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Divided Nations: Debates Over Regionalism at UN

by Archives September 16, 2008

Diplomats, students and aid workers gathered at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris for three days last week in celebration of the UN Declaration of Human Rights’ anniversary.
Almost 1,400 people representing 537 NGO’s spanning 74 countries made the trip to discuss how to best “reaffirm human rights for all.”
Not surprisingly, most of the attendees shared a similar desire to advance the causes of human rights and prosperity. Yet conference-goers were split on the UN’s proper role, on how and when the West should intervene in other countries, and on the best level at which to act for change.
For Mexican lawyer Francisco Plancarte, for instance, the moment is ripe for expanding the UN beyond its original mandate.
“We want to spread the knowledge for the nations to get together and address the issue of changing the organization of the United Nations. Transform them into something of the sort of a United Nations government,” he said. “The point is to have a supranational entity which is capable of putting some order into this world.”
For Plancarte, president of world-federalist group Planetafilia, the UN should be a dynamic organization, able to respond to new generations’ changing needs. According to him, the veto rights held by the five permanent members of the Security Council should not be considered a permanent entitlement.
“Article 109 permits the general assembly to call for a meeting, which with the majority of two thirds of the member states, plus nine of the 15 members of Security Council, allow for change of the declaration. This can also not be vetoed by the five permanent members.”
For many conference-goers, however, regionalism and localization, not central authority, are the keys to improving the global community.
According to Emeka Xris Obiezu of Toronto’s Order of St. Augustine, countries need to address local poverty issues before dealing with global ones. Obeizu works in downtown Toronto providing outreach and “out of the cold” shelter for the city’s homeless. For him, Western countries have ignored the failings in their own social networks, and care for their own citizens should take precedence over struggling with “the big problems of the world.”
Odile Moreau, president of Association Catholique Internationale de Service pour la Jeunesse Féminine (ACISJF), echoed Obeizu’s comments on localizing politics.
“I’m more in favour of working on a regional basis. In a region they all have the same way of working and you can certainly do more there than in a world organization.”
Despite her presence there, Moreau said she wasn’t expecting much from such an institutionalized conference. “[It has come to the point] where a lot of people from other associations didn’t even [attend], because it is a big meeting and people are too old and we don’t have new views. Your hear the same things over and over and nothing will really come out of this.”
According to Klaus Hüfner, a board member of the German UNESCO commission and former president of the German UNESCO, the problems of organization are caused by an overabundance of idealism and lack of expertise. “There are only very few who can see the entire picture, the problems as well as the solutions.”
Looking at the smourgesbourg of NGOs, Hüfner remarked, “it was very interesting to see how diverse the NGO cosmos is . . . They all have goals and ideas which they keep repeating, but they are very limited when it comes to their reactions.”
Disunity notwithstanding, he judged the conference a resounding success.
“I think people will go home with ideas in terms of what to do with their own situations and in relation to human rights, which is the best we can hope for,” said Charles Hitchcock, an organizer of the midday workshops.

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