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General Assembly Plenary

The General Assembly Plenary considers issues that are best addressed in a comprehensive manner or that require coordinating work between many bodies of the United Nations. The Plenary has the widest latitude of the deliberative bodies to discuss and pass resolutions on a wide variety of topics. 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: 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 body, including the Plenary, is able to do so. 

The United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Review The United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Review

Countering terrorism is one of the most complex and multi-faceted issues facing the international community, and the international community continues to struggle with the best way to address the issue. Terrorism is not a new phenomenon; the era of modern terrorism began with the assassination of Tsar Alexander II of Russia in 1881. Yet the last several decades have seen new complexities. First and foremost, the ease of global communication enabled by the Internet and other communication technologies makes it increasingly simple for terrorists to reach larger audiences, communicate with associates around the world and recruit more easily. Second, the globalized trade and transportation systems have enabled terrorists to more easily acquire resources move them. Third, the number and diversity of terrorist attacks have increased significantly. The National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism estimates that there were around 650 terrorist incidents in 1970 and nearly 11,000 in 2017. The reasons have also changed: while nationalism was the primary motivator in the 19th century, political ideology, religion and independence movements all emerged as motivating factors in the 20th century. The methodologies employed by terrorists are equally diverse: ranging from fear and coercion through major violent attacks to drug and human trafficking. Individual governments are increasingly struggling with counter-terrorism efforts and are turning to the international community for support and cooperation. The United Nations plays an important role as a key platform for multilateral, systemic approaches to addressing these threats.

The General Assembly has had preventing international terrorism formally on its agenda since 1972. The General Assembly adopted its earliest counter-terrorism conventions in 1973 and 1979: the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Crimes against Internationally Protected Persons and the International Convention against the Taking of Hostages. These conventions were spurred by the growing trend of terrorists to seize or attack embassies or hijack planes and other vehicles. The conventions were designed to create effective measures to prevent, address and punish the taking of hostages and the targeting of diplomats and government employees. They also made taking hostages and attacks against diplomats an offense for which offenders could be extradited regardless of existing extradition treaties between States Parties. In 1994, the Assembly passed a new Declaration on Measures to Eliminate International Terrorism, which led to an Ad Hoc Committee on Terrorism in 1996. The Declaration was the first to highlight the growing nexus between terrorist networks and organized crime, an important source of sustaining revenue and an avenue for access to weapons. Further work was done on condemning and suppressing terrorists’ bombings, financing and access to nuclear weapons, with conventions passed on each topic through the late 90s. The International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism, adopted in 1999, inhibits the ability of terrorists to raise money—targeting charities, individuals, businesses and other organizations that raise, channel or launder money in support of terrorists in other States. Unfortunately, even with the many conventions and an international consensus condemning terrorism, attacks continue.

The terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001 in the United States brought the topic of combating terrorism to the forefront of the international agenda. After considerable discussion and debate, the General Assembly adopted the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy in 2006. It was the first time the international community agreed to a comprehensive and strategic approach to combating terrorism and was the clearest condemnation to date of terrorism as a legitimate tactic. The Strategy centered on four pillars: measures to address the conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism; measures to prevent and combat terrorism; measures to build States’ capacity to prevent and combat terrorism and to strengthen the role of the United Nations system in that regard; and measures to ensure respect for human rights for all and the rule of law as the fundamental basis for the fight against terrorism. This strategy is designed to enhance national, regional and international efforts to counter terrorism. The Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force (CTITF), established by the Secretary-General in 2005, is mandated to enhance coordination and coherence of counter-terrorism efforts of the United Nations system. While the primary responsibility for the implementation of the Global Strategy still remains in the hands of Member States, the CTITF helps coordinate the United Nations system with Member State action, providing policy support and helping deliver technical assistance. In 2017, the General Assembly established the United Nations Office for Counter-Terrorism (UNOCT), in order to strengthen coordination of counter-terrorism efforts.

Though the General Assembly agreed to and adopted the Strategy, Member States struggled on how to approach implementation, with questions concerning whether prevention of radicalization is more effective than suppression. If terrorism is a symptom and not the disease, then suppression does nothing to correct the underlying causes of the attacks. When an attack occurs, it is much easier to counter-strike, seeking those who are responsible, than to consider serious structural reforms that may be required locally or abroad to address the long-term threat. This debate is further compounded because there is no agreement over what motivates or causes terrorism. Limited economic opportunity, poverty, religious differences, weak governance and social conflict are some of the conditions that can motivate individuals to resort to terrorism, issues that will be unaffected by security measures undertaken domestically by outside States. If the legitimate grievances and underlying socioeconomic weaknesses are allowed to fester, attacks may continue. Economic development and governance reform may be just as important to counter-terrorism as is military force.

