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UN reforms receive mixed response

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The outcome document from the UN summit, formally adopted at the end of three days of talks, is a diverse piece of work - so it is perhaps not surprising that it has met with a mixed response.

The most biting criticism probably came in the closing speech by Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez, who described the document as being “conceived in darkness and brought forth from the shadows”.

He said his country’s concerns were ignored in the intensive three-week negotiations held immediately before the summit to thrash out a workable compromise.

But despite backing for his view from Cuba and Belarus, there was general applause when General Assembly President Jan Eliasson brought down his gavel to signify adoption of the document, which, he said, “re-affirms our commitment to achieving the Millennium Goals by the year 2015”.

Eyes off the goals?

Reviewing the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) on poverty alleviation, health, education and the environment in the poorest corners of the world had been the original point of this summit.

But it was always unlikely that powerful countries would allow such a gathering to be used solely for issues of poverty and development.

A report commissioned in December 2004 by the US Congress entitled US Interests and UN Reform concluded that the international body was in need of change, and that it needed to take a close look at terrorism.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan evidently agreed, setting out those two issues as priorities in his report, In Larger Freedom, which formed the basis for the outcome document here.

The document’s 35 pages also take in human rights, democracy, peace-building, disaster response and sustainable development.

In characteristically robust style, the Irish musician and anti-poverty campaigner Bob Geldof described the situation as “bloody outrageous”.

“The whole point of this summit was supposed to be to review progress - or lack of it - on the Millennium Development Goals,” he told the BBC News website, “and for it then to focus on reform - it’s a scandal.”

Reducing poverty

On development, Mr Annan asked that:

* Each developing country with extreme poverty should by 2006 adopt and begin to implement a national development strategy bold enough to meet the MDG targets for 2015. Summit verdict: approved in full.

* Each developed country that has not already done so should establish a timetable to achieve the 0.7% target of gross national income for official development assistance no later than 2015. Summit verdict: pledges by some developed countries (notably in the EU) to achieve the 0.7% target are “welcomed”; no pressure on others to meet target.

* The Doha round of trade negotiations should fulfil its development promise and be completed no later than 2006. As a first step, member states should provide duty-free and quota-free market access for all exports from the least developed countries. Summit verdict: “work towards” implementing Doha and duty-free and quota-free access.

Hama Amadou, who as prime minister of Niger runs one of the world’s poorest nations, was dismissive. “A few years ago, developed countries made some promises; but since then, very few concrete actions were implemented,” he told the BBC.

“We have heard many nice speeches and nice resolutions, but we remain deeply sceptical. Now is the time for action, not nice speeches.”

Geldof, too, was unhappy. “On trade, the document is very disappointing,” he said. “It’s clawed back what we did at (the G8 summit in) Gleneagles.”

However, US President George Bush won general approval for his statement that “the United States is ready to eliminate all tariffs, subsidies and other barriers to the free flow of goods and services as long as other nations do the same” - an apparent reference to the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy.

Terrorism issue

On terrorism, Mr Annan’s view was that states should commit to a comprehensive anti-terrorism strategy.

The summit agreed to “condemn terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, committed by whomever, wherever and for whatever purposes”.

At the instigation of UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, the UN Security Council also passed a resolution here condemning terrorism “in all its forms”.

“The resolution will have no impact at all,” said Kumi Naidoo, a former activist with the African National Congress (ANC) who now chairs the civil society organisation Civicus.

“There is no definition of terrorism; and there is still the reality that one person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter.”

Of all groups active in recent times, the ANC perhaps represents best the traditional dichotomous view of armed struggle.

Once regarded by western governments as a terrorist group, it now forms the legitimate, elected government of South Africa, with Nelson Mandela one of the world’s genuinely iconic figures.

“If people have no stake in society - well, as Nelson Mandela said in 1960, ‘all this government understands is violence’,” said Mr Naidoo.


On nuclear proliferation, Mr Annan urged nuclear-weapons states to further reduce their arsenals of non-strategic nuclear weapons. The summit’s verdict: no mention of the issue.

Mr Annan himself was stinging in his condemnation.

“Twice this year - at the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference and now at this summit - we have allowed posturing to get in the way of results,” he said in his opening address.

Peace building

On peace-building, Mr Annan requested that member states should create an inter-governmental peace-building commission. The summit’s verdict: adopted.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi was one of several prime ministers to applaud the decision, commenting that the new body “must show initiative in ensuring a smooth transition from ceasefire to nation-building, and to reconciliation, justice and reconstruction”.

On crimes against humanity, the secretary general asked that the international community should embrace the “responsibility to protect” principle as a basis for collective action against genocide, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

The summit’s verdict was that the international community has the responsibility to help protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

“This commitment is as clear as it is historic,” said Nicola Reindorp, head of Oxfam in New York. “Today, we congratulate world leaders on agreeing their responsibility to protect civilians.

“After each genocide in the past, world leaders have said ‘never again’; now, at last, the world has agreed that ‘never again’ should mean ‘never again’, and this could help make tragedies like the Rwandan genocide a thing of the past.”

On human rights, Mr Annan recommended that the UN Commission on Human Rights should be replaced by a smaller standing Human Rights Council whose members would be elected directly by the General Assembly.

The summit’s verdict was that the council will be created, but there was no decision on size or composition.

The UN’s ‘top table’

On reform of the UN Security Council, Mr Annan’s view was that the body should be broadly representative of the realities of power in today’s world - two proposals for reform exist and member states should agree to take a decision on this important issue before the summit in September 2005.

The summit’s verdict: “We support early reform of the Security Council in order to make it more broadly representative. We commit ourselves to continue our efforts to achieve a decision to this end.”

Regional rivalries were at least partially responsible for reluctance to extend permanent seats on the council to Brazil, Germany, India and Japan, the so-called “group of four”.

India’s Foreign Minister Natwar Singh said the proposal had support from almost 100 other nations, and would be re-introduced to the UN at some later stage.

On some of the issues left unresolved here, there are obvious next steps. Trade liberalisation, for example, will be discussed at the next World Trade Organization Doha round meeting which takes place in Hong Kong in December.

Others will be brought back to the UN. As for the Millennium Development Goals themselves - the original purpose of all this - progress is patchy, with sub-Saharan Africa in particular lagging behind, and it is not at all clear that these three days of discussions have produced anything concrete to change that.

Richard Black, BBC Website News correspondent, New York

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