The Role of the United Nations In the World
The main objective of the United Nations (UN) is to bring every nation together to convey peace and development within the world. The UN is based upon the principle of justice and seeks to provide countries with the ability to address international problems by balancing global interdependence and national interests. The UN has been largely criticised in recent years, which has led many to believe that the UN is in fact redundant. In accordance with this, it is unclear whether the UN is still necessary in today’s society and whether it is able to deal with international conflicts effectively.
The UN is the largest international organisation in the world, which aims to promote and facilitate co-operation amongst all nation states in areas such as; international security, economic development, human rights and world peace. The UN was founded in 1945 and had 51 member stated on board. The Charter of the United States was also introduced in 1945 and was considered the first global expression providing for individual human rights and consisted of 30 different articles. These articles sought to provide adequate protection to individuals from all nations, which were enforced by the global nature of the Charter. The Charter fully intended to achieve international co-operation, which is evident by the provisions contained in Article 1. Here, it is stated that “international co-operation should be sustained by “promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion.” This was a significant development for individual citizens as their rights were being recognised internationally, which is imperative if equality for all is to be maintained. Hence, as clarified by Nincic; “the principle of sovereign equality was, as one of the most important of these values, being given growing emphasis.” There are five principle organs of the UN consisting of; the Security Council, the General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council, the Secretariat and the International Court of Justice.
When the UN was established, it was suggested in the case of Reparations for Injuries Suffered in the Service of the United Nations that it should be recognised as a legal person. However, it was questioned whether the UN actually had the ability to bring an international claim against a government. However, it was held by the Court that the UN is an international person because; “it is a subject of international law and capable of possessing international rights and duties, and that it has capacity to maintain its rights by bringing international claims.” The recognition of legal status is an important requirement contained in Article 104 of the Charter since it “may be necessary for the exercise of its functions and the fulfilment of its purposes.” Whilst the UN has a number of different mandates to fulfil, one of its main functions is to keep the peace between different nation states. This is prevalent throughout the Charter, which is the foundation document for any work that is undertaken by the UN. Thus, as noted by the UN themselves; “Peacekeeping, although not explicitly provided for in the Charter, has evolved into one of the main tools used by the United Nations to achieve this purpose.” The Security Council primarily has the responsibility to ensure that this mandate is preserved by establishing and maintaining a peacekeeping operation.
Since the UN was founded in 1945, many calls for reform have in fact been instigated. This is because; it is felt that the UN is no longer relevant and necessary in today’s society though there has been little guidance as to what changes ought to be made. Still, although the UN is a strong pioneer for equality, it is questionable whether they have in fact proven successful in trying to achieve equality across all nation states. In France v Turkey, however, the importance of co-operation with the UN’s Charter was highlighted when it was stated that; “all questions of jurisdiction should be decided in accordance with the principles of international law.” In effect, if conflictions were to arise between the legal rules and principles of particular nation States and those provided for by the UN, the provisions contained under the UN’s Charter are to prevail. Regardless, it has been questioned whether the UN is still necessary in protecting the human rights of individuals. Hence, it has been suggested that the European Convention on Human Rights is better equipped at dealing with the rights of individuals than the UN is. This is because, although it is made clear in the International Bill of Human Rights, adopted in 1948 by the UN General Assembly that; the Bill must be “disseminated, displayed, read and expounded principally in schools and other educational institutions, without distinction based on the political status of countries or territories” by all nation States, it cannot be said that this is currently being employed by all.
Accordingly, the UN is unable to force all States to adopt the provisions in the Bill and unless states are co-operative the objectives of the UN will be rather futile. As asserted by Markovic; “in different societies it will assume different forms and priorities.” Consequently, human rights protections will therefore differ depending on the state in which they are being enforced and although human rights will be upheld in some states, in others they will not. Many attempts have been made by the international community to rectify these indifferences by imposing obligations upon states through international law, though it is contestable whether these enable individual human rights to be ascertained. Nonetheless, it was evidenced in Reparation for Injuries Suffered in the Service of the United Nations (Advisory Opinion) that human beings are capable of possessing international legal personality and so should be provided with sufficient protection when it comes to preserving their human rights. Despite this, the courts generally have the ultimate discretion as to whether the rights contained in the Charter are to be upheld. This can be seen in The Republic of Nicaragua v The United States of America when it was stated that; “as a general rule the discretionary authority of the Court derives principally from the political community’s tacit acceptance of the Court’s assertions of discretion.” This clearly signifies how the court has discretionary powers when deciding whether international legal rules and principles are to be followed and whilst international law will be adhered to by the majority of states, this will not always be the case.