The General Assembly conducts biennial reviews of the Global Strategy. In June 2018, the sixth and most recent review reaffirmed the United Nations commitment to the Global Strategy and was adopted unanimously. Renewed interest in strengthening the four pillars, especially countering the appeal of terrorism, will focus on promoting dialogue and understanding as important elements in future efforts. The reaffirmation also emphasized a need for the international community to commit to solidarity with the victims of terrorism, which could help make terrorism less attractive as the victims get the attention, not the attackers or their motives. This furthers the key goal of delegitimizing terrorism, making it morally indefensible and a tactic that will cost groups social and economic support. The UNOCT also continues to issue reports and policy recommendations through its working groups, most recently in assisting Member States expand their capacity to counter and respond to terrorism. In June 2018, the United Nations hosted the first High-level Conference of Heads of Counter-Terrorism Agencies of Member States to coordinate counter-terrorism efforts across State governments and civil society.

With the Global Strategy and apparently strong support for countering terrorism, it would seem counter-intuitive that terrorism remains such a scourge. However, the international community remains severely divided over multiple issues. Beset by political divisions and with limited resources, the United Nations has struggled to articulate a vision for its role in the international effort against terrorism. Attacks against United Nations officials have limited the appeal of a large United Nations footprint in combating terrorism. Negotiations on a Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism remain deadlocked, hampered by disagreements over several basic points. States continue to pursue unilateral military action against perceived threats, including within the sovereign territory of other States, often with little or no accountability. Some governments use the threat of terrorism to justify curbing fundamental human rights or even kill its own citizens. As attacks continue, the international community must continue a multi-faceted approach to delegitimize terrorism while addressing its causes.

Questions to consider from your country’s perspective include the following:

  • How can the United Nations further cooperate to fight terrorism? How can Member States work together to support the four pillars of the United Nations’ strategy?
  • What avenues for recourse should States have in response to terrorist incidents that originate in other States?
  • What steps can the international community take to make terrorism a less attractive option, particularly for young people?

Bibliography Bibliography

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Strengthening of the coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance of the United Nations Strengthening of the coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance of the United Nations

Humanitarian crises are events that cause significant threats to the health, safety or welfare of large groups of people. Causes of humanitarian crises vary widely but include natural disasters, man-made disasters and armed conflict. The impacts of humanitarian crises range in form: from famines and epidemics to the displacement of large populations as refugees and internally displaced persons. Humanitarian crises are often triggered by events that also weaken governmental institutions, like major natural disasters and civil wars. States are frequently unable to effectively respond on their own and meet the needs of their population. Crisis response can also be hampered by limited resources, inexperience and indifference—particularly to the plight of political, ethnic and religious minorities. 

Since its founding in 1945, the United Nations, its subsidiary bodies and the specialized and technical agencies have provided humanitarian assistance. Generally, the specialized and technical agencies—such as the World Health Organization, United Nations Children’s Fund and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees—provide direct assistance, while the deliberative bodies (the Economic and Social Council and the General Assembly) provide a forum for Member States to agree on their approaches and to direct the coordination of efforts among agencies. Improving coordination of response by the United Nations agencies and by Member States has grown increasingly important as the United Nations has played a role in an increasing number of humanitarian crises and as the complexity of these operations has grown. 

Coordinating the international community’s responses to humanitarian disasters is vital in preventing delays, waste and conflict. In 1971 the General Assembly authorized the creation of a Disaster Relief Coordinator. In response to the growth of international humanitarian action and awareness as well as lessons learned from two decades of implementation of the Disaster Relief Coordinator position, the General Assembly requested in 1991 that the Coordinator and related functions be merged into a new Department of Humanitarian Affairs. The United Nations in 1998 further consolidated its humanitarian functions by merging the Department of Humanitarian Affairs and other elements of the Secretariat into a new Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)

To this day, OCHA is the primary United Nations entity responsible for coordinating humanitarian assistance. OCHA’s mandate is threefold: the coordination of humanitarian response, policy development and humanitarian advocacy. OCHA also coordinates appeals to Member States and civil society for funding for specific humanitarian events through the Consolidated Appeals Process (CAP) and receives and manages donations through the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF). Both CAP and CERF serve these functions across the United Nations system.

In 2005, the Humanitarian Response Review, commissioned by the United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator and the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, recommended several actions to improve coordination. Recommendations include increased preparedness and surge capacity, both on the international and national level; greater transparency and accountability to those in affected areas; and increased and more flexible funding from supporting States. Many of the recommendations found in the Review have been topics of discussion in the General Assembly in the past several years, and they continue to be relevant as new and varying disasters arise.

