U.N. mission not yet fulfilled after 70 years, Vatican official says

‘(A) bitter irony that the 70th anniversary … is accompanied by an exodus of peoples which is the greatest seen since those caused by the Second World War’

UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations mission is not yet complete 70 years after its founding, said Archbishop Paul R. Gallagher, the Vatican’s secretary for relations with states.

The United Nations building in New York in a 2009 file photo. (CNS photo | Gregory A. Shemitz)

While the U.N. has done much commendable work, there remains much yet to be done, said Archbishop Gallagher, whose position is comparable to that of a foreign minister.

“We must acknowledge that over the past 70 years, the United Nations has succeeded in avoiding a great global conflict and the outbreak of many wars between member states,” Archbishop Gallagher said Oct. 2 at the U.N. General Assembly.

“Nonetheless, there are presently at least 50 conflicts or situations of latent conflict, to say nothing of the actions of international terrorist and criminal organizations, set up as quasi-states and as a sort of ‘alternative’ international community,” he said.

“It is a bitter irony that the 70th anniversary of the United Nations Organization is accompanied by an exodus of peoples which is the greatest seen since those caused by the Second World War,” which ended in 1945, the year of the U.N.’s founding, Archbishop Gallagher added. “Entire populations are being displaced, as they flee from war, persecution, exploitation and poverty.”

Archbishop Gallagher outlined four areas where the U.N.’s work is most critical: the responsibility to protect, the responsibility to observe existing international law, disarmament and climate change.

On the responsibility to protect, “due to the unacceptable human costs of inaction, the search for effective juridical means for the practical application of this principle must be one of the most urgent central priorities of the United Nations,” Archbishop Gallagher said.

The words in the preamble of the U.N. charter “‘promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedom for all’ not only justify the implementation of the ‘responsibility to protect,’ but also bind the international community to find the means to do so, he added. “Otherwise, the great edifice of the charter of the United Nations would be reduced to a mere tool for maintaining global equilibrium and for resolving controversies. This would betray not only those who drafted the charter, but also the millions of victims whose blood was shed in the great wars of the last century.”

On the subject of international law, Archbishop Gallagher said the provisions in the U.N. charter banning the unilateral use of force by one member state against another “cannot become an alibi for excusing gross violations of human rights.”

“A serious examination of conscience is needed to accept responsibility for the role that certain unilateral interventions have had in the humanitarian crisis which today causes so much hurt in our world,” he added, quoting from Pope Francis’ Sept. 25 remarks to the U.N.: “Hard evidence is not lacking of the negative effects of military and political interventions which are not coordinated between members of the international community.”

“The current crisis,” Archbishop Gallagher said, “calls us to renewed efforts to apply the law in force and to develop new norms aimed also at combating the phenomenon of international terrorism in full respect for the law.”

Despite May’s failure of the U.N. Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, “it is all the more important that the international community and the individual states most involved clearly signal a real desire to pursue the shared objective of a world free of nuclear arms,” Archbishop Gallagher said. “Nuclear deterrence and the threat of mutually assured destruction are irreconcilable with, and contrary to, an ethics of fraternity and peaceful coexistence between peoples.”

He did praise the U.N.’s Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention and Cluster Munitions Convention. “These are two instruments for disarmament and for adapting humanitarian law to the complexities of today’s world,” Archbishop Gallagher said. “They aim at stigmatizing and banning these dreadful ordnances, which have such a devastating and indiscriminate impact on civilian populations.”

The archbishop signaled the Vatican’s desire that U.N. policy on climate change be adopted at a December conference in Paris in line with the U.N.’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”

“The Paris conference represents an important phase in the process of re-establishing a balance between global greenhouse gas emissions and the earth’s capacity to absorb them. To this end, there is an urgent need to adopt a fair, transformational and legally binding global agreement,” Archbishop Gallagher said.

“This would send a meaningful signal to the entire international community by promoting a rapid transition to a development marked by low carbon footprint, and by providing a powerful impetus to reinforcing the intrinsic linkage between two objectives: eradicating poverty and easing the effects of climate change.”