New York — The United Nations celebrates its 75th anniversary today at the U.N. General Assembly in New York during a crucial and perplexing moment.
As the world body acknowledges, “the UN is marking its 75th anniversary at a time of great disruption for the world, compounded by an unprecedented global health crisis with severe economic and social impacts.”
Formed in the aftermath of World War II, the 193-member United Nations acts as an international forum where issues are debated and solutions to global challenges like poverty, gender inequality and climate change are weighed and developed. Its various humanitarian arms, such as the World Food Program, administer large-scale efforts to feed people in war- and drought-stricken countries.
Today’s ceremony — held to coincide with the annual meeting of the General Assembly rather than the actual anniversary date, which is Oct. 24 — cannot encompass all of the complexities and controversies surrounding the United Nations’ history.
In an assessment of the global body for the 70th anniversary in 2015, the U.K.-based newspaper The Guardian noted that Dag Hammarskjöld, the second U.N. secretary-general, said the United Nations “was created not to lead mankind to heaven but to save humanity from hell.”
But even that aim has sometimes bumped up against harsh realities. As The Guardian noted, the U.N. has “been dismissed as a shameful den of dictatorships. It has infuriated with its numbing bureaucracy, its institutional cover-ups of corruption and the undemocratic politics of its security council. It goes to war in the name of peace but has been a bystander through genocide. It has spent more than half a trillion dollars in 70 years.”
Members of sister congregations or representatives of sister congregations who engage in advocacy work at the U.N. tend to take a nuanced view of the global body, finding in it both strengths and weaknesses.
“For all its accomplishments and failures, the U.N. is still the global arena that peoples of the world and their leaders can dialogue about world issues on an equal footing: one nation, one vote,” Maryknoll Sr. Marvie Misolas, representative of the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns at the U.N., told GSR.
Misolas said the U.N.’s greatest accomplishments during the past 75 years include raising the visibility of human rights as a global concern and shepherding peace, nuclear disarmament and climate change agreements, as well as developing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
However, “the U.N. over the years has failed to sanction states that have continued to have repressive and corrupt regimes; failed to make the superpower nations “walk the talk” — in terms of environmental and economic equity in relations to human rights and respecting national boundaries,” she said.
Beth Blissman, the U.N. representative for the Loretto Community, takes an equally expansive view: “Much in our world has changed over the past 75 years. There are more people, more countries, more challenges but also, hopefully, more solutions,” she said.
Amid all of this rapid change, she asks: “Does the United Nations need to be a more responsive, nimble and accountable organization that can build trust and consensus? Yes. Does it need to deliver better in the field and adapt more quickly to global challenges? Yes, definitely. Is there any other global organization with the legitimacy, convening power and normative impact as the United Nations? No.”
To mark the 75th anniversary, Global Sisters Report asked Misolas, Blissman and others representing sister congregations about the milestone anniversary, to reflect on the U.N.’s accomplishments and failures and the difficulties and challenges it faces now and in the future.