Intro to the United Nations

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    • 00:01


    • 00:10

      ROSA FREEDMAN: I'm Rosa Freedman.I'm the senior lecturer at Birmingham Law School,University of Birmingham.I'm a scholar who focuses on the law and politics of the UnitedNations.I write extensively for academic journals and for the media.And I focus on the United Nations and human rights.My book on the UN Human Rights Councilwas the first one to examine, explain, and assess that body.

    • 00:33

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: My second book, called Failing to Protect,gives an accessible overview of how and why the United NationsHuman Rights machinery is unable fully to protect human rights.My current research is topical.It focuses on UN peacekeeping operations and human rightsabuses, especially the Haiti cholera claimsand the sexual abuse scandals that

    • 00:54

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: plague peacekeeping operations.This tutorial will focus on the United Nations.I will provide an overview of how the United Nations works.The aim of this tutorial is to explainwhat the UN is, how its bodies operate,some of the types of work and activities it undertakes,and some of its key strengths and weaknesses.I will draw upon law and international relations

    • 01:16

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: to explain the UN, its bodies and its work.Some of what I say will be accessible through writtensources, but other parts draw on interviews, observation,and ethnography that I have conductedas part of my ongoing work.

    • 01:37

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: The United Nations was created in the aftermath of World WarII.It was a direct response to the League of Nationsfailing to insure international peace and security.The United Nations was supposed to bringa fresh start for the world.Two world wars had each resulted in millions of deathsand countless atrocities.

    • 01:57

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: The League of Nations had failed.It failed to prevent the Second World War.It failed to prevent the march of colonial powers.It failed to ensure that countries followed the rulesand stopped invading one another.The time had come to start anew.The world in 1945 looked very different to the worldwe live in today.

    • 02:18

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: Many countries that we recognize today were under colonial rulewhen the UN was created.And they were therefore not sovereign states.In 1945, there were 51 member states of the United Nations,whereas today there are 193 members.That growth is mainly attributed to decolonization.

    • 02:38

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: Although there were also countries,like Ireland and Finland, that took slightly longerthan others to secure full membership.The creation of the United Nationsbegan with the Atlantic Charter signed in 1942by the Allied Powers that fought against Nazi Germany.Of those, the four "great" powersthat defeated Nazi Germany held most of the cards

    • 02:60

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: when it came to the UN's creation.Those four countries, Britain, China, Russia, and the UnitedStates of America, were joined by Francein terms of continuing to hold significant powerand exercise significant influence within UN bodies.Those five countries and their colonies, between them,suffered grave losses in defeating Nazi Germany.

    • 03:23

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: And they were determined never again to have to fightand to win a world war.It is important to remember that history and that contextwhen thinking about why the UN is designed in the waythat it is.The UN is the global organization.

    • 03:46

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: It has near universal membership and covers almostevery international issue area.Almost every country in the worldis a member of the United Nations.There are 193 members in 2015.The exceptions are Taiwan, Kosovo, and the Holy See.In 2012, Palestine was granted observer status at the UN,

    • 04:08

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: despite not having fulfilled the criterianecessary to become a state.Non-state entities can and do gain observer statusat the United Nations.These include organizations such as the AfricanUnion and the European Union.Institutions like the International Criminal Courtand other entities, like the International Committee

    • 04:29

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: of the Red Cross and the Olympic Committee,also gain observer status.The ability to have a voice in the roomis something that entities recognize as crucial,because it is in those rooms that almostall international issues are addressed.That near universal membership, however,was not what was envisaged by the UN's creators.

    • 04:52

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: The starting point is the Charterof the United Nations, which establishedthat membership will be open to peace-loving states.It was clearly envisaged that some countries would not bemembers of the organization .The UN, then, was not supposed to be an organizationopen to all countries.Yet so many of the UN's members cannot be seen as peace-loving.

