September 12, 2005

Forum will explore possible U.N. changes

by K.C. Jaehnig

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- A free forum on proposed changes to the United Nations will take place at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 15, in the School of Law courtroom (Room 108) on the campus of Southern Illinois University Carbondale. The issues discussed will mirror those on the table at a U.N. world summit taking place Wednesday through Friday in New York City.

Cindy G. Buys, assistant professor of law at SIUC, will talk about reforming the U.N. Human Rights Commission, while Paul H. Diehl, professor of political science at the University of Illinois, will cover possible alterations to the U.N. Security Council. A question and answer session will follow.

SIUC's law school and the Southern Illinois chapter of the U.N. Association are co-sponsoring the event, which will include sign language interpretation.

The Human Rights Commission has come in for a great deal of criticism as an ineffectual agency, Buys said.

"It has no enforcement power to call countries to task when they violate human rights, and countries that many feel have been the worst violators of human rights have been able to get positions on the commission and frustrate its ability to do its job," she said.

"Libya is a prime example of this, occupying as it did a seat on the commission."

In 2003, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan appointed an international panel to study the U.N. and recommend improvements, Buys said. The panel reported its findings last year. Among its conclusions: that membership of the commission should include all members of the U.N. itself. Annan, however, believes such expansion would make the commission even more ineffectual. He proposes to start over again from scratch with a year-round council to which members would be elected by at least two-thirds of the General Assembly.

"I think this is a better answer," Buys said. "Expanding the commission to include all the membership is not workable."

The panel also recommended expanding membership in the U.N. Security Council, which now has 15 members with only five of those — the United States among them— holding veto power.

"Today, the U.N. has 191 member countries, and some of the original members, such as France, are no longer world powers, where such countries as India and Japan have grown in both influence and wealth," Buys said.

"If the U.S. agrees to changes, that could mean a loss of power for us. Is that a good thing? How and to what extent should the Security Council change? Those are the kinds of questions Paul Diehl will be focusing on," Buys said.

Over the last few years, America has had an increasingly rocky relationship with the U.N., as it tries to balance its need for alliances with its desire for independence, Buys noted.

"As the world becomes smaller, it's important (for us as citizens) to understand what our relationships are with the United Nations and engage in the debates about what they should be," she said.

Creating citizen-leaders with global perspectives is among the goals of Southern at 150: Building Excellence Through Commitment, the blueprint for the development of the University by the time it observes its 150th anniversary in 2019.