Arguably, individual states will evidently have the final say. This questions the UN’s ability to enforce individual human rights and seems to suggest that the UN is in fact unnecessary if its legal rules and principles cannot always be enforced. Furthermore, whilst Article 2 (4) of the Charter states that; “all members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations,” it is very difficult for this to be achieved in reality. Consequently, many states consider the use of force in certain instances as being a necessity and fail to conform to the principles laid down in this Article. Again, this demonstrates how the UN’s rules and principles are often circumvented and states are frequently using force as a means to persuade or prevent other states from engaging in particular courses of actions. This is so, regardless of the fact that the Charter largely prohibits this type of behaviour. Moreover, if the use of force this considered reasonable, then it will deemed permissible by nation states themselves because “under traditional international law, a state had the right to use force or the threat of force in order to protect the lives and property of its nationals.”
The use of force has, nonetheless, been considered a serious violation of human rights within the international legal sphere and so all states should refrain from using force as highlighted in Nicaragua v United States. The fact that states continue to do so clearly emphasizes the lack of power the UN has over individual states and as noted by Shaw; “while domestic systems have managed to prescribe a virtual monopoly on the use of force, reinforcing the hierarchical structure of authority and control, international law is in a different situation.” It is arguable whether uniformity will ever be achieved within the international sphere since each state has different priorities. As such, conflictions will continue, yet it cannot be said that the UN should be eradicated since it does keep the majority of states in order: “it must seek to minimise and regulate the resort to force by states.” The fact that the use of force is still being used does suggest that the UN’s Charter is not as efficient as one may have hoped and it has been questioned whether Article 2 (4) is an “absolute prohibition on the use of force or whether it should be interpreted to allow the use of force for aims which are consistent with the purposes of the UN.” Because of the lack of clarity within this area it would seem appropriate to prevent the use of force from being used in all circumstances, though it cannot be said if this would be feasible.
Another area where the UN appear to have failed can be seen in relation to rights of the child, as provided for under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989 (UNCRC). Thus, although the UNCRC was the first body to recognise the rights of children, it has been said the enforcement of children’s rights has proven ineffective because; “on the one hand our old child image is as forceful and dominant as ever, while on the other children are regarded as entitled to human rights.” In effect, children are still being viewed as having no legal rights in certain areas, despite this international recognition. This is evidenced in regards to the education sector because although it was stated under Article 12 of the Convention that; “every child has the right to express his or her views freely about everything that affects him or her” children are not being given the right to express their views in the education sector. This was enunciated by Sherlock when he argued that; “while some general progress in the UK was noted with approval, its concerns about the overall UK approach to Article 12 remained and once again, education was mentioned as an area where systematic consultation of children was lacking.” Again, this signifies how there are many flaws within the UN’s mandates and that further considerations need to be made.
Overall, it is evident that whilst the UN has paved the way for the development of international human rights law, many approaches that have been undertaken by the UN have been considered rather pointless. As such, it has been questioned whether the UN is still necessary today and whether further changes by the UN are needed if peace and security is to be prevalent throughout the international sphere. Because of the difficulties in acquiring international co-operation, however, it will prove rather complex for the UN’s Charter provisions to be upheld by all nation states. As such, it is unlikely that the rights afforded to individuals by the UN will ever be completely endorsed.
D Nincic., The Problem of Sovereignty in the Charter and in the Practice of the United Nations, (Martinus Niijhoff Publishers, 1970).
E Verhellen., Convention on the Rights of the Child: Background, Motivation, Strategises, Main Themes, (Garant, 2000).
L Anna-Karin, Non-Governmental Organisations in International Law, Cambridge University Press, New York.
M Evans, International Law (3rd edn, OUP Oxford, 2010).
M N Shaw, International Law (6th edn Cambridge University Press, 2008).
A Sherlock., ‘Listening to Children in the Field of Education: Experience in Wales’ (2007) 2 Child and Family Law Quarterly 161.
C O’Mahony., ‘Special Education Needs: Balancing the Interests of Children and Parents in the Statementing Process’ (2008) 2 Child and Family Law Quarterly 199.
D W Bowett, ‘The Use of Force in the Protection of Nationals’ (1957) Transactions of the Grotious Society 43 < http://www.jstor.org/pss/743146> [Accessed 18 April, 2013].
E Gordon., ‘Appraisals of the ICJ’s Decision: Nicaragua v The United States (Merits)’ (1987), American Journal of International Law, 81 A.J.I.L, (January, 1987).
M Markovic., ‘Philosophical Foundations of Human Rights’ (1981) Praxis International, No 4, [Accessed 18 April, 2013].
The United Nations, ‘The Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ [Accessed 18 April, 2013].
United Nations, Mandates and the Legal Basis for Peacekeeping, [Accessed 18 April, 2013].
France v Turkey
Nicaragua v United States
Reparations for Injuries Suffered in the Service of the United Nation
Reparation for Injuries Suffered in the Service of the United Nations (Advisory Opinion)