When the General Assembly elected its President for 2023-2024 last week, it continued a longstanding tradition of male dominance in the UN’s highest policy making body.
The new President for the 78th session, Ambassador Dennis Francis of Trinidad and Tobago, a longstanding career diplomat and a former Permanent Representative, was elected June 1 “by acclamation”.
The frighteningly rapid advances in artificial intelligence (AI) have triggered the question: is there a UN role for monitoring and regulating it?
Citing a report from the Center for AI Safety, the New York Times reported last week that a group of over 350 AI industry leaders warned that artificial intelligence poses a growing new danger to humanity –and should be considered a “societal risk on a par with pandemics and nuclear wars”.
The US has some of the strictest laws against smoking in public, including a 1997 executive order which bans smoking in all government federal buildings.
But still, the tobacco industry and its allies do not rest, says Dr. Jarbas Barbosa, Director of the Washington-based Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).
When the UN displayed a female robot back in February 2019, it was a peek into the future: a fast-paced, cutting-edge digital technology where humans may one day be replaced with machines and robots.
However, a joke circulating in the UN delegate’s lounge at that time was the possibility, perhaps in a distant future, of a robot-- a female robot-- as the UN Secretary-General in a world body which has been dominated by nine secretaries-general, all male, over the last 78 years.
When the Taliban captured power back in 1996, one of its first political acts was to hang the ousted Afghan President Mohammed Najibullah in Ariana Square Kabul.
Fast forward to 15 August 2021, when the Taliban, in its second coming, assumed power ousting the US-supported government of Ashraf Ghani, a former official of the World Bank, armed with a doctorate in anthropology from one of the most prestigious Ivy League educational institutions: Columbia University.
The world’s news media -- both under authoritarian regimes and democratic governments-- continue to come under relentless attacks and political harassment.
The United Nations has consistently been a vociferous advocate of freedom of the press – and, most importantly, the right of journalists to report without fear of reprisals.
But regrettably, the UN is also one of most opaque institutions where transparency is never the norm.
The United Nations has warned that the February 2022 Rusian invasion of Ukraine has threatened to force up to 1.7 billion people — over one-fifth of humanity — into poverty, destitution and hunger.
Long before the war, Ukraine and Russia provided about 30 per cent of the world’s wheat and barley, one-fifth of its maize, and over half of its sunflower oil. But the ongoing 14th-month-old war has undermined-- and cut-off-- most of these supplies.
The massive leak of a treasure trove of highly-classified US intelligence reports—described as “one of the most remarkable disclosures of American secrets in the last decade”-– has also revealed a more surprising angle to the story.
The US not only gathered intelligence from two of its adversaries, Russia and China, but also from close allies, including Ukraine, South Korea, Egypt, Turkey and Israel.
The United Nations defines human rights as “rights inherent to all human beings, regardless of race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, or any other status”.
As signs of a new Cold War are fast emerging at the United Nations, the US continues its war of words with the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
The rivalry, which extends from Russia and Taiwan to Iran and Myanmar – where the UN’s two permanent members are on opposite sides of ongoing political or military conflicts– has now triggered a battle on semantics.
Come April 1, a post-Ukraine Russia, will preside over the UN Security Council in a month-long presidency on the basis of alphabetical rotation.
But Russia will not be the first or the only country – accused of war crimes or charged with violating the UN charter—to be either a member or preside over the most powerful political body in the United Nations.
When Secretary-General Antonio Guterres addressed the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) last week, he said the annual meeting takes on even greater significance at a time when women’s rights are being “abused, threatened, and violated around the world.”
When the US was planning to sell fighter planes to a politically-repressive regime in South-east Asia in a bygone era, a spokesman for a human rights organization, responding to a question from a reporter, was quoted as saying there were no plans to oppose the proposed sale because “it is very difficult to link F-16 fighter planes to human rights abuses”
If fighter jets are fair game and cannot be used to violate human rights, the same cannot be said of “weapons of mass control” (WMCs), including water cannons, tear gas grenades, pepper spray and rubber bullets—used mostly against civilian demonstrators.
For the first time in history, says a new report from the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), not a single functioning parliament in the world is “male-only”.
Is the increasing number of women in parliaments a singular achievement for gender empowerment? Or is it the result of mandatory legislative quotas for women’s representation in world’s parliaments?
The overwhelming political, economic and military support for war-ravaged Ukraine seems never ending—even as the Russian invasion moved into its second-year last week.
The US and Western allies have vowed to help Ukraine "as long as necessary" with no reservations or deadlines.
When the United Nations began negotiations on a legally binding treaty to protect and regulate the high seas, one diplomat pointedly remarked: “It’s a jungle out there”—characterizing a wide-open ocean degraded by illegal and over-fishing, plastics pollution, indiscriminate sea bed mining and the destruction of marine eco-systems.
As the toll in last week’s earthquakes in Turkey and Syria exceeds a staggering 28,000 people dead and more than 78,000 injured--and counting-- the United Nations is in an emergency-footing struggling to provide humanitarian aid, along with several international humanitarian organizations.
Hinting at “Western hypocrisy”, a senior UN official once told a group of reporters, perhaps half-jokingly: “When you go on one of those sight-seeing tours in Europe, they will show you their palaces and castles-- but never their medieval prisons or torture chambers.”
After much reluctance, the US and its Western allies last week agreed to provide Ukraine with some of the world’s most sophisticated battle tanks: American-made Abrams, German-made Leopards and British-made Challengers.
But the question remains as to whether these weapons will make a decisive difference to Ukrainian armed forces fighting a relentless battle with one of the world’s major military and nuclear powers.
A new variant of Covid-19, spreading across New York city, is forcing businesses, banks and high-powered financial institutions to re-introduce flexible working hours after a brief hiatus.
At the United Nations, the lockdown has reduced the 39-storeyed Secretariat building to a veritable ghost town since most staffers continue to work from home--- at least two or three days per week