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Annan begins campaign for UN reforms
Updated: 2005-03-22 23:46

Secretary-General Kofi Annan  unveiled a plan Monday to overhaul the United Nations  and began the task of selling his vision to all 191 U.N. member states, urging them to make the proposals a reality when they meet again in just six months.

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan unveiled his blueprint for sweeping changes to the United Nations and the international system of security in place since World War II. [AFP]
United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan unveiled his blueprint for sweeping changes to the United Nations and the international system of security in place since World War II. [AFP]
He acknowledged that getting agreement so quickly won't be easy for the United Nations, where members historically have been loathe to sacrifice national interests, and action on issues large and small often bogs down in politicking.

But Annan struck a pragmatic and urgent tone for his proposals, which would see the most significant makeover of the world body since it was founded after World War II by putting more emphasis on development, security and human rights issues.

"This hall has heard enough high-sounding declarations to last us for some decades to come," Annan told the General Assembly in an address launching the reform package. "What is needed now is not more declarations or promises."

Annan's plan tackles some of the United Nations' thorniest problems and backs some conclusions of two UN-commissioned panels released last year.

It would enlarge the Security Council to include more voices from the developing world and all regions. And it would seek to bring new relevancy to the General Assembly, which has sometimes been hijacked by nations acting in concert to push their own agendas — such as a raft of anti-Israeli resolutions.

The proposals would also try to bring more efficiency and accountability to an organization burdened by allegations of mismanagement in the scandal-ridden UN oil-for-food program in Iraq and claims of sexual misconduct by peacekeepers in Congo.

Annan said the next task would be persuading all 191 member states to accept his proposals. He stressed they cannot be adopted piecemeal — or "a la carte," as he called it.

"It's going to take lots of work, lots of work here in this building with the permanent representatives, lots of work with capitals with the heads of state and government, lots of work by certain envoys that I hope to send out," he said. "I'll be on the phone also quite a lot."

Several diplomats and government officials said the report was a good start but they wanted to study it more closely.

The United States, however, rejected a recommendation that the Security Council adopt a resolution specifying the criteria for decisions on whether to use force.

"In our view, the (U.N.) charter deals with the issue sufficiently," U.S. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said.

And Russia's U.N. Ambassador Andrey Denisov was skeptical about Annan's plan to do away with the largely discredited UN Human Rights Commission and replace it with a Human Rights Council. He said he was worried it could become another UN "discussion club."

The issue that has gotten the most attention so far is that of Security Council reform. Annan backed two options proposed in December — one that would add six new permanent members and another that would create a new tier of eight semi-permanent members: two each from Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas.

Annan said giving any new members veto power would be politically impossible because the five current permanent council members — the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain — would be unwilling to give up their veto power or allow any new veto-wielding members.

"I believe the general sense is that additional vetos will not be acceptable to the membership," he said.

Likely candidates for the council's permanent members include Japan, Germany, Brazil, India, Egypt, and Nigeria or South Africa.

Later Monday, a joint statement from Brazil, Germany, India and Japan backed the first option for six new permanent members and said they expected General Assembly approval by summer.

A proposal that will also face opposition is a call for a comprehensive convention against terrorism by September 2006 which would include a definition of terrorism that has already been questioned by Algeria and other Arab nations. That document has been held back for years by nations that argue that one nation's terrorists are another's freedom fighters

"It's not going to go through as an entire package. That may not be realistic," said David Shorr of the Stanley Foundation, which has studied U.N. reform proposals. "But it is realistic to ask leaders and governments to join in this spirit, in this idea of truly collective security, of needing to do a much better job working together."

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