1 December 2004 A panel of eminent persons has recommended far-reaching changes to boost the ability of the United Nations to deal effectively with future threats caused by poverty and environmental degradation, terrorism, civil war, conflict between states, weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and organized crime.
The recommendations, contained in the report of the 16-member High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, were produced after a year of deliberations following its appointment in November 2003 by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who will formally receive the document tomorrow at UN Headquarters in New York. The Secretary-General will then transmit the report, along with a cover letter, to the General Assembly for review.
The report affirms the right of States to defend themselves, including pre-emptively when an attack is truly imminent, and says that, in cases involving terrorists and WMDs, the Security Council may have to act earlier, more pro-actively and more decisively than in the past.
The Panel also endorses the idea of a collective responsibility to protect civilians from genocide, ethnic cleansing and comparable atrocities, saying that the wider international community should intervene - acting preventively where possible - when countries are unwilling or unable to fulfil their responsibility to their citizens.
The Panel says, however, that if force is needed, it should be used as a last resort and authorized by the Security Council. Experts identify five criteria to guide the Council in its decisions over whether to authorize force: the seriousness of the threat, proper purpose, whether it is a last resort, whether proportional means are used, and whether military action is likely to have better or worse results than inaction.
It also urges the creation of a Peacebuilding Commission under the Security Council to identify countries at risk of violent conflicts, organize prevention efforts and sustain international peacebuilding efforts.
The report notes that major changes are needed in UN bodies to make them more effective, efficient and equitable, including universal membership for the Geneva-based Commission on Human Rights. Such a move would underscore the commitment of all members to the promotion of human rights, and might help focus attention back on the substantive issues rather than the politicking currently engulfing the Commission.
Another way to improve the United Nations, the Panel says, is to carry out a one-time review and replacement of personnel, including through early retirement, to ensure that the UN Secretariat is staffed with the right people to undertake the tasks at hand.
Also included in the report's 101 recommendations are proposals to strengthen development efforts, public health capacity and the current nuclear non-proliferation regime, which the Panel says is not as effective a constraint as it was previously because of the lack of compliance, threats to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), a changing security environment and the diffusion of technology.
The Panel's Chair, former Prime Minister Anand Panyarachun of Thailand, says the 95-page report "puts forward a new vision of collective security, one that addresses all of the major threats to international peace and security felt around the world."
He and Panel member Gro Harlem Brundtland of the Norway will hold a press conference tomorrow at the UN Headquarters for the report's official launch.