EMELDA MWITWA, Lusaka
THE conflicts and wars that loom far and large around the world, seem to question the essence of the United Nations, formed in October 1945 to promote global peace and the common good of nations of the world.
On formation of the UN, after World War II, the founding members pledged to save the world from the devastation of war, but 73 years down the line, conflicts persist.
In places like South Sudan, Yemen, Iraq, Central African Republic, Somalia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria, Sudan, Myanmar, and Afghanistan; conflicts characterised by loss of lives, blood baths, maim, displacement of civilians, hunger and deprivation, bring into question the relevance of the 193-member UN.
Perhaps this is the reason why the 73rd United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) was themed, “Making the United Nations Relevant to All People: Global Leadership and Shared Responsibilities for Peaceful, Equitable and Sustainable Societies.”
In a renewed call of action to global peace, the UN decided to use the centenary of former South African President Nelson Mandela’s birth to celebrate his legacy and get world leaders to renew their commitment to global peace, conflict prevention and resolution.
Therefore, the Nelson Mandela Peace Summit, preceded debates of the 73rd UNGA in New York last week.
President Edgar Lungu was among the heads of State and Government that addressed the General Assembly on the need for global peace and peaceful co-existence of mankind.
The summit was mandated by a resolution of the 72nd UNGA in December last year in honour of the centenary of the birth of Mr Mandela.
Speaker after speaker praised Mr Mandela who spent 27 years as a political prisoner, and the rest of his life until his demise five years ago, unifying his country, once worse torn apart by apartheid and also negotiating for global peace.
The president of the 73rd UNGA Maria Espinosa said Mr Mandela’s life was worth celebrating because he taught the world that it is possible to forgive, reconcile and to let peace prevail over hatred and revenge.
Ms Espinosa said Madiba was always guided by the principles underpinning the UN.
“He represented the values of peace, solidarity, cooperation and respect for all human kind, regardless of their race, political views or religious beliefs. Mandela once said: “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others,” she said,
Bemoaning the global state of affairs, she noted that the threat of the proliferation of chemical and biological weapons still looms large.
And that tension between nuclear-weapon States, territorial disputes, ethnic conflict and oppression of minorities persist.
She said the Nelson Mandela Peace Summit provided world leaders a platform to tackle the bleak global outlook that poses a serious threat to peace and security.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres praised Madiba for being one of humanity’s great leaders who devoted his life to serving his community as a lawyer, a prisoner of conscience, a peacemaker, a President and a respected elder.
He noted that during his reign as President, Mr Mandela expanded access to health care, education, housing, water, sanitation and electricity, and championed women’s rights and gave South Africa a landmark 1996 Constitution, “which remains a beacon for human rights and equal opportunity.”
Addressing the General Assembly, heads of State and Government, among other stakeholders praised Mandela for living a life that espoused the principles of the UN.
In his address to the Peace Summit, President Lungu urged the international community to redouble efforts to build a just, peaceful, prosperous, inclusive and fair world for the common good of humanity.
He urged the assembly of world leaders to place human dignity at the centre of their actions.
“Today, I am pleased that we are able to honour the legacy of a great leader and son of Africa, whose contributions towards global peace, have remained for the world to emulate.
“The principles and values that Nelson Mandela and our founding fathers in Africa’s Frontline States stood for, that of sacrifice and struggle for human rights, mutual respect, tolerance and reconciliation in our relations, should remain the bedrock in our search for lasting peace,” Mr Lungu said.
South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa noted that despite the formation of the UN, the world has been faced with several crises that have tested the limits of diplomacy and the multilateral system.
He said while the UN has done much to ensure that the world would never go to war with itself again, the organisation faces more intricate and complex challenges.
He observed that over the past seven decades of the UN’s existence, millions of people worldwide have been killed, maimed, displaced and starved as a result of war and conflicts.
These, he said reveal the current threats to international peace and security, also noting that the growing number of refugees in the world pose significant threats to global order.
“To respond to these threats, we need a United Nations that is responsive, adaptable and able to deal with challenges its founders could not have imagined,” Mr Ramaphosa
He said there is need to act decisively to end the exposure of women and children to untold suffering including displacement, torture, rape, mutilation and murder.
Mr Ramaphosa also lamented the continued existence of weapons of mass destruction, whose capacity for human devastation was too dreadful to contemplate.
He said there can be no justification for the existence of weapons that carry with them the potential to extinguish life on this planet.
While applauding the adoption by the General Assembly last year of the groundbreaking Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, he urged all peace loving states to ratify it so that it comes into force without delay.
Kumi Naidoo, the Secretary-General of Amnesty International welcomed the political declaration for peace by governments, but said he was more interested in action than just good sentiments from leaders.
“But the truth is, we have heard it before. These are words that get repeated time and time again without the political will, urgency, determination and courage to make them a reality. To make them really count.
“But we must make them count. Not tomorrow, but right now because we are facing multiple crises around the world, with people suffering on an unimaginable scale,” Mr Naidoo said.
Further, Mr Naidoo called on world leaders to create the right economic conditions that will free the people from poverty.
Many speakers also alluded to the need to end poverty, inequalities and social exclusion because conflicts and civil strife are rooted in these.
Mr Mandela’s widow Graça Machel, expressed concern that global security has deteriorated “remarkably” in the past decade, and the number of armed conflicts has increased.
She said there was no justification for the loss of life and suffering in places like Syria, Yemen, Palestine, South Sudan and Central African Republic.
Ms Machel, speaking as a founding member of The Elders, an organisation that was founded by Mr Mandela, said the celebration of the legacy of Madiba, should provide the world an appropriate opportunity to reflect on the very reason the UN was created.
“To celebrate Madiba’s life and his contributions to the world, is two-fold: to take inspiration from the values he embodies and to emulate his unwavering commitment to freedom, equality, justice and dignity for all,” she said.
She urged the world to take direction from Madiba’s servant leadership and courage.
Ms Machel said Madiba deeply believed that there was nothing more sacred than safeguarding the rights of all human beings.
“Not the preservation of ego. Not partisan politics, and not geopolitical considerations,” she said.
Ms Machel noted that the UN was formed to prevent conflicts and ensure that the world never goes to war again, but today news reels were full of conflict-ridden headlines, signalling significant discord within the international community.
“It is time to say “enough is enough! Members of this esteemed chamber, do not let this just be another “talk shop” summit,” Ms Machel said.
The Nelson Mandela Peace Summit ended with UN member States adopting a political declaration that is expected to pave way for the peaceful settlement of conflicts and achievement of global peace and security.
The political declaration adopted on September 24, 2018, recognises the period 2019 to 2028 as the Nelson Mandela Decade of Peace.
President Lungu hopes that this decade will provide the global village a great opportunity to advance human rights, freedom and peace for all.
During this period, the UN member States are expected to re-double their efforts in search of international peace and security, development and human rights.
However, the world will be watching to see if the political declaration will achieve the intended results.
EMELDA MWITWA, Lusaka