International Law Society

Global Issues Symposium


The International Law Society cordially invites you to New York City for its annual Global Issues Symposium

The United Nations and Three Challenges of the 21st Century

Peace and Security
The Promotion of Human Rights
The Reduction of Poverty


Thursday, March 29, 2007 · NYU School of Law · Lipton Hall, 108 West third Street


The world has changed significantly since the end of the Cold War, and perhaps even more profoundly since September 11, 2001.  Enduring problems, such as lack of development and extreme poverty, have assumed a new dimension in an increasingly interdependent world.  Environmental threats have taken a new urgency and visibility.  Violent conflicts have multiplied, often within nations.  Genocide and other atrocities and violations of basic human rights continue to occur despite pledges to act.  Many question the United Nations' effectiveness and usefulness in the face of these challenges, including those who continue to share the principles on which the Charter was built.

Conscious of this criticism and anxious to adjust to new challenges while remaining faithful to its mission, the United Nations has pursued reform since the mid-1980s.  In 2005, a 16-member High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change offered a number of suggestions to the Secretary-General.  Additionally, some 250 experts worked on the Millennium Project, designed to facilitate the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals by 2015.  The most recent comprehensive report of the Secretary-General on reforming the United Nations-In Larger Freedom: Towards Development, Security and Human Rights For All-was released in March 2005.  After considering this report, a World Summit convened in September 2005 and, with the presence of more than 130 heads of State or Government, adopted a resolution in the General Assembly called the 2005 World Summit Outcome.  The Secretary-General's report and the General Assembly resolution offer the latest comprehensive and official expressions of the manner in which the organization might address the key challenges that confront humankind.

This symposium seeks to build on these efforts and inform the debate about the relevance of the United Nations in the 21st century.  The three issues examined during the symposium raise common questions about the capacity of the United Nations to address these challenges effectively.

Panel Discussion 1: Peace and Security

  • To what extent does the principle of national sovereignty remain an obstacle to an effective role of the United Nations in matters of peace and security?  In what forum could the various positions on national sovereignty-notably those of powerful versus smaller or weaker states-be debated usefully?
  • Under what conditions can the crack in the door opened by the General Assembly on the "responsibility to protect" be opened further?
  • Similarly, what possibilities will be created by the Peace Building Commission, and what constraints will have to be overcome for its effective use?
  • To what extent is the stalemate on Security Council reform an obstacle to an enhanced role of the United Nations on matters of peace and security?

Panel Discussion 2: The Promotion of Human Rights

  • What are the main obstacles to strengthening the role of the United Nations in the protection and promotion of human rights?
  • The "indivisibility" of human rights-economic, social and cultural rights as equal to civil and political rights- is evident in the Universal Declaration and  its two covenants and proclaimed in numerous resolutions, but it is not respected by a number of Member States and, therefore, by the UN itself.  What steps can be taken to better ensure the indivisibility of all human rights in practice?
  • To what extent and in what respects does the Human Rights Council represent progress over the Commission on Human Rights?
  • Should the United Nations continue to develop new instruments in the field of human rights?  In which domains would such instruments be particularly useful?

Panel Discussion 3: The Reduction of Poverty

  • What are the prospects for achieving the Millennium Development Goals by the target year of 2015?  What are the main causes of the recognized shortcomings in the realization of these goals?
  • The reduction of poverty is one of the eight aims of the Millennium Development Goals and only one of the many objectives figuring in the United Nations Millennium Declaration, yet it has a unique visibility and has received far greater attention than the other commitments.  To what extent is this  focus an advantage, both for addressing poverty and for advancing the cause of development?
  • Although there has been progress on eliminating extreme poverty, particularly in Asia, inequality appears to be increasing in most areas of the world, at least in terms of income and wealth distribution.  How should this trend be interpreted?  How should the UN respond?
  • Traditionally, and particularly recently, development is linked with international security.  What are the theoretical and practical elements for such a link in the 21st century?

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