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The United Nations: A Look Back at 2013 and What Lies Ahead in 2014

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The year 2013 saw the conflict in Syria continue its downward spiral. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, speaking at his end of the year press conference, said the citizens of Syria “cannot afford another year, another month, even another day of brutality and destruction.”

Dr. Ake Sellstrom, the Swedish scientist who led the investigation mission into Syrian chemical weapons attacks, recently issued the final report on this matter. In briefing the U.N. Security Council, Mr. Ban indicated the international community should be “deeply concerned” by the number of times Syria used chemical weapons which inflicted the most harm against children.

Secretary-General continued his focus on a political solution, as he believes military intervention is not an option. The U.N. is preparing for the January 22 Geneva Two conference on Syria. Mr. Ban stated that he will “soon issue invitations” to those who will be attendees. “Everyone involved must do everything in their power to help the conference succeed”, the U.N. leader said, he continued to say: “I appeal to the Syrian authorities to end the violence and provide humanitarian access."

The leader of the global body also said, “I believe that the international community and particularly world leaders have a moral responsibility, political responsibility, to help those people. There are 9.5 million people who have been affected. That is almost half of the total population.”
http://www.un.org/sg/offthecuff/index.asp?nid=3207

The U.N. leader stressed how important it is that the issue of funding for the Syrian relief effort be addressed. The humanitarian crisis has been exacerbated by the onset of winter. In addition, the refugee crisis has created a huge problem for neighboring countries. A key date to keep in mind is January 15, as a conference will be held in Kuwait. It is at this conference that Mr. Ban has requested “generous support” from nations who will be attending.

Turmoil on the African Continent

The Central African Republic (CAR) has “descended into chaos”, according to the U.N. Secretary-General. As with many other conflicts that have plagued this part of the world, the threat of “mass atrocities” occurring is all too real. The U.N. has taken the lead by increasing its humanitarian assistance to the area. Children, as is always the case, constitute a disproportionate share of the suffering; they make up half of the population in the CAR, so they numbers are enormous. The problem of displaced persons and refugees leaving due to the violence compounds matters. African and French troops are in the region assisting.

In recent days, we have seen South Sudan erupt in violence. The U.N. estimates approximately 1,000 people have been killed, and many more are displaced. Ethnic violence between the two largest groups, the Dinka and Nuer, has quickly deteriorated and is out of control.

“Promising Year for Diplomacy”

There were a number of positive developments emanating from the U.N. in 2013. As Mr. Ban stated in his end of year press conference, it was a “promising year for diplomacy.”

As the violence and bloodshed captured the headlines in places like Syria, the CAR and South Sudan, important developments were taking place that had a direct impact on countries such as Syria. There was an agreement reached that called on Syria to destroy its chemical weapons stockpile. Also, the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council including Germany (P5+1) agreed on a deal with Iran with respect to its nuclear program. There is an element of hope here, more like a level of cautious optimism which Iran will follow through on its part of the agreement.

A truly important milestone was reached with signing of the International Arms Trade Treaty, which included the United States. The aim is to reduce the weapons that are obtained through illegal means by warlords and criminals. It was a significant breakthrough as more than half of member states became signatories to the treaty.
Mr. Ban also noted that member states agreed on a “roadmap for shaping the post-2015 development agenda.” He mentioned the climate conference in Warsaw that took place in November as being on target to see an agreement reached in 2015. There was some good news from Africa as U.N. peacekeeping operations in the Sahel and West Africa maintained a degree of stability. There were peaceful elections undertaken in Mali that has the Secretary-General hopeful for this nation. Peacekeeping operations, like MONUSCO (United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo), has led to the signing this month by the DRC and M23 group (March 23 Movement also known as the Congolese Revolutionary Army, which is composed of former members of the rebel National Congress for the Defense of the People [CNDP] known to be sponsored by Rwanda) that ended their “hostilities.”

There are no shortage of critics when it comes to discussing the U.N.; however; the global body is a force for good around the world. The world is a volatile place; this much we can all agree upon. The U.N. has the ability to shine a bright light on those problems which many may view simply as being intractable. When it does this, member states have an amazing ability to summon the courage, come together and achieve a remarkable level of international cooperation on matters that truly affect peoples’ lives.

2014: What Lies Ahead

“We must make 2014 the year of protecting people – their security, their fundamental rights, and their basic well-being”, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said.

The year ahead will see the U.S. transitioning security to the Afghan people. As President Obama has said, the mission will end its “combat” role and become more of a “support” role. Perhaps a story that has gone underreported, but does not make it any less important, takes place in Kenya. There Uhuru Kenyatta should become the first head of state to stand trial at the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. The important word here is should, but because of witness tampering the ICC prosecutor had to adjourn the trial. This bears watching as Kenya is a vital ally of the U.S. in the war on terror in the region, and they receive $1 billion per year in American aid. The U.N. has a vital presence in the country that only adds to the importance of this matter. In the Ukraine tensions continue to escalate as its citizens demand the opportunity to integrate with the European Union. In Southeast Asia ethnic tension in Burma has reached a boiling point.

Yes, the world is a volatile place. Will the world heed the Secretary-General’s call for making 2014 “the year of protecting people?” For the children in countries like Syria and the CAR, and for those yearning for their basic “fundamental rights”, doesn’t the international community have an obligation to protect these peoples? I would hope so. I believe it does.

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