Is the United Nations, as currently structured, relevant to our times?

Zoom Event held on Saturday 21 October 2023

In the context of the conflicts around the world and the stalemate in the Security Council, this webinar is particularly topical.

The speaker was Chris Sharwood-Smith MBE, Vice Lord Lieutenant of Bedfordshire, who drew upon his extensive experience of working as a diplomat with the UN.

His full presentation is available for download below:

UN Security Council reform - presentation by Chris Sharwood-Smith.pdf
Chris Sharwood-Smith made a fascinating presentation which took us into the bureaucracy that underpins the Security Council. The United States, the United Kingdom and France, the P3, act as 'penholders' in preparing Security Council resolutions. This involves drafting, but also coordinating, forming alliances and relationships and conducting negotiations. Since they all have institutional memories going back over 75 years, they have a familiarity with procedures, issues and previous debates on similar topics. This gives them an operational advantage over elected members of the Security Council who are there for only two years, so their term ends just as they are finding their way around its workings. The penholders have an invisible power which complements the more obvious and controversial power of their veto.

But the veto of the P5, the 5 permanent representatives, also has invisible power. It is seldom used in practice - but often that is simply because resolutions have been watered down at the drafting stage in order to avoid any risk of provoking a veto. That is why so many resolutions are ineffectual, or the Security Council is bypassed on the most critical issues.

When it comes to reform of the Security Council, the P5 also have a veto. A two-thirds majority of the General Assembly is required to amend the UN Charter - and that has to include all of the P5. Over more than 75 years, there has only been one successful reform of the Security Council - in 1965 when the number of elected members was increased from 6 to 10. Attempts to expand the permanent membership of the Security Council founder because every potential candidate meets regional opposition. They are never good enough. In 1993, an aptly named 'open ended working committee' was set up to present solutions for reform of the Security Council - the Open-ended Working Group on the Question of the Equitable Representation on and Increase in the Membership of the Security Council and Other Matters Related to the Security Council. 30 years on, it is still deliberating.

Perhaps reform is not the answer. The United Nations is most effective when it sets global standards and coordinates action on specialised topics such as Climate Change, Health and Education. A UN agency for security, modelled on WHO, UNESCO, etc, staffed by people with expertise in military action and security, might be more effective than the Security Council in developing solutions to local and regional conflicts and achieving successful peacekeeping missions. It could also mean that the nations who supply the peacekeeping personnel were more directly involved in the decision-making. The P5 do not field many peacekeepers because they are not regarded as neutral. When one looks at it with fresh eyes, there is no reason why a Council or agency dedicated to security should overrule the General Assembly.

The P5 were not elected to the Security Council, nor were they chosen for their records on human rights or justice. They appointed themselves because, as victors of World War II at a unique moment of world history, they had unchallenged military supremacy. They gave themselves the veto because they did not wish to be vulnerable to the whims of the General Assembly once normality returned and other nations began to assert their own views.

The P5 veto hangs in the air whether one is talking about reform or abolition, so there seems little to be gained from getting bogged down in the detail of reforms which almost certainly will not happen. Abolition is clearer and simpler and might be more difficult to resist if it gained momentum. At the very least, it could stimulate practical debate about the best UN structures to achieve and enforce global security.

The UNA Luton has submitted these views to the Secretary General of the United Nations - see letter on Home Page.

75th anniversary of the birth of the United Nations

1945 - 2020

Zoom event, 20 October 2020, from 16:00 - 18:00 (British Standard Time)

Speakers and topics

Promoting democratic principles and values for equality, respect and peace through appropriate action

We held, with the Muslim Professionals Forum - London, a Zoom event to mark the 75th anniversary of the UN by raising awareness about challenges to human rights and the actions needed for sustainable development to achieve a safer, more equitable, prosperous and peaceful world.

We and our world are facing unprecedented challenges to safety, security, equity, sustainable development, economic growth and peace. This is the time to reflect on how we can move forward together locally, nationally and globally to deal with the challenges and contribute towards achieving a better future for us and our younger generations.

The meeting opened with a special prayer for the UN and the World by Sister Maire Hayes, Spirituality of Justice Programme Coordinator, Grassroots/Luton Council of Faiths, and a message from Helen Nellis, HM Lord Lieutenant of Bedfordshire.

Presentation by Dr Nazia Khanum OBE DL: UN Vision and recommended actions for a Better Together Future

N Khanum, UN vision and recommended actions, 24 October 2020.pdf

Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons

On UN Day, 24 October 2020, people from the local Quaker Meeting took the message of United Nations Day to Bedford Market Square. Their focus was on the UN's 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons which called on states "never to develop, produce, manufacture, otherwise acquire, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons”.  It was announced this weekend that it has been ratified by 50 countries so that it is legally binding and comes into force on January 21st 2021. But nuclear nations, including the UK, have not done so. The pressure continues.

 The United Nations offers an alternative to competition between countries essential in the face of climate change, pandemics and human rights abuses. Work both internationally and locally is needed to build a world in which no country claims status through nuclear weapons and where all countries have a voice which is heard.

