UN@75: Overhaul Charter, change modus operandi

Sunday June 28 2020


By Harold Acemah

The United Nations (UN) operates on the principle of the sovereign equality of member states which puts Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi and Rwanda at par with China, France, UK, Russia and USA.

Unfortunately, it’s only in the General Assembly that this cardinal principle applies, not in the Security Council, which is the most powerful of the six principal organs of the UN.

The legitimate and reasonable demands made, since 1970s, by the Non-Aligned Countries, including Uganda, to reform and democratise the UN so that it reflects the will of the peoples of the world and the spirit of the Charter has been resisted or rejected by the five permanent members of the Security Council - China, France, Russian Federation, the UK and USA. I hope the General Assembly will revisit this crucial matter at its forthcoming 75th regular session in September.

At the 70th session of the General Assembly, former UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon, observed that while the world continues to be shaped by globalisation, urbanisation, migration, demographic shifts and other seismic trends, new threats had emerged, such as climate change, cybercrime and pandemics. He argued that, “in many respects the world is shifting beneath our feet. Yet the charter remains a firm foundation for shared progress.”

As the UN celebrates 75 years, most countries are under lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

African countries, like Uganda, which have unwisely squandered national resources on the military instead of investing adequately in the health sector, are ill-prepared to effectively address the pandemic.


The World Health Organisation (WHO), whose responsibility is to lead a coordinated response to the pandemic, has been criticised and ridiculed by some countries. The irresponsible and unwise decision by president Donal Trump to withdraw USA from WHO in the midst of the pandemic will weaken WHO’s leadership role when the world desperately needs a global organisation to gather and disseminate information and advise members on appropriate action.

According to former UN secretary general Kofi Annan (RIP), one of the lessons he learnt at the UN was that “healthy and sustainable societies are based on three pillars: peace and security; sustainable development; the rule of law and respect for human rights.

There can be no long-term security without development, there can be no long-term development without security and no society can long remain prosperous without the rule of law and respect for human rights.”

While the UN charter remains a firm foundation for shared progress, few countries, such as USA and Brazil, have walked away, not only from their obligations to WHO in the midst of the pandemic, but also from other international obligations, such as, climate change.

This is an assault on globalisation and collective efforts to maintain international peace and security.

It’s time member states undertook a major overhaul of the charter and its modus operandi in order to ensure the continued relevance of the UN. After 75 years, UN is at a crossroads. The organisation must evaluate its successes and failures and use the lessons learnt to forge the way forward.

Many of the challenges facing UN today are similar to those which faced its predecessor, League of Nations. One important lesson learnt from the League was that the pursuit of national interests at the expense of collective efforts to maintain international peace and security, promote sustainable development, rule of law and human rights is a recipe for disaster.

Mr Acemah is a political scientist and retired career diplomat.