The Millennium Declaration locks in commitments by UN members

Economic and political stability as the key foci of the UN Summit were the pivotal events on the international scene recently. International conferences especially by the UN were at the forefront in the recent past, inspired no doubt by the epoch-making Millennium Summit held in September.

By resolution 53/202 of 17 December 1998, the UN General Assembly decided to designate its 55th session as ‘The Millennium Assembly of the United Nations.’ The members of the General Assembly would convene as an integral part of the Millennium Assembly and the meeting would be known as the Millennium Summit of the United Nations.

The Millennium Summit was held in September 2000 at the UN headquarters in New York, and 149 heads of state as well as high-ranking officials from more than 40 countries attended the meeting.

The gathering unanimously adopted the Millennium Declaration, which contains a statement of values, principles and objectives for the 21st century. It also reiterates the collective responsibility of the world’s governments to uphold human dignity, equality and equity for all its citizens – especially children and the most vulnerable of its people.

And the Millennium Summit saw world leaders commit their countries through global partnership to reduce extreme poverty by 2015. A series of time bound targets known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) provide the milestones that must be reached by member states.

During his address, Secretary-General Kofi Annan described the summit as a defining moment for the world’s leaders and the UN, and urged leaders to use it as a springboard to enable billions of people escape poverty. And in the Millennium Declaration, member states pledged to spare no efforts to free humankind from the scourge of war and extreme poverty.

From a practical and political standpoint however, the summit failed to live up to expectations that it would serve as an opportunity for bilateral diplomacy in resolving current problems.

These include the failure of the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships to make any progress in settling their differences over Jerusalem during their talks with President Bill Clinton, the continuing UN economic embargo on Iraq and a refusal by the latter to admit IAEA inspectors.

The breakdown in relations between Iran and the US, ongoing civil war in the DRC and obstruction to effective UN peacekeeping efforts, prevailing tensions between China and Taiwan, as well as India and Pakistan, are typical of the insurmountable political challenges facing the UN Security Council.

In attempting to construct a balance sheet of the summit, Annan said he detected a remarkable convergence of views on the challenges facing the planet. Member states agreed in the Millennium Declaration that no efforts must be spared to counter the threat to the planet by human activities, and resolved to adopt a new ethic of conservation and stewardship.

However, there was an anticlimax when the UN could not ensure that members would honour their budgetary obligations to the United Nations and showed no sign of a change of heart.

Nevertheless, this hiccup should not dampen enthusiasm over the Millennium Summit, which is outstanding as the first effort of its kind to mobilise world leaders to support the UN’s efforts. It is hoped that its impact on the world will be a positive one.

The summit was followed by a number of meetings of key UN bodies, which have more or less echoed and expanded on its themes, as set out mainly in the Millennium Declaration. One such meeting was that by the IMF, which discussed the crucial question of indebtedness of poor countries and need for urgent relief.

Presumably because of worldwide agitation on this subject, the recently appointed IMF Managing Director Horst Köhler has pledged to take immediate action to increase the number of beneficiaries from the present 10 to 20. However, it must be noted that the original IMF commitment in 1999 was to assist 41 nations under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative.

The IAEA, at its recent meeting in Vienna, sounded a warning about the state of its funds in view of cutbacks by a number of donor countries. This will affect its ability to conduct various humanitarian projects such as cancer treatment equipment to certain developing countries and farm related projects via its technical arm.

It seems that the donor countries are more insistent that the IAEA strictly carries out only nuclear inspections at the expense of their development programmes.

BY  The late Deshamanya Dr. Vernon L. B. Mendis