Celebration of United Nations Day at the University of Bedfordshire, 6 November 2019
Modern Slavery: local context and resolutions

The event staredt with the raising of the UN flag . This was followedby a dynamic programme focused on the theme of Modern Day Slavery: local context and resolutions. There was a range of interactive sessions designed to increase awareness and understanding of the extent and nature of human trafficking and modern day slavery, the related risks and actual or potential approaches adopted by public and private organisations. It was action-oriented, and included a ‘mini-UN’ session, which involved participants working in groups on the task of generating local resolutions for this serious global challenge. Although slavery was officially abolished in the British Empire in 1833, it continues in various less visible forms away from the public gaze and amongst us, within our local communities. Its prevalence is an abhorrence in today’s world but highlights the need for us all to work to uphold and protect the standards of human rights and dignity and to promote justice, equality and peace locally and globally.

Celebration of United Nations Day, 18 October 2016, at the University of Bedfordshire

The programme was hosted jointly by UNA-Luton and the University of Bedfordshire and started with the raising of the UN flag.

Celebration of United Nations Day, 22 October 2015, at the University of Bedfordshire:

70th Anniversary of the United Nations Charter
This was was an enlightening and stimulating evening, jointly hosted with the University and the Luton branch of the United Nations Association-UK. The event started with the UN flag raising ceremony at the Postgraduate & CPD Centre, Luton Campus. The discussion was presented by David Jonathan, Luton Council of Faiths and Grassroots.
The speakers were:
Bill Rammell, Vice Chancellor of University of Bedfordshire, Honorary President of UNA-Luton: Welcome address
Dr Nazia Khanum, OBE DL, Chair of UNA-Luton: Human rights and modern slavery
Dr David Cheesman, Secretary of UNA-Luton: 800th anniversary of Magna Carta and 70th anniversary of the UN Charter
Trevor Evans, Chair of UNA-Harpenden: UNA campaigns for UN reform
Magna Carta and the UN Charter - democratic accountability in the enforcement of human rights by David Cheesman 2015.pdf

Presentation by David Cheesman: A comparison of two documents which remain highly contemporary and politically challenging, 800 years and 70 years after they were written.

Celebration of United Nations Day, 31 October 2014, at the University of Bedfordshire

The programme was preceded by a flag-raising ceremony at the University of Bedfordshire on 24 October, attended by the Mayor of Luton, Councillor Farooq Ahmed, Dr Nazia Khanum OBE, Chair of UNA-Luton and Trevor Evans, Chair of UNA-Harpenden and others.

David Jonathan from Luton Council of Faiths and Grassroots presented the event. The programme started with a UN Peace Prayer by Sister Marie from Luton Council of Faiths.  Bill Rammell, Vice-Chancellor of the University and Honorary President of UNA-Luton, welcomed everyone, speaking about the international dimensions of the University of Bedfordshire and the importance of education, peace and cooperation. Dr Nazia Khanum, Chair of UNA-Luton, shared the story of when and how UNA-Luton was set up with its first AGM in 2009 and the official launch in 2010. Luton is a super diverse town whose international population is affected by incidents happening thousands of miles away, while what happens in Luton can have an impact on people in other countries. Local challenges often depend on global solutions.

The keynote speaker, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, Chair of the United Nations Association UK, used the UNA-Luton platform to launch the UNA-UK’s 10-point foreign policy manifesto, A force for good. He stressed the 10th point - to enhance the UN’s effectiveness by improving the transparency of its leadership selection. His interesting and erudite speech on ‘Is the UN Working?’ was informed by his experience and insights into geo-politics. He emphasised that the UN is a collection of governments and governmental organisations. As important as it is to have a space for deliberating on the issues confronting our world, what eventually matters is to think globally but act locally. We must remember our identity as global citizens.

Gavin Shuker, MP for Luton South, spoke about his experience as Shadow Minister for International Development. He, Sir Jeremy and Kelvin Hopkins, MP for Luton North, formed a Panel to respond to questions during a lively Q & A session. The issues included: the plight of people in Kashmir; the emergence of ISIS in Syria and its possible aftermath; issues relating to Palestine; growing tensions in the far east between Japan, North Korea  and China; the lack of trust in the political machinery and organisations like UN, to make positive changes nationally or globally.

Some University students were keen to see a students’ branch of the UNA in the University. Dr Khanum said she would do her best to see this happen and also made an appeal to the guests to consider joining UNA-Luton. While concluding the meeting, Trevor Evans, Chair of UNA-Harpenden, hoped that this would become an annual event at the University. The University has put a brief report on their website along with a video of the whole event:

The University website has a  video and brief report of the event 

Celebration of United Nations Day, 22 October 2010, at Luton Sixth Form College

Councillor Tom Shaw, the Mayor of Luton, was the keynote speaker. He stressed that peace is critical for the safety and development of the human race across the world. After the devastation of the two world wars in the twentieth century, the United Nations was established on 24 October, 1945 so that all nations on earth can promote peace together. The Preamble to the Charter of the UN statesthat:

We the peoples of the United Nations,

Are determined

·         To save succeeding generations from the scourge of war…

·         To reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights ….

·          To establish conditions for maintaining justice and respect for international law..

·         To promote social progress and better standards of life for all …

 To achieve all those we need

·         To practise tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours …

·         To contribute to international peace and security …

·         To ensure that our armed forces are used in the common interest..

·         To employ international machinery for the promotion of economic and social advancement of all peoples …

This inspiring vision brought the world’s nations together in San Francisco 65 years ago. Cllr Shaw said he wanted everyone to remember this and feel inspired to stand up for the rights of the oppressed, the rights of women, the rights of children and other vulnerable individuals and groups and above all to support the United Nations Organization’s aims for promoting peace and tolerance locally, nationally and internationally.