Intervention at the World Summit, Seoul, 12-16 February 2016, on the theme « Addressing the Critical Challenges of our Time: The Role of Governments, Civil Society and Faith-Based Organizations »

The Critical Challenges of our Time: Regional Perspectives

Our Global Agenda and the processes addressing it have been marked by a series of fundamental changes. First, the traditional multilateral diplomacy among sovereign states has increasingly been complemented and influenced by the participation and contributions of non-state partners. Civil society, academia and regional and local authorities and institutions have gained rising significance and related responsibilities. The agenda's sectors have become increasingly interrelated requiring more complex processes of assessment, of decision-making and of their implementation. In fact, no challenges and related agenda sectors can today be addressed in isolation. The new agenda of the 21st century has only three letters: AND. Every issue requires to be dealt with in the context of its inter-relatedness and interdependencies with other issues and agendas,

The broadening of pertinence and of engagement requirements is not only taking place in horizontal patterns of expansion, but also vertically moving from traditional international affairs to pluri-level governance processes. The regional communities/organisations/capacities are increasingly involved in global deliberative processes, in the implementation of programmes at the regional level. The agenda of this Panel reflects a central dimension of our global institutional development. It was in the security agenda that a partnership and cooperation between the United Nations and regional organisation developed very fast in the 1990ies in peace-making, peace-keeping and peace-building operations.

The regional dimension of our international system has to be understood from a variety of perspectives. If we take the four pillars of sustainable development – security and peace, economic and social development, protection and sustainable use of environmental and natural resources and the societal development based on an effective culture of human rights, we find that the role of regional capacities in addressing the challenges of our global agenda has taken very different development paths during the past seven decades of our international system.

The United Nations security concept, as articulated in the United Nations Charter, entrusted the Security Council with supra-national powers and responsibilities. Yet the Charter provides in Chapter VIII for the establishment of regional arrangements or agencies dealing with the maintenance of international peace and security. The Security Council is mandated to utilize, where appropriate, such regional arrangements or agencies for enforcement action under its authority. The Security Council is to encourage the pacific settlement of local disputes through regional arrangements or regional agencies.

The partnership between the United Nations and regional organisations and capacities developed dramatically after the end of the Cold War with the new consensus capacity of the Security Council of the United Nations and with the emergence of a new set of conflicts and wars in Southern Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Latin America. The Security Council has increasingly recognized that regional and sub-regional organizations are well-positioned to understand the causes of armed conflicts owing to their knowledge of the region. The Security Council underlined that these capacities could benefit efforts to achieve the prevention or resolution of disputes. In a special session of the Security Council on 8 August 2014, the Council expressed its intention to expand cooperation with relevant organizations. The proliferation of regional conflicts made cooperation between regional organizations and the United Nations a “mainstay” of international relations. There are examples for the positive role of regional organisations in the prevention and settlement of conflicts, such as the EU-facilitated dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina leading to improved relations between Serbia and Kosovo. The Gulf Cooperation Council had helped in 2011 to broker an agreement that was to lead to elections in 2014. The efforts of ASEAN resulted in the cessation of violence along the Thai-Cambodian border.

In Somalia, the United Nations worked with the African Union Mission (AMISOM) and assisted Somali partners to successfully conclude an eight year political transition. The collaboration of the United Nations with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union was essential to the UN response in Côte d’Ivoire and central to its efforts in Mali. The Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of the Congo – supported by 11 African leaders, the African Union, the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the International Conference for the Great Lakes Region and the United Nations represented the best opportunity in years for forging a durable peace.

The significance of regional organisations for the economic and social development agenda has been recognized at the United Nations in its first phase of activities. The Economic and Social Council of the UN created five regional commissions whose mandate and membership was further developed over the years:

  • The Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Far East (ECAFE) then became The Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP)
  • The Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA)
  • The Economic Commission for Africa (ECA)
  • The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC)
  • The Economic Commission for Europe (ECE)

It is noteworthy that social issues have not received primary attention in regional integration and institution-building processes. Only two of the five UN regional commissions have a formal mandate for social affairs.

The challenges related to sustainable environmental and natural resources are marked by the repeated confrontations of interests, externalities and the difficulties to move from zero-sum to positive sum patterns of interaction and cooperation. The issues related to the development and use of international water resources systems are particularly complex in the up-stream – downstream relationship of equitably sharing uses and benefits. The United Nations and the World Bank have played an important role in achieving regional institutional frameworks of the co-basin countries for such rivers as the Ganges, the Mekong, the Senegal, the Niger and regarding Lake Chad.

A similar new challenge is the protection and sustainable use of the marine and coastal ecosystems of marine currents. The Guinea current is of concern to 16 Central and Western African countries whose use of marine resources is increasingly endangered by oil-spills, of which there are more than one every day, ballast water unloaded by European tankers, industrial fishing modes which destroy marine ecosystems, etc.

Regarding the regional strengthening of societal values and interactions, important regional progress has been achieved, even though the challenges today are more profound and threatening than during the past century. Regional conventions on Human Rights were adopted and regional human rights commissions established in Africa (African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights), in Europe (European Convention on Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights), in Latin America (the American Convention of Human Rights and the Interamerican Court of Human Rights) and in Asia (Asian Human Rights Charter, ASEAN Human Rights Declaration, Asian Human Rights Commission). This regional perspective gives opportunities to make visible and relevant regional human rights cultures and traditions. Few are aware of the fact that Africa had its first code of human rights in 1334 in the constitution of Kurukan Fukan of the Menden Empire in Northern Africa.

The regional perspectives in all of these challenges to be addressed in the 21st century, as reflected in the institutional development, are of rising importance.

It is no surprise then that the United Nations has granted many regional organisations observer status. The president of the General Assembly organized last year a Thematic Debate with the different regional organisations having different substantive responsibilities, thus underlining the fundamental importance of regional capacities for “our common future”.

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