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General Assembly Plenary

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The General Assembly Plenary typically considers issues that are best addressed in a comprehensive manner or that require coordinating work between many bodies of the United Nations. For example, the 60th General Assembly established a Peacebuilding Commission that oversees the United Nations peacebuilding processes and coordinates the work of the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council, the Secretary-General and Member States emerging from conflict situations. Note that if the Security Council, which is given the primary task of ensuring peace and security by the Charter, is discussing a particular issue, the General Assembly Plenary will cease its own deliberations and defer to the Security Council. Additionally, only the Fifth Committee is able to set or discuss the United Nations budget. No other bodies, including the Plenary, are able to do so. The Plenary committees, both concurrent and combined, have the widest latitude of the deliberative bodies to discuss and pass resolutions on a wide variety of topics.

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Education for Democracy Education for Democracy

Democratic governance and popular representation in government are core rights identified in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. To support democratization and democracy across the world, the United Nations has encouraged the empowerment of civilians and their participation in policymaking at all levels through many avenues, including recently a focus on education for democracy. Educating citizens about democratic principles, from democratic participation to the protection of human rights, builds a strong foundation to support democratic governance. At the same time, the United Nations recognizes that democracy takes many forms, so its focus has been on encouraging and developing the ideals that make a government democratic, rather than promoting one specific model of government. Even so, electoral democracies around the world have grown substantially from the 1970s onward, with both the proportion of electoral democratic governments and proportion of the world’s population living in electoral democracies rapidly increasing between 1975 and 2015, the latter more than doubling over that time period as numerous new electoral democracies emerged as the result of decolonization and the end of the Cold War.

In 1974, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) adopted the Recommendation concerning Education for International Understanding, Co-operation and Peace and Education relating to Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, which proposed a structure for national education programs to instill respect and understanding of human rights. According to the most recent quadrennial report requested by the Recommendation in 2017, nearly all of the 83 Member States that responded to the UNESCO survey had included principles of peace and non-violence, cultural diversity and human rights in their national education curricula. These principles help establish an environment where democratic governance is effective by helping to define the roles of people and governments with respect to each other. The role of UNESCO in promoting education for democracy eventually culminated in the 1992 International Forum on Education for Democracy in Tunis, where UNESCO discussed the purpose of education both in building democratic traditions in new democracies and in combating democratic apathy in old ones.

Since the 1992 UNESCO forum, education for democracy efforts have entered into the purviews of many United Nations organizations, each approaching the issue from different perspectives. The United Nations Development Programme considers education and democratic ideals as development goals, particularly given their status in the Sustainable Development Goals. In 2004 the General Assembly proclaimed the World Programme for Human Rights Education, which built off the achievements of the United Nations Decade for Human Rights Education (1995-2004) and planned to improve human rights education in phases, first targeting primary and secondary education from 2005 to 2009, then moving on to focus on other facets of education. The United Nations Democracy Fund (UNDEF) was founded in 2005 and funds projects in burgeoning democracies to strengthen the voice of civil society, call attention to human rights and facilitate the participation of all groups in democratic processes, with a large emphasis on projects that allow for more participation by women. UN Women, founded in 2010, also uses a gendered approach to education for democracy, seeking to increase representation of women in political systems.

The General Assembly first directly addressed this issue in November 2012 with the passage of Resolution 67/18, Education for Democracy. In this resolution, the General Assembly tied together the previous work done for education for democracy; the resolution encouraged Member States to integrate human rights and citizens empowerment into domestic education systems and called upon the various United Nations organizations to assist in sharing their expertise. This resolution also coincided with then-Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s launch of the five-year Global Education First initiative to accelerate progress on the education-related Millennium Development Goals, including fostering the democratic ideal of global citizenship by supporting individual projects across the world that promote access to education and civic engagement.

In its most recent resolution on Education for Democracy, the General Assembly has placed Education for Democracy squarely in terms of Sustainable Development Goal 4, “ensuring quality education for all,” and the Education 2030 Framework for Action for meeting this goal. In particular, the resolution ties together education for democracy, human rights, and civic education and education for sustainable development, and calls on Member States to integrate all of these into their education standards.

Past efforts to implement education for democracy initiatives have struggled in some developing countries due to insufficient standard education infrastructure for these programs to build upon. This problem is particularly exacerbated by conflict, where instability and refugee crises undermine the reach of educational programs. The March 2018 report “It’s Her Turn” from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, revealed that refugee girls are only half as likely as their male peers to enroll in school by the time they reach secondary education, and highlighted some of the challenges girls face that cause this discrepancy.

Questions for Consideration: Questions for Consideration:

  • How does the the General Assembly participate alongside UNESCO, UN Women and other United Nations organizations in promoting education for democracy?
  • How can democratic ideals be promoted in ways that do not conflict with social, cultural or political traditions?
  • How does the role of education for democracy differ between established democracies and newer, more fragile ones?

