Preface: ARUNA 2012/2013

Joachim Muller and Karl P. Sauvant[1]

The Annual Review of United Nations Affairs (ARUNA) occupies a special place in the publications on the work of the United Nations - it provides readers with in-depth commentaries on the principal developments by a group of distinguished experts,[2] complemented by selected and official United Nations documentation. This is done for the key organs of the Organization: the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the International Court of Justice,[3] and the United Nations Secretariat.[4] The period reviewed is the “United Nations year”: the annual session of the General Assembly of the United Nations, beginning in September and lasting 12 months. This 2012/2013 edition covers the 67th session of the General Assembly, from 18 September 2012 to 16 September 2013. As one of the longest established annual publications on United Nations affairs, ARUNA provides an important reference source for policy-makers, academic researchers, and anyone interested in this Organization.

Issues during the year in review

In accordance with its comprehensive mandate, the United Nations is concerned with peace and security, development, social affairs, and human rights. The Organization has developed into a complex and global institution with a well-established governance structure involving essentially all countries, namely 193 member states. As illustrated in this edition, a large part of the Organization’s work can be considered routine United Nations business, including negotiating and elaborating treaty obligations, maintaining peacekeeping missions, implementing development projects, providing for refugees, and many other activities.

Each year, there are a number of issues that characterize the period under review, and these are captured in the commentaries and documentation provided in the five chapters of this year’s edition. For 2012/2013, such issues included most of the worldwide hotspots such as Syria, Mali, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the tensions on the Korean peninsula. An increased United Nations emphasis on preventive diplomacy and mediation can also be observed, addressing conflicts in countries as diverse as Cyprus, Guinea, Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar, Nepal, Sierra Leone, and Yemen.

The main issue confronting the United Nations was Syria. Between March 2011 and the end of 2013, fighting between the Syrian Government and opposition forces seeking to oust President Bashar Al-Assad had killed more than 100,000 people. In June 2013, the United Nations launched a US$4.4 billion humanitarian appeal the largest aid request in the Organization’s history - to assist the growing number of people suffering the effects of the crisis in Syria. The United Nations estimated that 6.8 million people, one in three Syrians, needed urgent humanitarian assistance. This was also more than half the combined total of all other appeals that covered 16 countries from Afghanistan through Somalia. Efforts to launch peace negotiations had been unsuccessful due to blockage in the Security Council and reluctance on the part of the Syrian government. A new dimension to the crisis became apparent when a United Nations team found evidence that sarin gas was used in an August 2013 incident on the outskirts of Damascus in which hundreds of people were killed. As a follow-up, Russia, the United States, and the Syrian Government reached an understanding regarding the safeguarding and destruction of Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles. This task was subsequently entrusted to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW),[5] and it was hoped that progress could be achieved in launching peace negotiations.

Another country in crisis was Mali. Northern Mali had been occupied by radical Islamists after fighting broke out in January 2012 between Government forces and Tuareg rebels. The conflict uprooted hundreds of thousands of people and prompted the Malian Government to request assistance to stop the military advance of extremist groups. In April 2013, the Security Council approved the 12,600-strong United Nations peacekeeping operation MINUSMA to take over from the African-led mission in Mali and authorized the blue helmets to carry out security-related stabilization tasks and to protect civilians, United Nations staff, and cultural artifacts; it also created the conditions for the provision of humanitarian aid. In parallel to MINUSMA, the Council authorized French troops to intervene in support of the mission when under imminent and serious threat. This is the third largest peacekeeping operation of the United Nations among the 16 currently deployed across the world, according to its authorized force levels. The mission is expected to pro­ vide the conditions for the Malian authorities to implement the transitional roadmap toward the full restoration of constitutional order, democratic governance, and national unity.

Diplomatic activities also took place to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In November 2012, the General Assembly voted to grant Palestine non-member observer state status at the United Nations. In March 2013, the Security Council called on Israel to halt all settlement activity and to ensure accountability for the violations of the human rights of the Palestinians resulting from the settlements. This was done following an independent inquiry mandated by the United Nations. With the help of the Middle East diplomatic Quartet, the United Nations continued to push for peace between Israel and Palestine. In July 20I3, Israelis and Palestinians resumed direct talks on final status negotiations with senior negotiators from both sides meeting in Washington.

Tensions on the Korean peninsula increased when the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) conducted a nuclear test in early 20I3. The Security Council strongly condemned that action and demanded that the DPRK retract its announcement of withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The Council also tightened sanctions on the country's travel, assets and trade, including luxury goods. Sanctions were first imposed on the DPRK following nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009.