    • 05:15

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: And that is obvious even when lookingat the five permanent members of the Security Council.The organization covers every issue, from trade to refugees,from aid to health.But all of those activities fall under one or more

    • 05:37

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: of the UN's three pillars.The UN Charter, the legal documentthat created the UN and that provides its founding mandate,sets out the three pillars of the organization.Firstly, peace and security.Secondly, development.And thirdly, human rights.Those three pillars are crucial, but to understand them,

    • 06:00

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: we must again return to the history and context of howand why the UN was created.There are three pillars of the UN.Firstly and most importantly, to maintain peace and security.Secondly, to insure self-determinationand development.And thirdly, to protect and promote human rights.

    • 06:23

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: The three pillars are interlinked,and to some extent, interdependent.Wars are waged for many reasons, but a main oneis when people seek to overthrow occupying powers.Self-governance is a primary aim of guerrilla fightersacross every region in the world.Development stems from the need to ensure

    • 06:44

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: that these newly self-governing states, and other lessdeveloped countries, are given support.Underdevelopment leads to instability,as is clearly the case in countrieslike Somalia and Haiti.The need to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rightsstemmed directly from the horrors

    • 07:05

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: perpetrated by Nazi Germany.Genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity,none of these words comes close to describingthe sheer horrors of the Holocaust or the Second WorldWar.Human rights violations frequentlyare either a precursor to war or are perpetratedduring armed conflicts.

    • 07:25

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: The Democratic Republic of Congo, the former Republicof Yugoslavia, Libya, Sudan, Syria-- these are justsome of the recent examples.Colonialism, occupation, administration, and other formsof governance of indigenous populationsalso give rise to violations of human rights.

    • 07:47

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: The pillars, then, are clearly intertwined.And all UN activities fall under at least one, if not more,of those headings.The UN has six main, or principal, organs,each with its own mandate, membership, and powers.

    • 08:10

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: Headquarters is located in New York,but the UN also has field offices, as well ascountry teams and peacekeeping operations.The largest field office is in Geneva,where many of the specialized agencies are based.The Security Council is the UN's most powerful body.It has primary responsibility for maintaining

    • 08:31

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: international peace and security.And it is the only one of the UN's main bodieswith the power to take action on the ground.The Security Council was designedto prevent or respond to threats to world peace and security.It was built in such a way as to ensure that acts of aggression

    • 08:52

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: could swiftly be neutralized.The Security Council holds the greatest powersand the least democratic structures of all UN bodies.Britain, China, France, Russia, and the United Stateswere each granted a permanent seat on the Security Council.

    • 09:12

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: And with that, comes the power to veto any of its resolutions.The council's 10 non-permanent membersare elected for two year terms.None of those members has a veto power.When looking at voting records of the Security Council,the five permanent members, as well astheir closest political allies, can and will

    • 09:35

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: be protected by the veto.China has blocked every resolution on Tibetthat has been proposed at the Security Council.The United States vetoes any action against Israel.And most recently, Russia has ensuredthat the Security Council takes no actionagainst the Syrian regime.This means that the council's five permanent members

    • 09:57

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: hold very significant political clout across the UN.In contrast, the General Assembly,which is the UN's main policy making and deliberative body,is the most democratic body insofaras all UN members hold a seat and an equal vote.However, that in itself is problematic

    • 10:18

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: when considering that some countries have hundredsof millions of citizens, whereas othersmight have fewer than 100,000.At that point, the one country, one vote ruleis exposed as far less democraticthan the allocation of votes accordingto population size that occurs in institutionslike the European Union.

    • 10:38

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: The General Assembly addresses a broad rangeof issues relating to all three of the UN pillars,and has a range of subsidiary bodiesthat enable it to fulfill its duties.The most prominent subsidiary body of the General Assemblyis the United Nations Human Rights Council.And it is interesting to note that thereis no main organ solely devoted to human rights,

    • 11:01

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: even though human rights is one of the three UN pillars.The Economic and Social Council isthe main body for economic, social, and environmentalissues.And more broadly, for development.It supervises subsidiary and expert bodies on those issues.The 54 elected members sit for three year terms.

    • 11:23

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: Crucially, the body is a central and main platformfor discussing, reviewing, and implementingthe UN's development goals.The Trusteeship Council provided supervisionfor 11 trust territories to ensurethat those territories were prepared for self-governmentand for independence.

