Leer este artículo en español. Traducción ofrecida por Adilia Caravaca Zuniga, ex presidenta de LIMPAL.

In 1981, the United Nations General Assembly declared 21 September as the International Day of Peace – a day meant to inspire people and nations to double down on their commitments in pursuit of peace. 

In the midst of a global pandemic that has starkly exposed the failures of certain UN Member States – particularly the permanent members of the UN Security Council – to prioritise international peace and security over their own self interest, the UN has chosen “Shaping Peace Together” as the theme of International Day of Peace 2020

In naming this theme, the United Nations has asked people around the world to “stand together with the UN against attempts to use the virus to promote discrimination and hatred.” 

Yet at the same time that the UN Secretariat implores governments and citizens to work together toward a future of peace, due to the behaviour of certain Member States the United Nations is no longer a functioning system capable of upholding the goals and principles on which it was founded.

As an early advocate of multilateralism and the formation of the United Nations, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom has long been an ally and observer of the UN, its systems, and its commitments as laid out in the Preamble of its Charter

But in 2020, 75 years after the United Nations was created, those systems are broken; those commitments are not being kept. 

We will not be silent on this declared “day of peace”. 

A world in crisis

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the extraordinary inequities and destructive systems plaguing our world, created and compounded by the profit-driven structures of capitalism, militarism, racism, and patriarchy. 

For example:

  • All forms of gender-based violence have increased worldwide with the escalation of the pandemic, particularly domestic violence. 
  • At least half of the world’s population does not have access to essential health services, a reality that has been exacerbated by the pressures of the pandemic on health systems and workers.
  • COVID-19 is a result of environmental degradation and climate change, yet solutions to address these challenges have been reduced or set aside in light of the pandemic. 
  • Capitalism and neoliberalism have aggravated inequalities between people and countries, directly impacting the ways in which individuals and governments are able to respond to COVID-19.  
  • Although the UN Secretary-General called for a global ceasefire in March to allow citizens and governments to respond to the pandemic, it was met with apathy by members of the Security Council and arms production and military activities have persisted nearly unabated

Each of these realities points to years of failure on the part of certain UN Member States, and specifically the UN Security Council, to live up to the principles and ideals on which the UN was founded 75 years ago. 

The UN and COVID-19: Dire lack of action and transparency 

The COVID-19 pandemic has also exacerbated the UN’s existing challenges and failures. 

For example: 

  • As above, the UN Security Council did not adopt a resolution on the UN Secretary-General’s call for ceasefire until July, and the resolution itself is deeply inadequate: it does not apply to any Council-designated “terrorist” group, a caveat that allows military action in numerous regions and territories around the world to continue. 
  • Some of the protocols of the United Nations General Assembly have been compromised. For example, in March the President of the UNGA introduced a “silence procedure” for taking decisions, which allows decisions to be adopted if no objections are raised by delegations within 72 hours – essentially giving each Member State a veto. 
  • A significant number of UN disarmament forums, meetings, and processes have been postponed or cancelled, stalling peace progress. 
  • Virtual meetings have eliminated in-person accountability and discourse, and have dramatically reduced the participation of civil society in UN procedures and decision-making.

In the coming days, WILPF will publish a comprehensive analysis of the UN’s processes and forums during COVID-19 in the areas of disarmament, human rights, and women, peace, and security. Subscribe to News and Alerts to receive a copy as soon as it’s released. 

Moving forward and shaping peace, together 

If we want to truly shape peace together, we must acknowledge – the United Nations must acknowledge – that the current system is not working. And we must take action for change. 

Among WILPF’s key aims and principles is a commitment to multilateralism. That is not a commitment to upholding a system which exemplifies and sustains patriarchy and inequality. Changing the UN’s decision-making process and strengthening the spirit of its Charter is now an imperative if multilateralism is to survive. 

To this end, on International Day of Peace 2020, WILPF is putting forward the following recommendations to immediately reform or restore some of the critical systems and principles that have been degraded:

  • Abolish the UN Security Council, which has proven to be highly ineffective.
  • Reform the “silence procedure” being used by UN forums and treaty bodies to ensure it is used only in exceptional circumstances and develop interim decision-making processes that comply with the principles of “one state, one vote”. 
  • Ensure transparency around negotiations of resolutions and agreements.
  • Provide civil society with the same level of access online as they would have during in-person meetings. 

These recommendations and more will be shared in the aforementioned upcoming report analysing the UN’s activities during COVID-19. 

In addition to these immediate actions, WILPF also calls on global citizens to imagine a different way of pursuing peace that does not lean on corrupt and corruptible systems of government: the power of community organising and spaces for change to unite people in action toward a better world. 

If we can move beyond the systems and structures that are so prone to breakdown, exploitation, and lack of cooperation, if we can take back the power that’s been taken from us, we just might stand a chance of “shaping peace together”.