One of the most notable changes in recent years has been the development of the cluster approach to response efforts. Deployed for the first time following the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan, clusters are groups of humanitarian organizations in each of the OCHA-designated sectors of humanitarian action, such as food, water, and shelter. Through this designation, each cluster is given clear responsibilities and a structure for coordination. With these clusters in place, the OCHA-designated Humanitarian Coordinator can manage a large-scale response with more precision. Each cluster has a focal point or lead agency that operates at the global and country level. Between 2005 and 2012, the cluster was deployed in 30 countries. The United Nations has evaluated the approach twice, in 2007 and 2010. Both evaluations have found the approach to provide tangible results, while also recommending areas for improvement.

After particularly challenging efforts to deliver humanitarian assistance during the 2010 Haiti earthquake and Pakistan floodings, OCHA and its interagency organizations acknowledged more needed to be done to strengthen coordination and strategic planning. These two disasters revealed several shortcomings in their humanitarian responses, not the least of which was the cholera outbreak in Haiti caused by United Nations peacekeepers. In general, the humanitarian aid response also faced difficulties in responding quickly to these massive disasters. In 2011, the United Nations adopted a new Transformative Agenda in response to weaknesses in multilateral humanitarian response, including unclear or unequal accountability, a lack of adequate leaders being deployed and a lack of appropriate coordination at various levels. The Transformative Agenda focuses on changes in all of these areas, including the simplification of the cluster approach, an inter-agency rapid response mechanism and expanded accountability to affected people. 

Following the 2010 Haiti earthquake, the United Nations system has become increasingly focused on the concept of disaster risk reduction. This approach focuses on building resilient communities, particularly as climate change increases the likelihood of more and larger climate-related humanitarian disasters. While resilience is important, it is frequently difficult to rally support and funding for these efforts. Additionally, building resilience requires engaging an even larger range of stakeholders, as communities reassess building standards, develop emergency response services and create community organizations to aid in the event of disasters. In most States, these efforts are only beginning. 

In recent years, humanitarian assistance has been strained by the increasing number, complexity, size and length of modern humanitarian emergencies. In 2016, the international community met at the World Humanitarian Summit to discuss the increasing humanitarian crises around the globe. The summit’s Agenda for Humanity describes five core responsibilities of the international community and 24 transformations of the humanitarian assistance process that are needed to reduce the strain of humanitarian crises, framing effective emergency humanitarian assistance as an essential part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

Despite these efforts, humanitarian needs have continued to grow. Last year humanitarian needs reached record levels; over 133 million people across 41 countries required assistance. OCHA estimated humanitarian assistance needs would exceed $25 billion. Despite donors’ similarly-record-breaking financing of humanitarian projects that year, the shortfall was about $10 billion. As the financing gap remains large, OCHA is implementing its 2018-2021 Strategic Plan to streamline its operations and build its role as a coordinator within the framework of the Agenda for Humanity. 

Looking ahead, there are a number of issues related to humanitarian assistance that the international community must consider. First, there continue to be instances where Member States are unwilling or unable to work with the United Nations and OCHA, particularly when crises affect disadvantaged minorities or opposition groups. Without this cooperation, it is extremely difficult to implement any sort of assistance. This is seen most clearly in Syria, with 13 million people still within the country who have extremely limited access to humanitarian assistance. Because of the government’s unwillingness to cooperate coupled with an extreme lack of infrastructure and security, it is nearly impossible for the international community to provide assistance to those caught in the conflict. 

Second, funding and donor fatigue are ongoing concerns. Most humanitarian crises are funded through the appeals process that reacts to crises as they occur. OCHA has stated many times that it is difficult to receive funding in a timely manner when a natural disaster occurs, and the fifth responsibility in the Agenda for Humanity emphasizes the importance of ensuring stable financing for projects. While OCHA’s 2019 appeal for funding is still being finalized, it is expected to meet or exceed the record $25 billion required the previous year. In Syria alone, an estimated $9 billion will be required to provide for both humanitarian and refugee response plans. OCHA’s task is made more complicated because donors often tie funds to specific causes or areas. This limits OCHA’s flexibility and the effective deployment of resources. 

Questions to consider from your government’s perspective on this issue include the following:

  • How can the international community ensure that all humanitarian needs are met? 
  • What gaps or weaknesses remain in the OCHA’s coordination and cluster system? How can the international community best address them? 
  • How can the United Nations build more resilient communities that reduce the impact of natural and man-made crises?

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