    • 11:44

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: By 1994, all of them had attained self-governanceor independence.And so the council no longer meetsunless it is required to do so by the decisionof its president, or the request of the majority of its members,or the General Assembly, or the Security Council.Countries do not sit on the other two principal organs.

    • 12:06

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: Instead, they're comprised of independent experts.At the International Court of Justice,which is the UN's main judicial organ,those experts are judicial, legal experts.The court sits at the Hague, unlike the other main organs,which are located in New York.

    • 12:26

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: The court's role is to settle legal disputes submittedby states, or to give advisory opinionson legal questions that are askedof it by UN organs and specialized agencies.The court has 15 judges.They are each elected for nine year terms,and they may come from any UN member state.

    • 12:48

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: But there may only be one national from a countryat any given time.And all types of legal systems must be represented.The Secretariat is comprised of different types of experts.These are full time members of stallwho apply for jobs within the UN.It is headed by the Secretary General,

    • 13:09

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: and employs approximately 45,000 staff members who carry outthe UN's day to day work.The Secretariat's work is directed by the main organsand member states of the UN, but the offices, programs,and departments have considerable discretion to makedecisions and to conduct activities under their broader

    • 13:33

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: mandates .The Secretary General is chief administrative officerappointed for a five year renewable term.UN staff members are recruited internationally and locally.They work in duty stations and on peacekeeping missionsall around the world.There are hundreds of thousands of other personnel,

    • 13:55

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: particularly peacekeeping troops and civilian contractorswho are employed to assist the Secretariat in its work.The UN has subsidiary bodies thatare created by a main organ, and to which certain workand activities are delegated.Each one reports to its parent body.And they may be staffed by member states

    • 14:16

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: or by independent experts.The specialized agencies, on the other hand,are autonomous organizations that are linked to the UNby special agreements.These include the International Labor Organization, whichwas created before the UN, and the World Health Organization,as well as the World Bank Group and the International Monetary

    • 14:37

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: Fund.It is through the main organs, the range of subsidiaryand specialized bodies, that the UNis able to carry out its board range of work and activitiesaround the world.The UN is an international organization that

    • 14:59

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: is state led and state run.The UN cannot be separated from its members.It does not exist other than to serveas an arena for those countries that it also seeks to control.The United Nations is financed and led by countries,meaning that they hold the power even if not the control.

    • 15:23

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: Although the UN Secretariat consists of paid employees,it is the member states that pay their wagesand provide their job descriptions.Ultimately, when we talk of "the UN,"we are talking about the collective will of its members.This is important because there is a misconception

    • 15:44

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: that the UN can take action.Whereas the reality is that statesdecide whether action is taken.Following a line that can be traced back to 1648and the beginning of international law,the UN's underlying principles are-- one,all countries are equal, and two, countries

    • 16:06

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: are only bound by rules to which they consent.The UN powers are found in its chartersand in the constituent instruments of each body.The UN generally lacks enforcement powers.And this is an issue that is a wider and more generalproblem across the international arena.

    • 16:27

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: States hold onto their sovereignty tightly.And they are reluctant to allow an international organizationto have powers that may one day be used against them.The Security Council is granted the most far reaching powersof all UN bodies.It may use whatever measures it deemsnecessary before using military action to ensure

    • 16:51

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: international peace and security.A non-exhaustive list is includedin the UN Charter, Article 41.To date, the Security Council hasused sanctions, arms embargoes, weapons inspections,and imposing no fly zones, amongst others.The Security Council has used those powers

    • 17:13

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: to address situations that threaten international peaceand security, although there have beenvarying degrees of success.The Security Council's powers, however,are markedly different from thosethat were originally envisaged.The United Nations Charter, Chapters 6 and 7,set out ways that the UN can respond when peace and security

    • 17:36

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: are threatened.Crucially, under Chapter 7, therewas an outline for a UN standing army.That army was supposed to fill the shoesof the armies of the most powerful nations,ensuring that coalitions of the willing or otherwiseneed not be created to take actionon threats to international peace and security.

