Trust Busters

9 Jul

The General Assembly held an informal discussion on July 8 focused on the problem of ‘inequality.’  The debate was based in part on a report issued by the Secretary General (A/67/394) in 2012.

GAPW strongly supports the decision of the GA president’s office to hold this discussion. The issue of inequality is one that (at personal and professional levels) has preoccupied us for some time, not only because of the deep commitments to leveling access among and within populations, but also based on our firm conviction that the UN cannot be an honest broker on equal access when its own structures remain greatly imbalanced with regard to operational power and access.

We have been heartened by the efforts of the States associated with the ACT group to highlight and remediate some of the (less controversial) power imbalances in the UN system, particularly those focused on the working methods of the Security Council. We are convinced that trust in the UN’s concern for the inequalities that define life for so many of the world’s peoples is enhanced when the UN itself demonstrates a commitment to more equality of power and authority among Member States.

How do we understand these inequalities?  Speakers, including the Secretary General, the GA President, H.E. Vuk Jeremic,  H.E. Mr. José Miguel Insulza of the Organization of American States, and H.E. Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett,  Foreign Minister of Guyana, underscored most of the important challenges facing the international community.  While Mr. Jeremic noted some of the normative aspects that can help shape a response to the “growing divide between haves and have not’s,” most of the speakers were more pragmatic, highlighting equal access to employment, education, participation in political and social affairs, justice for violence against women and other tangible symbols of inequality within and between States.

As noted by Minister Rodrigues-Birkett, “the new global human order represents a call for concerted multilateral action to reverse the persistent and considerable disparities between rich and poor, within as well as among countries, and to advance a people-centered development agenda.”   But as speakers also recognized, such an agenda must also include a commitment to good governance. The fact is that more and more citizens do not have sufficient trust in their government to turn over to them the keys to more equal access to power and resources. In too many parts of the world, government is seen as an enabler of inequality rather than a bulwark against a significant and in some cases accelerated tilting of educational, health and economic opportunity. The ‘season of discontent’ that several speakers referred to cannot be addressed without a commitment of governments to re-establish trusting relations with citizens increasingly anxious that their window for pursuing equal access, a window that has barely cracked open, is already closing.

Any remedial actions that emerge from a debate such as this, at least those actions initiated or leveraged by the UN, must also include a commitment to re-mediate the UN’s own disparities of power and access.   As good national governance is essential to the trust needed to create strong, sustainable partnerships with diverse citizens, good global governance is also needed is essential to the trust of states and the constituents they seek to represent.  Whether we wish to acknowledge it or not, and whether it is entirely justified or not, the UN has its own trust issues to resolve. The inequalities of this system, regardless of how they are explained (or explained away), set a less than comfortable tone for smaller States being urged to deal with their internal inequalities.

The concerns raised in the context of this debate, as well as some of the proposed solutions, are potential ‘game changers.’  It is important that the UN keeps up pressure on States to address inequality, especially in the context of the post-2015 development agenda.  At the same time, it is not unreasonable to expect that the UN could invest significant energy resolving its own inequalities as it seeks to inspire relevant State action within national borders.

Dr. Robert Zuber
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