other, and we must be able to fight both of them with determination.” Important words and well-received, even has he prepares to take over from the current UNSG, Ban-Ki Moon on January 1st, 2017.
Not since its birth in 1948, seventy-one years ago and after the terrible World War II, has the global community been under such a severe crisis. Wars, conflicts, violence, across the world are centre–stage. The tragedy is that several of these are because of the direct or indirect interventions of some of the permanent members of the UN Security Council. The arms and ammunition industry, certain corporate and vested interests play a significant role in exacerbating these conflicts. Refugees and IDPs, have reached a staggering sixty-five million and more, a reality which several are unable to come to grips with. Climate Change is creating havoc on countries and people, causing hurricanes, cyclones, tsunamis, earthquakes, floods from Haiti to the Antarctica. Despite the ‘Universal Declaration of Human Rights’, ordinary citizens in many countries experience the violation of their fundamental rights through xenophobia, racism, intolerance, religious fundamentalism and gender discrimination. The challenges that confront the ONE WORLD body, which was born to safeguard the earth and her peoples, are many indeed.
On October 24th, United Nations Day will be celebrated throughout the world. This year’s UN Day theme is ‘One Humanity, Shared Responsibility’ which brings awareness to the worst refugee crisis since World War II. Besides, the day will also be used to highlight concrete actions people can take to help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals; in a message for the day, Ban-Ki Moon says, “humanity has entered the era of sustainability- with a global commitment to fulfill the great promise of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. In this the Organization’s 71st year, we have 17 goals to propel us towards a better future for all on a healthy planet.”
In his ‘Vision Statement’ prior to his election Guterres wrote having a value-based society is central, “peace, justice, human dignity, tolerance and solidarity are enshrined in the Charter and bind us together. These values are central to all cultures and religions in the world and are reflected in the Holy Books”. Visionary words which he would like to make a reality for all; whether he will be allowed to do so- is another question. On UN day, a concert is being organized in the UN to celebrate and reflect on the work of the UN through the universal language of music, featuring Korean Traditional Music Orchestra, Lang Lang, the world famous Harlem Gospel Choir, the Hungarian State Opera with performances by soprano Andrea Rost and other notable artists. The theme of this year’s concert is appropriate “Freedom First”.
The UN in the years to come will have to ensure that ‘Freedom First’ for all, based on justice, peace and respect for human dignity, goes beyond the joy and comfort of a concert!
* (Fr Cedric Prakash SJ is an Indian Jesuit priest and a human rights activist. He is currently based in Lebanon and engaged with the Jesuit Refugee Service(JRS) in the Middle East on advocacy and communications. He can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org )