    • 17:57

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: That army has never existed.Whether that is because countriesare reluctant to cede control of their own soldiers,or because the Cold War underminedany potential collaboration between East and West,the UN may only rely on methods for pacific settlementsof disputes, which fall under Chapter 6 of the UN charter,

    • 18:18

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: and on the non-military actions under Chapter 7.The UN's other bodies are granted far less farreaching or effective powers, at least in termsof immediate and practical impact on the ground,than those that are held by the Security Council.As they are not mandated to deal with international peaceand security, it was seen as unnecessary, or perhaps too

    • 18:42

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: dangerous, to grant them binding or enforceable powers.With the exception of the International Court of Justice,the most significant power helped by other UN bodiesis that of passing resolutions or decisions.But those resolutions or decisions are not binding.While they may and often do carry political weight,

    • 19:04

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: they only provide results on the groundif countries choose to take heed of their substance.The General Assembly passed more than 500 resolutionsand decisions condemning apartheid in Southern Africa.While those documents delivered a strong political message,they did nothing to change the facts on the ground.It was a Security Council's actions

    • 19:26

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: that actually did something to impact on the apartheid eraregime.A lack of enforcement powers underminesattempts to achieve anything otherthan through political and diplomatic processes.Essentially, most of the UN's workfocuses on politics and on information sharing.Many UN bodies have powers to fact find, investigate,

    • 19:49

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: and hold discussions with national expertsand individuals on the ground, all of whichprovides platforms for disseminatinginformation, and providing recommendations to statesregarding compliance with human rightsobligations or international law.These are soft powers, but they are crucial for the UN's work.UN appointed independent experts have

    • 20:12

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: been tasked with gathering information on, for example,Myanmar, the Democratic People Republic of Korea, GuantanamoBay, or issues like torture in Russia,human rights defenders in China, elections in Zimbabwe,the genocide in Darfur, and a vast range of other issues

    • 20:32

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: where information has been almost impossible to gatherthrough other sources.The resulting reports have been invaluable for understandingsecurity and human rights within those regions.Indeed, many form the basis for political, diplomatic, and evenSecurity Council action.However, they do nothing to protect individualson the ground from war and from gross and systemic violations

    • 20:56

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: of their human rights.And that comes back to the UN's lack of teethand the failure to set up mechanismsenvisaged in Chapter 7 of the UN Charter.The UN is divided into five regional groups-- the African

    • 21:16

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: Group, the Asian Group, the Eastern EuropeanGroup, the Group of Latin Americanand Caribbean Countries, and the Western Europe and OthersGroup.All UN members have a seat at the General Assembly.At the other bodies, membership is limited,and countries are elected for fixed terms.

    • 21:38

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: A certain number of seats are allocatedto each of the five regional groups,often on a proportionate geographic basis.Countries often have more in commonwith their regional allies than with other states.Grouping countries according to their regionallows for a few states to sit on a body

    • 21:58

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: and to represent their neighbors' interests.This allows the UN to have smaller bodies, whichtend to work more efficiently, without excluding countriesfrom having their interests represented.Much of the behind the scenes work at the UNoccurs within meetings of those regional groups.Often, they will discuss and negotiate internally

    • 22:20

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: before entering into informal and formalcross-regional dialogs.There are significant problems with the regional group system.Not all countries are adequately representedby their regional groups.At the extreme end of the spectrum,Israel is not a member of its natural regional group.

    • 22:40

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: Arab states within the Asian Groupblocked Israel from gaining membership of that group,despite its geographic location within the region.Israel has been afforded WEOG membershipin New York since 2000 on conditionthat it does not seek election to UN bodies.Other countries may be sidelined by being lumped together

    • 23:02

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: with regional neighbors.Japan is an obvious example of a country that often alignsitself with a different regional group,with WEOG, than with its own regional group, the AsianGroup.The bigger a region, the less likelyit is that homogeneity will exist across the group.There are also the internal dynamics

    • 23:23

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: within regional groups.Japan and China have their own history of tensions,as do Iran and Iraq, North and South Korea, and the BalkanStates.Just because these countries are connected geographicallydoes not mean that their interestsare in any way aligned.Dominant members, and even subgroups within a region,undermine the aim of representing all countries'

    • 23:46

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: interests fairly.Regional groups encourage entrenched positions.And they contribute significantlyto the politicization of UN bodies.In order to further their collective objectives,or to protect a member's interests,regional groups often adopt block tacticsto further their aims.

