IS, Ebola, regional conflicts posed challenges for UN
United Nations: Terror wrought by the feared Islamic State, Ebola crisis, Syrian civil war, Gaza war and unrest in Ukraine posed significant challenges for the United Nations in 2014, a year that ended with a message of harmony from India as the world body adopted Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s idea to commemorate an international Yoga day annually.
Violence reared its ugly head again in the Middle East where conflict between Israeli forces and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2014 killed more than 2,100 Palestinians, including children.
Conflict in global hotspots of Syria, Nigeria, Central African Republic, Iraq and South Sudan at times both united and divided the UN but the world body was unanimous in condemning the senseless acts of terror perpetrated by the deadly terror groups like ISIS and the Al-Nusra Front.
The year saw headway on action by nations on tackling climate change and at a high-level meeting in Lima, governments put in place the building blocks for a meaningful, universal climate change agreement in Paris next year.
Countries agreed on a draft negotiating text to serve as the basis for the next round of negotiations beginning in February in Geneva and provided clarity on the mitigation and other commitments to be included in their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions.
India hailed the outcome of the climate summit, saying the deal addresses concerns of the developing countries and gives them enough space to grow and take appropriate nationally determined steps to combat global warming.
Linking climate change, development and responsible energy consumption, Modi, in his maiden address to the UNGA in September proposed commemorating an International Day of Yoga as he underscored the “invaluable gift” of the ancient Indian tradition that “embodies unity of mind and body; thought and action; restraint and fulfillment; harmony between man and nature; a holistic approach to health and well being.”
Less than three months after Modi initiated the idea, the 193-member General Assembly overwhelmingly adopted an India- led resolution to declare June 21 every year as ‘International Day of Yoga’, recognising that “yoga provides a holistic approach to health and well-being,” an echo of Modi’s remarks.
Not only was the resolution drafted, tabled and adopted at lightening fast speed, but 177 nations in the UN body came on board with India as co-sponsors, the highest number ever for any General Assembly resolution.
India’s message for well-being and harmony through Yoga came as nations confronted upheavel caused by groups like the ISIS that continued to terrorise populations while committing atrocities.
The UN Security Council reiterated its pledge to counter the global terrorist threat by unanimously adopting a statement calling on Member States to increase cooperation in their efforts to address the perils posed by foreign terrorist fighters around the world.
According to UN, the number of foreign fighters in the Syria and Iraq conflicts alone has grown to over 15,000 from more than 80 countries while other fighters are reportedly seeking to join militant groups in Somalia, Yemen, as well as several countries in the Maghreb and Sahel regions.
The UNSC also met for a high-level summit chaired by US President Barack Obama on terrorism on the sidelines of the 69th annual General Assembly session when a resolution calling on Member States to cooperate in efforts to address the threat posed by foreign terrorist fighters was adopted.
Describing terrorists as “enemies of the faith,” UN Secretary General Ban said groups like ISIS have “nothing to do with Islam… They should more fittingly be called the ‘Un-Islamic Non-State.'”
The world also had to battle another terror in the form of the “largest, longest, most severe, and most complex Ebola epidemic” in history. Guinea, Liberia, Mali and Sierra Leone were among the worst hit by the outbreak, which claimed 6,187 lives out of 17,517 cases recorded by the World Health Organisation so far.
The outbreak in West Africa prompted the UN to mobilise its first-ever system-wide emergency health mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER).
The year also saw tensions erupt in Ukraine that threatened to have regional and global implications. Deeply concerned by the deteriorating situation in eastern Ukraine, Ban called for maximum restraint and appealed to all sides to work towards calming the situation, which has the “growing potential” to spark violent clashes.
Ban and other UN officials led the push for a diplomatic resolution to the crisis. After returning from a visit to both Ukraine and Russia in late March, Ban called for a solution based on the principles of the UN Charter and warned the concerned parties – and the wider international community – that “at this time of heightened tensions, even small sparks can ignite larger flames of unintended consequences.”
In the Middle East, a 51-day conflict between Israeli forces and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip killed more than 2,100 Palestinians, mostly civilians including more than 500 children, and over 70 Israelis, mostly soldiers.
In addition, the fighting damaged or destroyed over 100,000 homes, affecting more than 600,000 people.
United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Robert Serry told the Security Council this month that the quest for peace between Israel and the Palestinians has reached a “dramatic” crossroads and warned that the region?s future remains “more uncertain than ever.”
The world community’s growing impatience with the stalemate and the simmering tensions between Palestinians and Israelis was recently highlighted by decisions in France, Spain and Portugal to recognise a Palestinian state.
The myriad global challenges and the inability of the UNSC to deal with them again highlighted the urgent need to reform the 15-nation body and make it more representative and effective in carrying out its primary responsibility of maintenance of international peace and security.
India described an unreformed Security Council as a “seriously impaired organ” and reiterated the urgent need to achieve UNSC reforms by 2015, saying a text should be tabled for the member states to begin “actual negotiations” on the issue, paving the way for reforms to be achieved by the world body’s 70th anniversary next year.
Significantly, the US also supported for the first time the need to achieve UNSC reforms, saying “the landmark year of 2015 is a compelling moment for the membership to consider appropriate ways to achieve successful Council reform.”
The US position was similar to Modi’s statement made in the General Assembly in September in which he had said that the UN, including the Security Council must be reformed by 2015 to make it more democratic and participative.