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New president plans radical UN overhaul

Father Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann has already whipped up the storm of controversy that pundits were predicting.

Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann, pictured left, has already caused controversy only days into his one-year presidency of the UN General Assembly.
Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann, pictured left, has already caused controversy only days into his one-year presidency of the UN General Assembly.

UNITED NATIONS // Only days after beginning his one-year presidency of the UN General Assembly, Father Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann has already whipped up the storm of controversy that pundits were predicting. Speaking at the launch of the assembly's 63rd session this week, the Nicaraguan priest unveiled plans for a radical overhaul of the United Nations by wresting power from the five veto-wielding members of the Security Council.

For many, Mr d'Escoto's push to democratise the world body together with barbs directed against the United States mean he is isolating himself from effecting real change. Addressing diplomats in New York, Mr d'Escoto said "breaches of the peace and threats to international peace and security are being perpetrated by some members of the Security Council that seem unable to break what appears like an addiction to war".

"In the case of some of those members, the veto privilege seems to have gone to their heads and has confused them to the point of making them think they are entitled to do as they please without consequence," he added. Advocating on behalf of "the dispossessed of the world", Mr d'Escoto announced plans to revamp the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund while criticising the bodies for being "controlled by the United States and Europe".

His most dramatic proposal could see votes from the General Assembly become binding as international law, while at present it only controls the UN budget and serves as a global debating chamber. This would put the 192-member body on par with the Security Council, which is dominated by the five permanent members, Britain, France, Russia, China and the United States. "Take for instance, the 45-year-old United States embargo against Cuba," Mr d'Escoto said on Tuesday. "Even with a majority as overwhelming as 184 votes to four, this patently unjust and universally repudiated embargo remains firmly in place.

"If the opinion of more than 95 per cent of the membership of the United Nations can be so casually ignored, of what use is the General Assembly?" The new president's analysis will likely win him favour with millions from around the world. Employing the phrase "state-sponsored terrorism", often a euphemism for Israeli aggression, could make him a champion on the Arab street. But critics say his bias is already evident. While implying Washington has spent "trillions of dollars ? on wars and aggression", Mr d'Escoto characterises violence in the Caucuses as perpetrated by Georgia against South Ossetia without laying blame at Russia's door.

Another move likely to raise eyebrows is Mr d'Escoto's decision to speak alongside the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who famously called for Israel to be "wiped off the map", on Sept 26, at Manhattan's Grand Hyatt Hotel. The priest was acclaimed as assembly president earlier this year after being chosen by the Latin American and Caribbean Group under the established principle of regional rotation.

His political allegiances were already in the spotlight because of anti-US statements he made in the 1980s while serving as Nicaragua's foreign minister during Sandinista rule. He is a long-term supporter of the Sandinista leader, Daniel Ortega, who once allied himself with Fidel Castro and the Soviet Union and won a comeback bid as Nicaragua's president in 2006. Following the opening speech, France's envoy to the UN, Jean-Maurice Ripert, said Mr d'Escoto's views would be better made by a "representative of one country", whereas an assembly president should "work towards consensus".

"Some of his assessments on the work of the financial institutions in Washington or the role of the Security Council, it is obvious we do not share these views," the ambassador said. Speaking on condition of anonymity, another diplomat said Mr d'Escoto's "negative rhetoric during the opening remarks at the General Assembly gave us the impression that he might use his position for self-serving purposes".

US pundits have been more severe, with a piece by Ed Feulner, president of the Heritage Foundation, published in The Washington Times branding Mr d'Escoto an "unrepentant leftist" whose outdated ideas make the UN appear irrelevant. Mr d'Escoto admits he is "stirring up a hornets' nest", employing an approach markedly different to that of his low-key predecessor, Srgjan Kerim, the Macedonian diplomat.

During his swansong press conference, Mr Kerim said the "most difficult" task facing the new assembly president involved getting 192 UN members with wildly diverging views to co-operate. "If we don't keep the membership together and create synergies and ask member states to co-operate with each other, then we will have weakness and a very confused and poisoned situation," he said. jreinl@thenational.ae