UN assembly offers poor nations a voice

Beginning today, the leaders of the world’s rich and powerful countries will stand next to those from weaker and smaller nations and be allotted the same number of minutes to impress their colleagues with their people’s problems and complaints. The location for this democratic assembly is the 39-story Secretariat Building on First Avenue in New York City, and the occasion is the United Nations Millennium Summit.
As at least 91 separate demonstrations take place outside the U.N.’s official home, more than 150 heads of state will discuss — heatedly, most likely — the sins we take with us into the next millennium as well as the difficulties we have yet to discover in subsequent generations. But beyond the mutual hope the leaders share in conquering these human miseries lies what the U.N. summit meeting symbolizes: a hope that the travails of weak nations ridden with debt receive the same attention as the concerns of global behemoths like the United States and China.
The largest assemblage of world leaders ever, the summit meeting should promise more than a few days of traffic turmoil for surly New York commuters. By Friday — when the millennial conference will close — participating heads of state are expected to sign a Millennium Declaration, committing signatories to helping to quell poverty, limit the spread of HIV and AIDS, and promote education, among other laudable goals.
Although the difference between a bunch of presidents, kings and dictators signing a piece of parchment and those same potentates enacting and enforcing policies that ensure the declaration’s goals are met is stark, the declaration’s success depends upon whether participants come to a greater understanding on the meeting’s other principal purpose — discussing globalization’s international role and its often adverse impact on developing countries.
The activists who protested in Seattle last year are not alone in viewing the World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund as corporate agents, pushing their globalization agenda on the international community. Many African and South American leaders are quick to publicly criticize the organizations and their practices.
Although many see globalization as potentially beneficial to all the world’s citizens, Theo-Ben Gurirab, the foreign minister of Namibia and the General Assembly president for 2000, says “It also is being seen as a destructive force because it is being driven by the very people, the colonial powers, who launched a global campaign of imperial control of peoples and resources in what we call now the third world. Can we trust them?”
That the leader of a small African nation of 1.7 million people can head the U.N.’s General Assembly demonstrates the peace organization’s attempts to represent all peoples, not just the rich. Hopefully, the Millennial meeting will, above all else, help to sharpen the contrast between its ostensible Democratic representation and its less-than-ideal inner workings, which are often influenced by the secretive global groups, the WTO and the IMF.