As we celebrate the United Nations’ 63rd anniversary today, it is fitting to ask how the UN relates to our daily lives and to Nepal’s peace and prosperity.
Many of us think of the United Nations as a distant organization that organizes big conferences in New York, Geneva, Paris and Rome. We see it on our television screen when big powers of the world discuss issues of war and peace in UN’s Security Council, or when our own leaders address its annual General Assembly.
More recently, Nepalis have seen the UN in the high visibility work of UNMIN with its officials frequently meeting with our political leaders; its fleet of vehicles seen everywhere; and its work of monitoring the Maoist combatants in their cantonments.
Most of us might wonder what the UN does for me. Does the UN really matter to ordinary people in my village or my community, or is it only relevant for big people, in big cities with power and influence?
Unbeknownst to most of us, the UN actually has great influence in all of our lives. In one way or the other, the work of the UN touches the life of every Nepali.
Last week, I visited several districts to observe the vitamin A distribution and de-worming campaign for children carried out by Nepal’s legendary Female Community Health Volunteers. The work of these 50,000 volunteers all over Nepal reached some 3.5 million children in the country. This noble work saves the lives and protects the health of millions of Nepali children. Among others, it is supported by the United Nations – specifically, its World Health Organization and UNICEF.
I saw in rural health posts, urban health centres, and district hospitals essential drugs and vaccines provided by these UN agencies. Many health workers in these institutions told me that they had received training sponsored by the Government with the technical support of UN agencies such as UNFPA, WFP, UNICEF and WHO.
In primary schools, and teacher training colleges of Nepal, unbeknownst to most teachers and students, they benefit from teacher training and textbooks provided with the support of UNESCO and UNICEF.
The office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees helps Nepal cope with the burden of caring for Bhutanese and Tibetan refugees. The office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights helps monitor and publicize human rights violations – whether by rebel groups or by government forces, and supports our National Human Rights Commission to protect people’s human rights.
The International Labour Organization helps us to combat against the worst forms of child labour. The Food and Agriculture Organization helps us with agricultural training and ensuring food security. UNDP helps with issues of good governance. The UN system as a whole helps us in emergencies like the Koshi floods, the dangers of HIV/AIDS or the bird flu pandemic. The UN also helps us in raising awareness about our fragile environment and how to protect it from the impact of climate change.
Remittances of Nepali soldiers and police who serve in UN peace-keeping operations are of great help to our local economy in many communities.
Thus we can see that the UN has far more impact in our daily lives than most of us realize. Its role extends from technical assistance in science and technology, agriculture and industry, trade and commerce; to material help for health and education; policy advice on development planning; humanitarian assistance, and protection of human rights and prevention of human wrongs.
Nepal has been an active and loyal member of the United Nations for 53 years. And the United Nations has been a true friend and supporter of Nepal.
Besides receiving support of the United Nations, Nepal also contributes to the work and success of the United Nations globally.
Nepal puts great faith in the principles and purposes enshrined in the UN Charter. In fact, the current Interim Constitution of Nepal states that the UN Charter will be a source of guiding principles of Nepalese foreign policy.
Nepal firmly believes that besides its primary responsibility of promoting peace and security in the world, the UN should play a central role in addressing the emerging issues of 21st century – such as increasing threat of terrorism, disarmament, human rights, sustainable development, and poverty alleviation.
Small countries like Nepal can play a disproportionately big role in the UN system and multilateral organizations. So far, Nepal has played a reasonably active and constructive role at the UN. But looking to the future, I would hope and recommend that Nepal should aspire to play an even more proactive and strategic role at the UN, for the benefit of Nepal and Nepalis.
Specifically, I would recommend that Nepal should pursue the following objectives at the United Nations in the next 5 years to secure greater visibility and influence for Nepal.
1. In 2011 it will be Asia’s turn to be the President of the UN General Assembly. Nepal should aspire to this high profile position. If we put up a strong candidate and lobby hard from now on, this objective is achievable. I would urge the Nepal government to pursue this objective with national determination.
2. Nepal has a good reputation in international peace-keeping. Currently, Nepal is the 5th largest contributor to UN Peace Keeping operations. Let us aspire to be the world’s #1 peace-keepers by 2015. This would also be a smart way for us to make good use of our over-sized army. We should aspire to be the largest contributor for international peace-keeping, not only numerically, but qualitatively as well. For example, let us make our peace-keeping troops highly professional as well as inclusive of the great diversity of Nepal’s talents by enlisting a large contingent of women soldiers and officers, which are in big demand at the UN. Perhaps creative ways can be found to enlist and train qualified women combatants from among the CPN-Maoist soldiers for such role, as part of our effort to make the Nepal Army more inclusive through recruitment of historically under-represented communities, such as women, Dalits, Madheshis, etc. in Nepal’s Army.
3. While Nepal has been a member, and occasionally Vice Chair of the General Assembly and its various Committees; UN Councils, Commissions, and Working Groups, it has rarely been the Chair or President of such bodies. In future, every year, Nepal should aspire and systematically compete for not just membership, but to become Chair or President of at least one governing body of a key UN commission, organ, committee, or the specialized agencies and funds and programmes based in New York, Geneva, Rome or elsewhere. Small countries like Jamaica, Guyana, Singapore, Sweden, etc. manage to acquire such high profile positions regularly. And Nepal should be able to do so too.
4. Quite a few Nepalis now work in the UN system, but it is becoming increasingly harder to get more Nepalis to be recruited by UN agencies. To be more competitive, Nepal should encourage young Nepalis, including our diplomats, to acquire skills that the UN is looking for – e.g. knowledge of multiple UN languages, better writing and communications skills, basic IT skills, experience in working not just in government but with NGOs, the media and academia. Nepal should also groom and present more women candidates for UN positions.
5. So far the highest ranking Nepali in the UN system has been at the Assistant Secretary-General level. Within the next 3 years we should strive to get at least one Nepali citizen to be appointed or elected at the Under Secretary-General or equivalent level. To achieve this, we should identify at least half a dozen promising Nepali candidates, including one or two women, who can be groomed for such positions, and launch a coordinated lobbying effort involving all Nepali diplomatic missions.
6. At this time in Nepal’s history, perhaps the most important help we should seek from the United Nations, would be to help us prepare an ambitious, long-term reconstruction and development plan, and to help mobilize international support for it.
The UN through UNMIN has provided good support for the peace process in Nepal. As the role of UNMIN comes to an end, Nepal should now ask the UN for a second round of support – this time focusing on economic development and reconstruction issues, including support for accelerated achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.
Elsewhere in post-conflict countries, the UN has played a leadership role to support governments to prepare such plans and to mobilize international support by organizing major donor conferences for countries such as Cambodia, East Timor, Afghanistan, Liberia, Mozambique, etc.
But this has not happened so far in the case of Nepal, partly because our own focus has been on political issues and the peace process, while economic issues have been left for future consideration.
The time has now come for us to bring up the economic issues to the fore-front. If we delay addressing the economic issues for too long, our own people will be disenchanted with the political process, and we might miss an opportunity to mobilize international support while the world’s attention is focused on Nepal’s unique peace process.
Nepal has very good prospects for achieving quite a few of the UN Millennium Development Goals. But for that, first we Nepalis need to come up with a clear, ambitious roadmap, with the support of the United Nations. Then we can seek well-coordinated international support.
These would be very appropriate issues for Nepal’s top leadership to raise with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, and secure his support, during his forthcoming visit to Nepal.
Source: The Rising Nepal