There were, of course, many other important issues. In particular:

  • In October 2012, the World Food Programme came to the assistance of Pakistan after severe monsoon flooding delivered a crippling blow to nearly five million people, claiming lives and ruining tens of thousands of houses and vast swaths of crops.
  • In November 2012, the United Nations Climate Change Conference gathered in Doha, involving approximately 17,000 government representatives, international organizations, and civil society members, and agreed to extend the life of the Kyoto Protocol, which had been due to expire at the end of 2012, and to develop a successor to the Protocol by 2015.
  • In December 2012, the General Assembly approved the first-ever resolution aimed at ending the harmful practice of female genital mutilation.
  • In February 2013, the Secretary-General decided that compensation claims in connection with the cholera outbreak in Haiti brought against the Organization were not receivable. The claim stipulated that the outbreak was caused by members of the United Nations peacekeeping mission stationed in Haiti. The United Nations had already, in December 2012, launched an initiative to eliminate cholera in Haiti.
  • In March 2013, the Security Council authorized the deployment of an intervention brigade within the current United Nations peacekeeping operation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), to address imminent threats to peace and security.
  • In April 2013, the General Assembly approved a global arms trade treaty that regulates the international trade in conventional arms. The treaty asks governments explicitly to consider the risk that an arms transfer could facilitate serious acts of violence against women and children before allowing it to proceed.

One of the most moving and important event was the address of Malala Yousafzai to the United Nations Youth Assembly in July 2013. The 16-year old Pakistani schoolgirl had been shot by the Taliban for attending classes. She urged the assembly to use education as a weapon against extremism, stating that books and pens are the most powerful weapons that can change the world. The Secretary-General declared her birthday “Malala Day” in honor of her heroic stand.

Major cross-cutting policy process on development

During the United Nations year 2012/2013, a multi-dimensional policy process on development unfolded, involving various United Nations organs and other institutions in a cross-cutting fashion. Essentially, this covered two overlapping and partially duplicative processes. First, the 2010 High-level Plenary Meeting of the General Assembly on the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) requested the Secretary­ General to initiate thinking on the global development agenda beyond 2015. Second, the 2012 Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development initiated a process to develop a set of sustainable development goals. There was broad agreement that the two processes should be closely linked and should ultimately converge in one global development agenda beyond 2015 with sustainable development at its core.

Initially approved in 2001, the MDGs provided a novel effort to focus the work of the United Nations toward improving the life for the world's poorest and most vulnerable by 2015. The eight MDGs set specific targets on poverty alleviation, education, gender equality, child mortality, maternal health, environmental sustainability, and HIV/AIDS reduction, and outlined a global partnership for development. Whereas major improvements have been recorded on some of the goals and for some regions, much more needs to be done. Efforts were launched to accelerate the achievement of the MDGs as the 2015 deadline approaches. Any follow-up beyond 2015 would not only address the issues unresolved but also reflect new concerns.

Since the MDGs had been developed with little input from civil society or from those who would be most affected by the implementation of the goals, the buzzword for the post-2015 initiative is consultations. Following-up to the 2010 High-level Plenary Meeting, the Secretary-General established a United Nations System Task Team on the Post-2015 United Nations Development Agenda in January 2012. The Task Team was co-chaired by the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). It brought together experts from over 60 United Nations entities and international organizations through a host of meetings. In 2012, a series of United Nations-led consultations took place in nearly 100 countries, engaging governments, NGOs, the private sector, trade unions, and the academic community. Inspiration was sought on the priorities of a new development agenda that would build on the MDGs. The Task Team supported the process by providing analytical thinking and substantial input; it published its first report on “Realizing the Future We Want for All”[6] in June 2012. The consultations process was also supported by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), a global, independent network of institutions, led by Jeffrey Sachs, including research centers and universities that work with business and civil society. Finally, in June 2012, the Secretary-General appointed Amina J. Mohammed to be the Special Advisor of the Secretary-General on Post-2015 Development Planning, to assist him in the consultation process.

