United Nations of the People?

By Marianne Craig

SEVERAL CANADIANS attended the Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) forum May 10-12 at the United Nations. Disarmament and International Security were the chief topics.

Speakers included Ambassador Maj Britt Theorin of Sweden, Professor Frank Von Hippel of the Federation of American Scientists, and Dr.Prilatsky of the Soviet Committee of Scientists for Peace and Against the Nuclear Threat. Panelists expressed varied opinions about the success of the U.N. in disarmament.

Roche Optimistic

Canadian Ambassador Douglas Roche spoke on the role of the First Committee in Disarmament, which recommends disarmament and related international security draft resolutions to the General Assembly for adoption. Roche spoke optimistically about the progress within this U.N. body in disarmament negotiations, after years of a stressful mood in the First Committee.

A number of speakers reviewed the work of the Conference on Disarmament (C.D.), the one multilateral negotiating forum of the international community. The C.D.'s progress on chemical weapons negotiations was questioned by some of the panelists. Ambassador Issraelyan, previously the Ambassador in the C.D. for the USSR, noted that the C.D. has progressed on procedural matters, but not much on substance. Issraelyan believes that the pretext for the lack of negotiations is that there are technical difficulties, but in reality, it is the lack of political will among the member states to find solutions to the arms race. Issraelyan urged increasing the role of NGOs as active participants in negotiation teams.

Giandomenico Picco of the Office of the U.N. Secretary-General spoke eloquently about the need to rediscover the U.N. charter and return its focus to the individual. In outlining trends over the last forty years, Picco noted that the international scene is no longer the monopoly of the nation state. The actors today include international organizations, NGOs, and individuals. For Picco, it is individuals who must plant the seeds for a revolution of thought to take place; a new thinking where force is not used to achieve security.

Canadian NGOs were well represented at the forum. Members from Science for Peace, the Markland Group, Voice of Women and the Unitarian Church participated in the U.N. forum. Eryl Court, representing the First Unitarian Congregation of Toronto, left the forum inspired by the belief that we individuals do have a role to play within the U.N. disarmament machinery. She writes that "it became increasingly clear that, though governments are often not prepared to move (witness the disastrous failure to reach agreement on a final document at the U.N.'s Third Special Session on Disarmament last year), the people (represented through various NGOs) are determined to do so, and are beginning to gain the necessary power."

No Tampering With Charter

In the final session of the conference, participants exchanged ideas on joint work for our common future. A panel of NGO representatives, including Janis Alton from the Voice of Women, discussed various ways in which NGOs can influence the U.N. process. A proposal was considered to have the voice of NGOs formally incorporated into the U.N. charter, but speakers questioned the possibility of this. It was agreed, that although it would be difficult, if not impossible, to rewrite the U.N. charter, there are different ways of interpreting it. Within this structure, we individuals, through our various organizations, can influence the work of the United Nations.. Ms. Larsen is Assistant Editor, Peace.

Peace Magazine Aug-Sep 1989

Peace Magazine Aug-Sep 1989, page 29. Some rights reserved.

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