Bibliography: Bibliography:

UN Documents:

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Safety and security of humanitarian personnel and protection of United Nations personnel Safety and security of humanitarian personnel and protection of United Nations personnel

The United Nations relies heavily on its own personnel and third-party humanitarian and peacekeeping personnel to fulfil its mandate to maintain peace, security and well-being across the world. Ensuring their safety is vital to maximizing their performance in United Nations operations and to the overall success of their missions, as well as facilitating recruitment and establishment of future aid work. While rules of war have protected humanitarian personnel for well over a century, these workers continue to be attacked by both State and non-State actors. Further, It is important to remember that fatalities are not the only threats facing aid workers, as violent crime, abduction, and other non-lethal acts also threaten the well-being of personnel.

The four Geneva Conventions form the basis for modern rules of conduct during war, and the First Geneva Convention defines the protections of humanitarian personnel in areas of conflict. First ratified in 1864, the First Convention designated hospital and ambulance personnel as neutral parties and required belligerent parties to respect that neutrality. As methods of war evolved in the decades after the First Convention, the international community recognized shortcomings in the Convention and by 1949 had revised and expanded the original Convention to apply to all medical personnel, religious personnel and civilians. In 1977, two Additional Protocols expanded the Convention to cover colonial and non-international conflicts, and in 2005 a third Protocol introduced a new symbol for medical and religious personnel, the Red Crystal. Despite these attempts to modernize the Geneva Conventions, they fail to address conflicts involving non-State armed groups (NSAG), which have become increasingly common since the end of the Cold War. In August 2016, airstrikes led by Member States laid waste to a medical center in Yemen operated by Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders). This strike demonstrated that these attacks are perpetrated not only by militias or non-state actors, but also by the Member States that have supported United Nations resolutions supporting protection of humanitarian actors. In response to this and other events, the General Assembly adopted a resolution in 2017 reaffirming the need for state governments to hold accountable actors treating centers of humanitarian aid as tactical targets.

Alongside humanitarian personnel, United Nations personnel and peacekeepers have also faced dangerous environments. In 1948, attacks against peacekeepers in Palestine resulted in the death of the Palestine Mediator and his assistant, demonstrating early on that the presence of the United Nations would not always be welcome in areas of conflict. Infrequent attacks continued over the following decades, but the United Nations did not consider them grave enough to require preventative action, instead considering the attacks to be within the understood risks of participating in peacekeeping and humanitarian operations. The safety and security of humanitarian personnel serving the United Nations was not formally addressed until 1992, when Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali deemed the risks to United Nations personnel intolerable. Boutros-Ghali’s initial report prompted the International Law Commission to draft the Convention on the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel, which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in December 1994 and entered into force in 1999, and was later expanded in 2005 with an Optional Protocol. However, as of 2018 only 92 Member States are party to the Convention, and 32 are party to the Optional Protocol.

Fortunately, in recent years fatality rates among both peacekeeping and other United Nations personnel have dropped, with the International Peace Institute estimating the ratio of peacekeeping deaths being halved between 1990 and 2010. In 2017, the Secretary-General reported that overall United Nations personnel fatalities in 2016 hit a five-year low, despite increased numbers of personnel in unstable environments. However, while fatalities and casualties have dropped, the number of personnel affected by security incidents remained high, although the count in 2016 was below the 2010-2016 average. Predominant among these incidents were intimidation, violent crime, terrorism, abduction, and sexual harassment and assault, with violent crime representing the majority of threats posed to aid personnel. Data from 2016 further showed that while both men and women face relatively equal risks of experiencing some threats, 71 percent of personnel directly affected by sexual assault were women.

Looking ahead, the United Nations seeks to empower domestic and international instruments used to bring perpetrators of humanitarian violence to justice and to strengthen the Security Management System for United Nations programmes. The report of the Secretary-General noted that efforts to improve safety and security were beginning to bear fruit, as the overall rate of attacks had slowed compared to earlier in the decade. It further emphasized the importance of adequate and consistent support from Member States in continuing that trend, and also for Member States to conduct investigations into crimes against United Nations personnel and humanitarian personnel. In 2017, the General Assembly urged States to enact national legislation to facilitate the implementation of international law concerning the safety and security of humanitarian personnel, and additionally to ensure effective legal prosecution against those who threaten or harm them. Humanitarian organizations, such as Médecins Sans Frontières, have also called for independent international investigations into attacks on humanitarian personnel, however, due to a lack of consent from the States involved, such investigations have not been possible. To ensure the United Nations is able to continue providing critical programs in high-risk areas, the organization must train qualified personnel and adopt a management system that facilitates the transfer of risk information between host countries and humanitarian personnel.

Questions to Consider: Questions to Consider:

  • What challenges are associated with ensuring the safety and security of peacekeepers and humanitarian workers? How does the type of work affect the challenges and potential solutions?
  • How can the United Nations better protect humanitarian personnel and peacekeepers in areas of conflict?
  • What protections do humanitarian personnel or UN personnel need outside of active conflict areas?
  • How can Member States or the United Nations ensure threats and attacks against United Nations personnel and humanitarian personnel are effectively investigated and prosecuted?

Bibliography: Bibliography:

United Nations Documents:


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