As part of this process (and after the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, known as Rio+20, had taken place in June 2012), the Secretary-General established in July 2012 a High-level Panel of Eminent Persons[7] to provide recommendations on possible components of a post-2015 United Nations development agenda. The work of that Panel commenced shortly thereafter, and the Panel delivered its report on 30 May 2013,[8] setting out a universal agenda to eradicate extreme poverty by 2030 and to deliver on the promise of sustainable development. Specifically, the new post-2015 goals were seen to drive five major transformational shifts: a move from reducing poverty to ending extreme poverty, leaving no one behind; putting sustainable development at the core of the development agenda; transforming economies to drive inclusive growth; building accountable institutions, open to all, that will ensure good governance and peaceful societies; and forging a new global partnership based on cooperation, equity, and human rights. Sustainable development has become the overarching development paradigm.

However, member states were unhappy that they had not been given the opportunity to direct the consultation process on such a major policy-setting exercise as the post-2015 United Nations development agenda. This had already been the case in the elaboration of the previous MDGs back in 2001, when proposals were presented to member states by the Secretary-General for their approval. One of the main outcomes of Rio+20 was therefore the launch of an intergovernmental process to develop a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs are to be based on the United Nations Agenda 21,[9] the action plan on sustainable development approved by the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCEO) in 1992. Agenda 21 covers issues such as combatting poverty, changing consumption patterns, promoting health, promoting sustainable population and human settlement development, and protecting the environment. Moreover, the SDGs are to build upon the MDGs and converge with the post-2015 development agenda. In general, the SDGs would need to be broader than the MDGs in order to reflect new challenges, and they need to be founded on the three dimensions of economic growth, social justice, and environmental stewardship. Developing countries insisted that the goals should also cover means of implementation, especially financial resources and technology transfer, be universally applicable to all countries, and not represent a kind of conditionality applying only to developing countries.

The intergovernmental Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals was established by the General Assembly in January 2013, consisting of the representatives of 30 United Nations member countries nominated by different regions - an innovative, constituency-based system that is new to the General Assembly.[10] Initial input to the Open Working Group was provided by the Secretary-General in December 2012.[11]

Eight sessions of the Open Working Group were scheduled, starting in April 2013, and covering issues such as sustained and inclusive economic growth, macroeconomic policy questions, means of implementation, global partnership, sustainable cities, sustainable transport, sustainable consumption and production (including chemicals and waste), climate change and disaster risk reduction, social equity, gender equality and women’s empowerment, conflict prevention, post-conflict peacebuilding, and the promotion of durable peace, rule of law, and governance.

An inter-agency Technical Support Team was established to provide technical support to the Open Working Group, including evidence-based inputs, analytical thinking, and field experience. The Technical Support Team was set up under the umbrella of the United Nations System Task Team, initially established to support the post-2015 development agenda consultation process. Similar to the Task Team, the Technical Support Team was co-chaired by DESA and UNDP, and consisted of representatives of over 40 United Nations entities.

The history and understandings underpinning the SDGs and the post-20 I 5 development agenda process and the complexity of the approach have made it difficult to achieve the desired convergence. In order to improve coherence across the different work streams, Amina J. Mohammed, the Special Advisor of the Secretary-General on Post-2015 Development Planning, is to provide a link between the Secretary-General’s effort and the Working Group. Moreover, an informal senior coordination group of four Assistant Secretaries-General was put in place; it includes the Special Advisor on Post-20 I 5 Development Planning and the Assistant Secretaries-General from DESA, UNDP, and UN-Women. Finally, a One Secretariat was established to facilitate the coordination and coherence across work streams, while each of the work streams remained substantively independent.

Although no specific decisions were required from the 67th session of the General Assembly and the 2013 ECOSOC session, the SDGs and the post-2015 development agenda were a key concern for member states and the Secretariat.[12] The somewhat unclear and duplicative manner in which the issues had been addressed up to that point led to the conclusion that both processes needed to be consolidated under a member state-led framework, albeit with broad participation from external stakeholders such as civil society, scientific and knowledge institutions, parliaments, local authorities, and the private sector. This had been proposed by the Secretary-General to the General Assembly in July 2013.[13] In October 2013, the way forward was decided by the General Assembly during a special event to follow up efforts made toward achieving the MDGs.[14] Governments created a new two-year road map of negotiations for the forthcoming 68th and 69th sessions of the General Assembly. Essentially, it was decided to discontinue the semi-independent effort of the Secretary-General and merge all efforts into a process of intergovernmental negotiations tasked with crafting a strong post-2015 development agenda reflecting poverty eradication and sustainable development.

As a result, current efforts are to be wrapped up. The Open Working Group and the Intergovernmental Committee of Experts on Sustainable Development Financing are to complete their work by September 2014. The Secretary-General was tasked to synthesize the inputs available from the United Nations system consultations before the end of20I4. The results are to be submitted to the new intergovernmental negotiations, which are to begin with the 69th session (September 2014) and lead to a summit in September 2015 to adopt the post-2015 development agenda.

