UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The United Nations needs to be more muscular and united if it wants to remain a central player in tackling the world’s multiple escalating crises, a group of elder statesmen founded by Nelson Mandela said Friday.
Former world leaders in the group known as The Elders told Associated Press executives that the U.N.’s most powerful organ, the Security Council, needs to address the paralyzing impact of its vetoes, and the secretary-general of the 193-member world organization needs to speak out on violations of international law.
The United Nations was founded on the ashes of World War II so countries could work together to prevent future wars and solve other global challenges, but it now faces an increasingly polarized world.
The failure of the Security Council to adopt a legally binding resolution addressing Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine and its violations of the U.N. Charter because of Russia’s veto power has put a spotlight on the growing global divisions, the future of the United Nations and calls for U.N. reforms.
Former U.N. secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, The Elders’ deputy chairman, said he told Security Council ambassadors at a private breakfast just before the AP meeting that “we are living in a world where multilateralism is in crisis” — and the United Nations “is most responsible for that.”
Multilateralism is the foundation of the United Nations and Ban pointed especially to the Security Council, which is charged with ensuring international peace and security but has failed to take action on the war in Ukraine and other global challenges that have divided its five permanent veto-wielding members — Russia, China, the United States, Britain and France.
“Without unity of the Security Council, nothing can happen,” Ban said. “I really urged strongly to the members of the Security Council this morning that they should consider very seriously how they are going to keep their credibility and prestige and why they are not united.”
Ban said he suggested that council members should seriously consider changing the way they make decisions, which he called “illogical” and “unreasonable”: All 15 members have veto power on council presidential statements and press statements, which are recommendations and not legally binding, and the five permanent members have veto power on resolutions that are legally binding.
This “really disrupts the credibility of the United Nations,” Ban said.
Asked whether the U.N. can be an effective and powerful advocate for ending the Ukraine war, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the former U.N high commissioner for human rights, said as long as Russia has veto power that the U.N. Secretariat, led by the secretary-general, should use its power as custodian of multiple treaties to act as “a referee” and call out countries that are violating international law and international humanitarian law.
He said that would give cover to other countries, including those facing economic pressures and food insecurity, to side with the secretary-general.
Former Irish President Mary Robinson, chairwoman of The Elders, said U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has made progress on the humanitarian side in helping broker a deal enabling grain shipments from Ukraine to world markets and on protection for the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, which is under Russian control in southeast Ukraine.
“But I think there is a voice that would help — a political voice as part of the equation,” said Robinson, who also served as a high commissioner for human rights. “I think we would urge the secretary-general to use his good offices because it is such a crisis.”
Former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo said the situation regarding Russia “is special and different” because “Russia is saying in Ukraine: ‘If I don’t get my way I threaten to use nuclear weapons.’”
To those who say that Russia’s actions shouldn’t be raised without raising unilateral attacks against other countries, Zedillo said, “If we want to speak with moral authority, we must say very clearly that all members of the international community, irrespective of their powers, must be obedient of international law.”