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UN off to a rocky new year

China Daily | Updated: 2019-01-10 09:22

UNITED NATIONS - The year 2019 started off at the United Nations with Somalia expelling the UN envoy, followed soon after by Guatemala pulling out of a UN-sponsored anti-corruption commission.

After a tough year that saw the United States, the UN's top financial backer, cut funding, pull out of the Human Rights Council and scrap UN-backed agreements, the UN is taking more hard hits.

Some UN watchers are questioning whether the global organization created at the end of World War II to safeguard world peace is facing a slow demise, increasingly under attack by governments with nationalist agendas.

Nearing the halfway mark in his five-year tenure, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has warned that multilateralism is under fire at a time when the world needs it most.

Leading the anti-UN charge is US President Donald Trump whose "America First" approach to foreign policy has emboldened other governments to thumb their noses at the UN, analysts say.

"The UN is having a nerve-wracking start to 2019," said Richard Gowan, a senior policy fellow at UN University.

While the UN may not be on the brink of total collapse, "the Trump administration's attitude encourages others to defy the UN", he said.

On Monday, the new envoy for Syria, Geir Petersen of Norway, took up his post as the UN's fourth peace broker, but the UN has been sidelined by Russia and Iran in its efforts to end nearly eight years of war.

Peacekeeping-at the heart of the UN's security approach-is under serious financial strain after the US announced plans in late December to further cut back its budget contribution.

Meanwhile, the Security Council is divided over how to respond to the elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Both Somalia and Guatemala have cited UN interference to justify their decisions.

UN envoy to Somalia Nicholas Haysom was declared persona non grata last week after he questioned the Mogadishu government's decision to arrest an al-Shabaab defector who ran for election.

Guatemala announced it was unilaterally ending the mandate of a UN-backed anti-corruption commission that had been looking into President Jimmy Morales' election campaign finances.

A potential bright spot is Yemen, where the UN has succeeded in bringing the warring sides to the table for negotiations on ending a war-but UN diplomats caution that the peace process is fragile.

Faced with setbacks, Guterres counters that people continue to see the UN as the best platform to address global problems, such as climate change.

A major UN climate summit planned for September is shaping up as a key test of the UN's relevance.


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