The Atlantic Council, in partnership with the Government of Sweden for the Transatlantic Partnership for the Global Future project, hosted a private roundtable discussion on July 8, 2015, that considered how reform measures could help assuage the various challenges facing the United Nations (UN) today and in the future. The discussion centered around two topics, management reform and humanitarian and human rights policies.
Although the first panel’s discussion centered on reform, participants acknowledged that the basic premise of the UN, advancing peace and security, development, and human rights, is sound. Since the fundamental purpose of international organizations is helping set global standards and helping states to meet them, the question is not what to do but how to do it better. Participants agreed that the UN must overcome bureaucracy by building transparency, invest in their specialized and technical agencies, better evaluate and establish the connection between members’ investment and results, and self-police the actions of its employees. Of course, none of this will be possible without constructive member participation and engagement.
The second panel began with a discussion of two intersecting trends – growth and decay – as they relate to human rights and impact the role of government in our lives. Panelists focused on how, during this age of “global cyber awakening,” new technologies have not gone unnoticed by opponents of human rights, particularly authoritarian regimes. Because technology empowers individuals to have their voices reach the world, it threatens the security of authoritarian regimes, who in turn learn to manipulate cyber tools to suppress civil society and civil rights groups – this is especially evident in how many of these governments block or censor social media. On the other hand, this level of interconnectedness is playing out between countries as well. We see more governments striving to promote human rights both domestically and abroad by partnering with multilateral instructions, civil society groups, and the private sector and larger movements condemning authoritarians. Overall, there was sense that our international institutions are using old tools for new challenges and cannot keep pace with progressing trends. Efficiency, lack of representation, and weak compliance are of paramount concern moving forward.