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General Assembly Plenary (Concurrent)

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.

International cooperation on humanitarian assistance in the field of natural disasters, from relief to development International cooperation on humanitarian assistance in the field of natural disasters, from relief to development

With the ever-encroaching threat of climate change, the global environment is more unpredictable than ever. The frequency with which the global community must face natural disasters has only accelerated in the last five decades. The prevalence with which natural disasters happen, along with the untold ripples and consequences of civil and international war, leave millions without their basic needs met. This impacts all parts of the world, from cyclones in Bangladesh to droughts in Sudan. Humanitarian assistance is a moral imperative and international cooperation is key in making this aid more accessible and helpful. The United Nations uses its resources to aid survivors of natural disasters, found mostly in the form of coordinating organizations such as the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) or the World Health Organization (WHO). This aid usually includes food, shelter, clean water, education and medical care, though it can also include some legal aid and relocation services. 

The United Nations Charter states that its purpose is “to achieve international co-operation in solving international co-operation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural or humanitarian character.” This includes natural disasters, which often affect multiple countries and also can cause infrastructure damage that greatly diminishes the ability of the affected country to respond without outside aid. Since the 1960s, the United Nations have worked to help provide aid to areas experiencing natural disasters. However, early experiences suggested the need for a more direct aid and organizational structure to assist in disaster response. In 1971, the Office of the United Nations Disaster Relief Coordinator (UNDRO) was created to help mobilize a more coherent international response to natural disasters through the many organizations and groups in the United Nations system. Then, in 1991, the United Nations formed the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), creating an office specifically for humanitarian aid. According to OCHA’s website, the Emergency Relief Coordinator (ERC) “works with the Secretary-General and the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC), in leading, coordinating and facilitating humanitarian assistance.” In 2006, the United Nations created the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) which helped provide a more readily accessible fund for humanitarian assistance in instances where natural disasters and armed conflict are impacting individuals. 

With more humanitarian aid being necessary due to global climate change, more has been done recently to combat these risks. In 2015, the United Nations passed a resolution to create the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030. The Sendai Framework outlines seven clear targets that not only seek to help substantially reduce risk and the loss of life but also seek to build this resilience across the globe by 2030. These include developing understanding of disaster risk, disaster reduction strategies to limit vulnerabilities, developing institutional capacity to mitigate and respond to disasters, and preparations for reconstruction that minimize risks should a similar disaster occur again. These goals are sought to be attained by the year 2030. In 2016, the World Humanitarian Summit set five core responsibilities relating to humanitarian response: prevent and end conflict, respect rules of war, leave no one behind, work differently to end need, and invest in humanity. These responsibilities all work together to continue building towards the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. In 2019, the General Assembly passed Resolution 74/115, which noted the relation of the increase in natural disasters to climate change and encouraged a variety of resilience-building measures that States could take to prepare for natural disasters. This was followed in 2021 by Resolution 76/128, which sought to strengthen the global coordination and cooperation of humanitarian and disaster relief assistance of the United Nations and special economic assistance. The General Assembly has recently commissioned several reports as well to provide more detailed advice on the matter of disaster response. The 2021 report reviewed the impacts of COVID-19 on natural disaster relief and noted the success of anticipatory action frameworks in a number of countries, including Bangladesh and Somalia. The 2022 report, meanwhile, highlighted the consequences of climate change and stressed the importance of properly localizing disaster responses to ensure they are available in the most heavily impacted regions. Most recently, in late 2022, the General Assembly highlighted the importance of protection of vulnerable groups and preparations for disaster-related displacement.

As climate change becomes more severe, the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction sees the need for more to be done to assist those more vulnerable populations who are at the greatest risk of natural disasters. In fact, it is frequently those who live in the poorest areas of the world who will experience the adverse effects of climate change the most. There are additional challenges in some regions leading to calls for effective ways to distribute aid in conflict-ridden areas. While the multilateral funding mechanism for disaster relief has been well-reviewed in delivering disaster aid effectively, it still heavily relies on a small number of core countries and as such is vulnerable to political changes in those countries. Finally, many experts believe more could be done by the United Nations to help ensure more sustainable development after natural disasters and other crises. To these ends, there are organizations like the Better World Campaign, Human Rights Watch and Doctors Without Borders that could help the United Nations better serve humanitarian aid and development needs, but studies point out the need for better coordination mechanisms with these non-governmental organizations

Questions to consider from your country’s perspective:

  • How can Member States better address potential disparities in humanitarian aid access and distribution to aid in development?
  • What should Member States do to help provide more effective assistance to those in areas most directly impacted by climate change? 
  • Should the United Nations act to build resilience to non-cooperation from individual Member States, whether in the funding process or the relief process itself? If so, how would it be best to do so while respecting national sovereignty?