    • 24:08

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: These include voting together en masse,and repeating statements made on behalf of their regional groupin order to emphasize the internally negotiated position.The system encourages countries to lobby one another internallywithin the regional group, and externally,using the group's power as a bargaining tool.

    • 24:29

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: Often countries or groups will trade supportfor unrelated matters in order to ensure supportfor their own objectives, thus undermining the UN's mandateand work.Regional groups are also adept at protecting their members,even when they're doing things that ought to be criticizedand when action ought to be taken.

    • 24:50

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: That imperfect system of regional groupsis then compounded by political alliances.Countries cannot be told not to have alliances with states fromother regions.Geographic location is not the only factorin determining countries' natural groupings.Religion, forms of governance, and political outlook

    • 25:13

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: are also common bonds between countries.Cuba and Venezuela have natural allianceswith some Eastern European countries,owing to their similar political outlooks and formsof governance.Islamic countries from across Asia, Africa,and Eastern Europe have much in common with each other.Often they share more political aims with one another

    • 25:33

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: than they do with their regional neighbors.Those blocks have become increasingly important, perhapseven as important as regional groups,as they allow countries to flex their collective musclesin order to achieve joint objectives.Political blocks started with the polarized East and West

    • 25:54

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: during the Cold War.Countries that did not fall squarelywithin one or other camp, eventuallyjoined together to create the Non-Aligned Movement to doexactly what its name suggests.The collective strength of those countries, many of whichwere newly decolonized or developing states,was far superior to the sum of its parts.

    • 26:16

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: That political block enabled those countriesto further their own political objectives at a timewhen the Cold War dominated the international arena.Since the dissolution of the USSR,new political blocks have developedinto significant players at the United Nations.The European Union, with its "common position"

    • 26:37

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: that all members negotiate and then are expected to promote,is a striking example of how political blocks underminethe notion of one country, one vote.The Organization of Islamic Cooperation,which spans three at the five regional groups,and has allies in Latin America and the Caribbean,is the most powerful of all the political blocks.

    • 26:60

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: Not only does it have strength in numbers,with more than 50 member states, but many countrieswithin the block also have significant economic, military,or political power.The OIC typically operates as a blockin promoting its collective aims and shielding its memberstates from action.

    • 27:20

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: However, with no OIC member holding a permanent seatat the Security Council, that blockrelies on Russia, which is a pseudo member, and on China,to exercise their veto power in order to protect OIC countries.This has been a key method recentlyfor blocking Security Council action on Syria

    • 27:41

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: during the recent conflict.It is difficult to summarize the UN's work, activities,successes, and failures in a short tutorial.The aim of this tutorial has beento provide an overview and a taster of what

    • 28:04

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: the UN is, how it works, and the key actors involved.I have also presented two SAGE case study videos.And these interrogate different aspects of the UN's politicsand processes in order to understand howand why the UN acts as it does.Ultimately, the world would be a far less stable, far more

    • 28:27

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: fragile, and far more unjust placewithout the United Nations.But at the same time, the organization too frequentlyfails to take as strong, as swift, or as justaction as it ought to.And in order to strengthen and improve the UN's activities,

    • 28:47

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: it is crucial that we understand how it worksand what it is capable of doing.

Intro to the United Nations

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Rosa Freedman presents an introduction to the United Nations, its bodies and agencies, and its mandate. She also explains how the organization has diverged from its original imagining, both in membership and in function.

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Intro to the United Nations

Rosa Freedman presents an introduction to the United Nations, its bodies and agencies, and its mandate. She also explains how the organization has diverged from its original imagining, both in membership and in function.

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