Strengthening the independence of the Secretariat

The UN Secretariat also must live up to the UN Charter’s vision of a strong, principled, impartial and independent Secretariat — one that practices the UN values it preaches, and stands up for “We the Peoples” in whose name the UN Charter was adopted. The founders foresaw situations where the Security Council may wish to evade its responsibility and, in Article 99,31 endowed the Secretary-General with the self-determining authority to bring to the Security Council’s attention matters involving its primary responsibility and requiring its prompt and effective action. From the start of the pandemic, as early as 23 March 2020, the current Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, issued an appeal in which “urged warring parties across the world to lay down their weapons in support of the bigger battle against COVID-19: the common enemy that is now threatening all of humankind.”32 On 2 April 2020, the General Assembly supported his call, and on 1 July 2020, the Security Council did so too.

The Secretary-General promulgated his call for a global ceasefire on twitter and other on-line social media platforms. He also communicated this appeal to the principal organs putting forth a concrete recommendation of a humanitarian pause to allow delivery of humanitarian assistance. When he led, they followed. Accordingly, the Secretary-General should regularly exercise his self-determined authority to remind the Security Council of matters deserving its attention and make concrete recommendations on measures to achieve “prompt and effective action” to maintain international peace and security and to uphold international humanitarian and human rights law.


In the UN75 Declaration, UN Member States have, at least in word, seized the opportunity to recommit to the promise of the UN Charter and accepted the imperative to fulfil their roles and responsibilities, individually and collectively, as envisioned therein. They must now rise to the moment - not only in word but also and more importantly in deed - not only to limit the spread and socioeconomic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic but also to combat climate change, to alleviate poverty and hunger, and to prevent and stop genocide and other mass-atrocity crimes. To survive the pandemic, we, as individuals, must stand apart for the time being. To survive, as a human race, we must stand together and forge a multilateral response to these common challenges guided by our universally accepted principles.

Imagine if the Security Council took the reins and, relying on the guidance and recommendations of the World Health Organization, led a global response to address the peace and security impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Imagine if the General Assembly adopted a universal basic income to ensure that no one is left behind in the socio-economic crisis unfolding as a result of the pandemic. Imagine if the Secretary-General held a pledging conference to ensure that all countries have the means to provide protective equipment to the first responders; to ensure supplies of therapeutics to the afflicted; and to distribute a safe, effective vaccine. Imagine if Member States implemented the Security Council and General Assembly resolutions as well as the WHO recommendations without discrimination and with respect for the human rights of all.

To those ends, the UN can use digital cooperation, relying on new information and communication technologies, to live up to its founders’ vision of being a centre for harmonizing the actions of nations to achieve these object and purposes. The UN can and must put these technologies in the service of its three pillars: peace and security, sustainable development and human rights for all.

Moments of crisis are also moments of opportunity — provided we are interested in pursuing multilateral solutions not provoking populist divisions; inspired by the power of principles, not by the principles of power; and guided by our common humanity, not by narrowly-defined national interests.

On behalf of “We the Peoples," the founding members came out of World War II and adopted the UN Charter to offer a way out of the scourge of war and genocide - and a way to peace, development and human rights for all. Similarly, in their UN75 Declaration, world leaders have vowed to return to the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and to build back a post-pandemic world defined by greater security and dignity, less hunger and poverty, and larger freedom and justice.

In 2020, we celebrated the 7.5th Anniversary of the United Nations; we commemorated the 20th Anniversary of UN Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) on Women, Peace and Security; and we embarked on the Decade of Action for Sustainable Development.

Let us hope that, by the time we celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the United Nations, world leaders live up to the vision of the UN Charter and the promises they made in the UN75 Declaration.

Our lives and the future of the planet depend on it.

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