Bibliography Bibliography

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United Nations Documents United Nations Documents

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Return or restitution of cultural property to the countries of origin Return or restitution of cultural property to the countries of origin

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) defines cultural property as all objects, both man-made and natural, which are of archaeological, historical, artistic, scientific or technical interest. Cultural property and its protection have been a recurring topic within the United Nations since the 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. These discussions pose moral and practical considerations for safeguarding people’s identity and promoting reconciliation between countries wishing to continue participating in global cooperation. Following the 1970 Convention, the United Nations committed to developing security protocols, preservation pathways and the meaningful exchange of cultural property.

Cultural property faces threats of illicit trafficking due to the limited security abilities of counties of origin, especially countries dealing with unstable political climates. Civil and international unrest generate opportunities for heightened looting, trafficking and property destruction. Whether a result of foreign colonial occupation or following illicit trafficking, cultural property ownership remains contested, and the histories of extraction that shaped the current conditions of countries that face significant cultural property loss require prioritization. Legal protections for current owners, such as individual private collections and museums, challenge the efforts of international mechanisms of return and restitution working to rectify past injustices and may not always account for the continuing cultural links of the original owners of cultural property that were illicitly trafficked and sold. 

In 1978, the United Nations established the UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to its Countries of Origin or its Restitution in Case of Illicit Appropriation (ICPRCP) and tasked the Intergovernmental Committee with implementing the goals of 1970 and future conventions. The Committee continues to seek means of promoting multilateral and bilateral cooperation for the restitution and return of cultural property, encouraging public information campaigns on this issue and promoting exchanges of cultural property. In 1981, the Intergovernmental Committee developed a Standard Form concerning Requests for Return or Restitution. The form acts as a frame for bilateral negotiations where non-mediated efforts have failed. 

The United Nations continued to host conventions to address the return or restitution of cultural property to the countries of origin: the 1995 UNIDROIT Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects, the 2001 Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage and the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage. These conventions reaffirmed the United Nations’ commitment to encouraging countries to uphold principles of equal dignity and respect for all cultures that govern what groups of people regard as historically significant, keep up to date inventories of cultural properties, protect underwater cultural sites and consider the need for national services that protect against illicit trafficking. 

The United Nations recognizes that cultural property is critical to the recognition of peoples’ identities and their ability to pass on traditions and knowledge to younger generations. Having libraries and archives that ensure that their collections are built up in accordance with universally recognized moral principles mediates multilateral tensions. The 2004 United Nations Convention on Jurisdictional Immunities of States and Their Property offered a framework for legal proceedings in lieu of mutual agreement on ownership and restitution of cultural properties, encouraging the enhancement of the rule of law and legal certainty. In 2005, UNESCO outlined and adopted a strategy to facilitate the restitution of stolen or illegally exported cultural property, explicitly articulating the Intergovernmental Committee’s mediating and conciliatory functions. The General Assembly looks towards the government and local organizations dedicated to cultural property to aid in the resolutions it makes. In 2018 and 2021, the General Assembly commissioned reports from the Secretary-General regarding the issue of returning stolen cultural property. The 2018 report highlighted ongoing efforts to address the issue, including innovative educational methods for raising awareness of the issue in several Middle Eastern countries. The 2021 report highlighted areas of increasing law enforcement cooperation between countries as well as cooperation with art dealers to ensure items sold are of legitimate provenance. In 2021, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution titled “Return or restitution of cultural property to the countries of origin” that included a strong recommendation for States to contribute financially as a way to support the preventative measures and return of cultural property. Financial contributions would assist countries with limited resources to garner necessary security measures to ensure continued protection of cultural property after they are returned to make sure the property is not looted or illicitly trafficked again. 

The Intergovernmental Committee faces potential resistance from countries who have contested recollections of history and disputes regarding ownership of cultural property. Activist groups continue to be limited by internal processes and drawn out lobbying in efforts to convince their government representatives to pursue the return of property where that pursuit may encounter opposition. Where trust between States does not already exist and sovereignty is in question, the Intergovernmental Committee is likely to encounter challenges. The combination of State cooperation and mutual respect however has created suitable templates for continued return and restitution in some cases and may represent a model for moving forward with this issue. 

Questions to consider from your country’s perspective:

  • How can the United Nations facilitate the return of cultural property when governments refuse to request the return of cultural property in fear of retaliation?
  • How can the United Nations encourage countries to seek assistance from the Intergovernmental Committee to mediate cultural property negotiations and maintain good multilateral relationships? 
  • How can the United Nations resolve the contention between the legal protections of current owners and the requests of people with cultural connections to the property amicably?

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Bibliography Bibliography

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