This week, heads of state and government gather in New York for the opening of the United Nations General Assembly. On this occasion, a declaration endorsed by former officials, representatives of civil society and of government was presented that calls for a review of the UN’s founding document, the UN Charter.
The list of signatories among others includes twenty Nobel laureates and over fifty professors from different academic fields. The UN’s “Summit of the Future”, scheduled for September 2024, according to the declaration “represents an opportunity to finally call for a Charter Review Conference.”
The statement says that the goal of reforming the UN Charter is “to break free from outdated international governance structures and establish a just, principled, representative and accountable global order reflective of the needs of humanity and the planet at this time.” It notes that “the global governance structures enshrined in the Charter are ill-suited to today’s reality.”
According to Augusto Lopez-Claros, the Executive Director of the Global Governance Forum that leads the initiative with support from the Global Challenges Foundation, the architecture for international cooperation established in 1945 “out of the chaos and destruction of World War II” needs to be “urgently modernized, to empower the UN to find solutions to the myriad risks which threaten our future as a human family. The time has come to review and amend the UN Charter, to create a sound basis in international law on whose foundations we can build a more peaceful, prosperous world.”
In addition to the joint statement, the Global Governance Forum published a report of an international study group that looked into principles and proposals for UN Charter review. The 54-pages document, titled “A Second Charter: Imagining Renewed United Nations”, elaborates on “areas where new thinking is needed”, “topics for institutional reform” as well as “avenues for reform and vision of the future”, among other things.
The document notes in the Executive Summary that UN reform debates usually focus on the UN Security Council. However, it highlights that “it is reform of the General Assembly and the interlinked questions of global rule making, representation, inclusion, and democratic legitimacy that present some of the most consequential issues for consideration in any attempt to rethink the Charter.”
A bicameral global legislative body representing states and citizens
In particular, the document points out that “within the limits provided for in a revised Charter”, “binding legislative powers on matters of global concern could be vested in a bicameral body, consisting of a chamber similar to today’s General Assembly, representing the member states, and a popularly elected Parliamentary Assembly representing the citizens of the world.” A “reformed Security Council or similar Executive Council” could be “made subordinate” to “this new global legislative mechanism” or “at the very least subject to a more balanced distribution of competencies.”
As a vehicle to “build more support for a new, improved UN” and pave the way for “formal consultations leading to Charter review”, the report suggests that a World Parliamentary Assembly “should be set up as a parallel advisory chamber to the UN General Assembly”. The new assembly later could be transformed “into the parliamentary chamber of the co-legislative bicameral system.”
“People and the environment are suffering as the global system is struggling to cope with global challenges. We hope that this initiative will help move forward the important discussion of how to renew the United Nations, the most important venue of global governance”, noted Daniel Perell, UN representative of the Baha’i International Community and co-chair of the Coalition for the UN We Need.
“Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, in violation of the UN Charter and international law, has demonstrated that the global governance system currently in place is no longer viable. Reform is needed to prevent abuse of power by permanent UN Security Council members and to ensure the UN of the 21st century is able to fulfill the mission it was created for: to maintain international peace and security”, commented Olga Tokariuk, a non-resident fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis.
The former rapporteur on prevention of the UN Human Rights Council and former UN representative of Sierra Leone in Geneva, Yvette Stevens, highlighted that “the UN Charter needs to be carefully examined for barriers that hinder the effective prevention of conflicts that occur as a result of persistent violation of human rights.”
The Executive Director of Democracy Without Borders and co-author of a book on a world parliament, Andreas Bummel, pointed out that the creation of a UN or World Parliamentary Assembly enjoys noteworthy support among parliamentarians, civil society and experts. He made a reference to over 1,500 current and former elected representatives who over time signed a call for a UN Parliamentary Assembly and more than 200 civil society groups which endorsed the “We The Peoples” campaign for inclusive global governance.
At an event in New York hosted by the Global Governance Forum and other groups on 19 September, the leading UN expert Thomas Weiss warned that “this is not the right moment” for Charter review as the political situation at the UN and in the world was “dismal”. A Charter review conference in his view bears the risk of failure.
The joint declaration notes that “however difficult Charter reform may seem, it pales in comparison to the consequences of inaction.” The list of signatories, seen by Democracy Without Borders, will be published soon according to the Global Governance Forum.
According to an open letter signed by former heads of state circulated by the Coalition for the UN We Need, “people everywhere recognize the challenges and shortcomings of today’s international decision-making for collective action. Political leadership is required in the months ahead to centre the needs of humanity and our shared planet over internecine rivalries among Member States, recognizing that the Summit of the Future represents a vitally important, generational opportunity to deliver a balanced, yet far-reaching package of global governance transformations.”