Commentaries by chapter

The commentaries that accompany the documentation contained in each chapter lay out an overview of the workings of the Organization, highlighting important issues and providing an introduction to the documents that follow in each chapter.

Chapter 1 covers the 67th session of the General Assembly. Professor John R. Mathiason provides the Commentary - “The Rule of Law”. The documentation includes the opening statement of the President of the session, which outlines the main topics of the United Nations year under review. This is followed by the closing statement of the President of the session, the agenda of the annual session, and the complete set of the Assembly’s resolutions. Mathiason notes that much of the work of the Assembly is about the rule of law. By virtue of the General Assembly’s work in approving resolutions and treaties, law is being made. He argues that the rule of law also infused other discussions. A new treaty on arms trade was adopted, work was mandated to draft a human rights convention to protect older people, agreements were reached on the accountability of international civil servants, and the legal and moral issues connected with the situation in Syria were present throughout. He emphasizes that one means to advance the rule of law over successive sessions will be to negotiate agreements on the objectives to be adopted to replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), taking into account The Future We Want and other documents. As discussed, this effort began during the 67th session - it will be a major feature of the 68th and 69th sessions and beyond.

Chapter 2 deals with the work of the Security Council. Dr. Tapio Kanninen provides the Commentary – “Coping with Disagreements among Major Powers”. The documentation contains the report of the Security Council, which gives a detailed account of the various issues discussed, the documentation considered, and the decisions taken by the Security Council during the year under review; this is followed by the resolutions of the Security Council and the Presidential Statements, as well as reports of the Secretary-General to the Security Council. Kanninen observes that divisions among the permanent five members over Syria continued, although agreement was reached toward the end of September 2013 on bringing the Syria conflict back to the Security Council - the Council seemed once again to have a major role in future discussions and decisions on Syria. Moreover, the Council was able to work constructively and with good results on the conflict in Yemen, one of the few positive developments in conflict resolution and peace-building for the Council. The Council was also relatively unanimous on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Mali. Kanninen notes that a major step toward robust peacekeeping for restoring and maintaining a cease-fire was achieved when the Council supported the establishment of an intervention brigade for the DRC. The brigade would not be restoring a cease-fire, but would rather neutralize armed groups and work for the stabilization of the country - a new approach that had originally been proposed by Boutros Boutros-Ghali in his Agenda for Peace back in 1992. Moreover, the issue of climate change has been brought to the discussions of the Council. Most likely, Kanninen argues, the pressure on the Council to act on the issue will increase when climate change is seen to have more and more of an impact on the security situation in many countries and regions through droughts, diminishing access to water, and food riots among other problems created by global warming.

Chapter 3 discusses the work of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Mr. Tim Wall provides the Commentary – “Pivoting to an Uncertain Future”. The documentation contains the Report of ECOSOC, comprising three segments. The chapter also reproduces the agenda of ECOSOC as well as the Council’s resolutions. Wall points out that, despite a lack of functional power and a reputation as a United Nations “talk shop”, ECOSOC does hold some high cards within the United Nations system. As a multi-stakeholder body, he argues, it not only includes civil society in its discussions, but also registers and services nearly 4,000 non-governmental organizations. It is the body that best combines inter-governmental with inter-agency deliberations. It brings together member states from the North and the South on issues for which the possibilities for agreement may be more propitious than in the now-contentious General Assembly and the Human Rights Council. But vulnerabilities in the ECOSOC portfolio are apparent. Wall notes that the Council has not engaged in a convincing way with the corporate sector since its information and communication technology breakthrough in 2000. And the enhanced inter-agency cooperation due to the unifying force of the post-2015 agenda may well fall by the wayside. The prospect of a new development regime may as easily fuel competition for pride of place of the specialized issues of each fund, program, or agency and the funding likely to go with it. These are the same rocks on which the Council's coordinating function foundered since the beginning. Wall suggests that ECOSOC as an organizer of responses to new policy direction provided by the High-Level Political Forum may prove more fruitful. Furthermore, the objective expressed by the Secretariat of building constituencies and focal points of global discussions and of meaningful initiatives such as the one on South-South cooperation upcoming in 2014 may open the possibility of a way forward.

