Kofi Annan, United Nations secretary-general, on Monday proposed the most wide-reaching reforms ever in the UN's 60-year history, but warned they would work only if countries accepted his ideas as a comprehensive package. The report to the 191 members of the UN General Assembly was released on Sunday six months before world leaders meet at UN headquarters for a summit called by Annan. In its introduction, he urged the leaders to "act boldly" and adopt "the most far-reaching reforms in the history of the United Nations".
“In any such list, there are items which seem more important to some than others, while others consider them essential. The temptation is to treat the list as an à la carte menu,” he told the UN General Assembly.
He added that cherry-picking of individual proposals would not work. “If you need the help of other states to achieve your objectives, you must also be willing to help them achieve their objectives,” he said.
Expansion of the 15-member Security Council into one comprising 24 countries may prove one of the toughest nuts to crack. Mr Annan offers two options: one that would create six new permanent seats and three new elected rotating seats. The other would create eight “semi-permanent” seats, and one additional elected seat.
Japan, Germany, Brazil and India have launched a joint bid for permanent seats; but each faces opposition from regional rivals.
In Tokyo on Saturday, Condoleezza Rice, US secretary of state, offered support for Japan's seat but not for the others. That left Germany puzzling over the implications for its own bid, although Karsten Voigt, co-ordinator for transatlantic relations in the German Foreign Ministry, said: “At the very least, the comment means the US is principally in favour of an enlargement [of the Security Council].”
Although he recognised that consensus over enlargement of the Security Council might not be possible, Mr Annan urged countries to act anyway. Enlargement of the Security Council would have to be ratified by two-thirds of the General Assembly including the five permanent members of the Security Council.
One of the major proposals calls for the creation of a Human Rights Council, possibly as a principal organ of the United Nations like the Security Council or the General Assembly, to replace the Geneva-based Commission on Human Rights, which has long faced criticism for allowing the worst-offending countries to use their membership to protect one another from condemnation.
"Human rights must be incorporated into decision-making and discussion throughout the work of the organisation," Annan said. "The creation of the council would accord human rights a more authoritative position."
One of the most hotly awaited parts of the report was Annan's recommendation for changes to the 15-member Security Council, the most powerful UN body now dominated by the post-World War II powers -- the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France, who all have veto power.
The report calls for an expanded, more representative Security Council, but Annan did not endorse a specific plan, instead backed two options proposed in December by a high-level panel.
One would add six new permanent members and the other would create a new tier of eight semi-permanent members: Two each from Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas.
He urged the General Assembly to decide on Security Council expansion before the September summit, preferably by consensus but if that is impossible by a vote.
The Security Council's authorisation of the use of force has also been an issue. It refused to authorise the US-led war against Iraq and the war in Kosovo against the forces of former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic, decisions that angered some countries.
The report said the Security Council already has the authority under the UN Charter to use military force, even preventively, but it needs to work more effectively. Its decisions on whether to use force should be guided by a series of assessments: How serious is the threat? Could it be stopped by non-military action? What's the purpose of military action? Is it proportional to the threat? Is there a reasonable chance of success?
In cases of genocide, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, Annan urged all states to accept that there is a "responsibility to protect" those being killed, which requires collective action.
Currently, the report noted that half the countries emerging from violent conflict revert to conflict within five years. To prevent the return to war, Annan called for the creation of a Peacebuilding Commission to help win the peace in post-conflict countries.
On the issue of combating terrorism, Annan proposed a five-point strategy: Dissuade terrorism, deny terrorists access to funds, deter states from sponsoring terrorism, develop the capacity of states to defeat terrorism and respect human rights.
For years, a comprehensive convention against terrorism has been held up over a definition of terrorism, with some countries arguing that one nation's terrorists are another's freedom fighters. Annan said the debate must end and all countries must accept that resisting occupation "cannot include the right to deliberately kill or maim civilians".
He called for adoption of a convention by September 2006 with the definition of terrorism in the high-level panel's report. It said terrorism includes any act "intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or non-combatants with the purpose of intimidating a population or compelling a Government or an international organisation to do or abstain from doing any act".
Annan also called for swift adoption of a global treaty against nuclear terrorism and swift negotiations on a treaty to halt the spread of the highly enriched uranium and plutonium needed to make nuclear weapons.
In the area of development, the secretary-general urged all rich countries to establish a timetable to reach the goal set 35 years ago of earmarking 0.7 per cent of gross national product for development assistance no later than 2015, starting with a significant increase no later than 2006.
The United States currently has one of the lowest levels, about 0.15 per cent.
At the same time, the report calls on developing countries to adopt a program by 2006 to cut extreme poverty in half, ensure primary education for all children, improve health care and halt and reverse the AIDS pandemic, all by 2015.
Malloch Brown dismissed media comments that the report was "a panicked response" to the UN's problems, noting that it is based in part on the conclusions of two UN-commissioned panels on meeting global security threats and on achieving goals to reduce poverty and disease adopted at the last UN summit in 2000.
Its release comes ahead of a report by former US Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, expected later this month, on his investigation into the activities of Annan and his son, Kojo, who worked in Africa for a company that had a contract for the UN oil-for-food program in Iraq.
Asked why the United Nations did not wait for the Volcker report's release, Malloch Brown said the reform proposals were promised to world leaders in March. As for the Volcker report, he said of Kofi Annan, "Certainly, we hope it will exonerate him."