Chapter 4 presents the work of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and International Criminal Tribunals. Professor Alexander K.A. Greenawalt provides the Commentary ­ “The Borders of States and the Boundaries of the Law”. The documentation contains the report of the International Court and Tribunals and gives details of its jurisdiction, its composition, and the work undertaken. Greenawalt notes that 2012/2013 was a study in contrasts. The ICJ had a relatively quiet year, one in which the Court released final decisions in only two cases, both involving boundary disputes. As the Nicaragua v Colombia maritime dispute affirms, however, the Court’s decisions are not always free from controversy, and state compliance is not assured. Meanwhile, Greenawalt observes, the international criminal tribunals probed boundaries of a different sort: those of the law itself. The International Criminal Court’s (ICC) contrasting admissibility decisions in the Gaddafi and al-Senussi cases saw the Court grapple with the complexities of its unique complementarity framework. The idea that the ICC is a court of last resort that should defer to genuine domestic investigations is central to the Court's institutional identity, and perhaps even to its political legitimacy. Yet, as the Libya decisions reveal, the Court's statute leaves much about the Court's relationship to domestic justice unresolved, leaving it to the Court’s judges to elucidate and refine this central structural feature. The Kenya prosecutions, Greenawalt argues, are testing the Court's relationship to domestic institutions in a different way, presenting the first time that an international criminal tribunal has attempted to prosecute a sitting Head of State who remains outside the custody of the tribunal. Finally, the jurisprudence of the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) on aid and abetting has tested the substantive reach of international law in cross-border assistance cases - exploring a difficult line between the legitimate prerogatives of state policy and the realm of individual criminal responsibility. Greenawalt concludes that the divergent judgments underscore the increasing fragmentation of international criminal tribunals that do not benefit from a common appellate body.

Chapter 5 describes the work of the Secretariat. Dr. Khalil A. Hamdani provides the Commentary – “Advocate of Norms and Values”. The documentation starts with the Annual Report of the Secretary-General for the 67th session of the General Assembly. This is followed by a number of annual reports of various entities of the United Nations system. Hamdani argues that the United Nations deserves credit for sustaining progress toward the Millennium Development Goals and for launching a process to define the post-2015 development agenda. There were many distractions in 2012/2013 - economic troubles, armed conflicts, and discord among major powers - and there was little political will to address global problems and long-term challenges. The United Nations Secretariat, as well, was encumbered with immediate matters of funding shortfalls and escalating demands for peacekeeping and humanitarian relief. Nevertheless, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and his colleagues in the United Nations entities and specialized agencies, working in partnership with civil society, have sustained the belief that poverty can be eliminated worldwide. They have also advocated for soft issues to be transformed into hard universal objectives: the integration of human rights, gender equality, and sustainability into new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). While eminently desirable, Hamdani argues, these would be of merely symbolic value without parallel agreement on binding commitments to reduce carbon emissions within the framework convention on climate change. How well the international community rises to the dual challenge of new goals and binding commitments will define the legacy of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

We trust that this publication is of use to all those interested in the work of the United Nations.

Geneva and New York

November 2013

[1] The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the institutions with which the authors are affiliated.

[2] Details on the experts are shown under Contributors and Co-editors.

[3] Including the international criminal tribunals.

[4] Due to its inactive nature, the Trusteeship Council is not included.


[5] OPCW was awarded the 2013 Nobel Prize for Peace.

[6] “Realizing the Future We Want for All,” UN System Task Team on the Post-2015 UN Development Agenda, Report to the Secretary-General, United Nations, New York, June 2012.

[7] With approximately 27 members and three co-Chairs: President Susilo Bambang Yudboyono of Indonesia, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, and Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom.

[8] Letter dated 30 May 2013 from the Secretary-General to the President of the General Assembly, A/67/890,Annex, Report of the High-level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, “A New Global Partnership: Eradicate Poverty and Transform Economies through Sustainable Development,” June 13, 2013.

[9] The “21”refers to the 21st century.

[10] General Assembly decision 67/555, January 22 2013.

[11] Report of the Secretary-General, A/67/634, “Initial input of the Secretary-General to the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals,” December 17, 2012.

[12] For the General Assembly see Chapter I, for ECOSOC see Chapter 3, and for the Secretariat see Chapter 5.

[13] Report of the Secretary-General, A/68/202, on “A life of dignity for all: accelerating progress towards the Millennium Development Goals and advancing the United Nations development agenda beyond 2015,” July 26, 2013.

[14] General Assembly resolution A/RES/68/6 approved on October 9, 2013 on “Outcome document of the special event to follow up efforts made towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals.”