The 4 pillars of the United Nations

The foundation upon which the UN was created is described in the Preamble of the UN Charter:

WE THE PEOPLES OF THE UNITED NATIONS DETERMINED

  • to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and
  • to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and
  • to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and
  • to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom.

The Preamble describes four areas that are the pillars of the UN,

  • Peace and Security
  • Human Rights
  • The Rule of Law
  • Development

These four pillars are all interconnected. You can’t fully achieve one without achieving all of them.

 

1. Peace and Security

Security Council Meets on Maintenance of International Peace and Security

Security Council Meets on Maintenance of International Peace and Security

As outlined in the Preamble of the UN Charter, the United Nations was created “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind.”  The Security Council is the main organ responsible for maintaining international peace and security although other organs such as the General Assembly and the Secretariat play an important role in making recommendations and assisting in the resolution of armed conflicts.

Since its founding in 1945, the UN has been a witness and catalyst to an extraordinary transition in global relations. It grew out of the ruins of the Second World War and endured through the years clouded by nuclear threat during the Cold War and numerous regional conflicts.  Today peace and security are no longer viewed only in terms of the absence of military conflict. The common interests of all people are also seen to be affected by poverty, hunger, environmental degradation, weak democratic institutions and human rights violations which are often at the heart of national and international tensions.

In 2004, former Secretary-General Kofi Annan formed a high level panel on threats to peace and security. In the panel’s report to the Secretary-General six clusters of threats were identified.

The six clusters that threaten peace and security today are:

• Economic and social threats, including poverty, infectious diseases and environmental degradation

• Inter-State conflict

• Internal conflict, including civil war, genocide and other large -scale atrocities

• Nuclear, radiological, chemical and biological weapons

• Terrorism

• Transnational organized crime

The cluster on poverty underscores that threats to peace and security occur when there is widespread poverty.  Extreme poverty threatens people’s well-being directly but also provides the breeding ground for other threats. The link between poverty and war is clearly indicated in the following graph:

The link between poverty and civil war

The link between poverty and civil war

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Countries that have a higher Gross Domestic Product per capita are less likely to have a civil war. At a certain point in the graph, the probability of war starts to increase more rapidly. There is a curvilinear relationship between poverty and war rather than a linear one. Is there a tipping point at which the likelihood of war increases dramatically?

Peace and security is also threatened when democratic institutions are weak or non-existent. The fact that peace and security is dependent upon having strong democratic institutions underscores the important link between peace and security and the rule of law.

Meeting the challenges of today’s threats requires strengthening democratic institutions and the capacity of States to protect the dignity and safety of its citizens.  The UN has worked hard to strengthen democratic institutions in more than 50 countries. Today more governments have been chosen through free elections than at any other time in history.

The threat of weapons of mass destruction is higher when democratic institutions are weak. Anything that weakens a State’s institutions or its ability to protect its citizens leaves it vulnerable to international terrorists and/or international organized crime groups. Weak States increase the potential for these non-State actors to traffic nuclear material particularly when border controls are ineffective. This makes it possible for smaller numbers of people to inflict greater amounts of damage and terror without the support of any State.

The changing nature of conflicts and peacekeeping operations

When the UN was created in 1945 it focused exclusively on conflicts between countries. Peacekeeping operations initially involved monitoring ceasefires and separating the armed forces of countries that were at war until a peace agreement could be reached. Today, most of the conflicts that occur around the world are internal conflicts that take place within a single Member State as illustrated in the following graph:

Wars, 1946-2002

Comparison of number of ongoing wars and number of ongoing inter-State wars

Comparison of number of ongoing wars and number of ongoing inter-State wars

 

Source: Department of Peace and Conflict Research at Uppsala University and International Peace Research Institute,Oslo.

Over the years, the range of tasks assigned to UN peacekeeping operations has expanded significantly in response to shifting patterns of conflict and to best address threats to international peace and security. Although each peacekeeping operation is different, there is a considerable degree of consistency in the types of mandated tasks assigned by the Security Council. Depending on their mandate, peacekeeping operations may be required to:

  • Deploy to prevent the outbreak of conflict or the spill-over of conflict across borders;
  • Stabilize conflict situations after a ceasefire, to create an environment for the parties to reach a lasting peace agreement;
  • Assist in implementing comprehensive peace agreements;
  • Lead states or territories through a transition to stable government, based on democratic principles, good governance and economic development.

Peacekeeping operations also involve coordinating humanitarian assistance during a conflict. In many conflicts, civilian populations are deliberately targeted. The Security Council broadened the interpretation of threats to international peace, in 1992, when it authorized an intervention for humanitarian purposes in Somalia.

Depending on the specific set of challenges, UN peacekeepers are often mandated to play a catalytic role in the following essentially peacebuilding activities:

  • Disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of ex-combatants;
  • Mine action;
  • Security sector reform and other rule of law-related activities;
  • Protection and promotion of human rights;
  • Electoral assistance;
  • Support for the restoration and extension of State authority;
  • Promotion of social and economic recovery and development.

The troops, police and civilians who participate in peacekeeping operations are provided and financed by Member States. UN Peacekeepers are now deployed around the world in record numbers. As of April 2013, the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations was directing 16 peace operations across the world employing 112,840 troops, police and civilians.  These operations affect the lives of roughly hundreds of millions men, women and children. UN peacekeepers are often referred to as the “blue helmets” because of the bright blue helmets that they are required to wear. [For up-to-date statistics, check the latest Peacekeeping Factsheet]. You can find out more about the work of UN Peacekeeping on their website.

Peacebuilding

Peace-building refers to efforts to assist countries and regions that have been torn apart by war to make the transition from war to peace. Once fighting has ended, countries often require assistance rebuilding state institutions responsible for maintaining law and order (for example, training a new police force), health, education and other services disrupted by war. It may also include activities such as disarming, demobilizing and reintegrating soldiers, supervising elections and reintegrating refugees. At the heart of peace-building is an attempt to build a new State that will have the capacity to manage disputes peacefully, protect its civilians and ensure respect for human rights.

Peace-building has played a prominent role in United Nations operations in Cambodia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mozambique, Liberia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sierra Leone, Kosovo, and Timor-Leste (formerly East Timor). A recent example of inter-state peace-building has been the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea.

Peace-building involves coordinating the activities of a wide range of organizations in the UN system, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and local citizen’s groups.

Today’s threats are all interconnected. We cannot afford to see problems in isolation.

 

2. Human Rights

The UN Charter also begins by affirming “faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small.”

Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt of the United States holding a Declaration of Human Rights poster in Spanish

Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt of the United States holding a Declaration of Human Rights poster in Spanish

This principle led to the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) by the General Assembly on December 10, 1948, in the Palais de Chaillot in Paris.

The Universal Declaration was a landmark achievement in world history. It marked the first time that the rights and freedoms of individuals were set forth in such detail. It also represented the first international recognition that human rights and fundamental freedoms are applicable to every person, everywhere. Today, it continues to affect people’s lives, serves as a model for numerous international treaties and declarations and has been incorporated in the constitutions and laws of many countries. The Declaration has inspired more than 60 international human rights instruments, which together constitute a comprehensive system of legally binding treaties for the promotion and protection of human rights. It is the best known and most cited human rights document in the world.

Following the historic adoption of the UDHR, the Assembly called upon all Member countries to publicize the text of the Declaration and “to cause it to be disseminated, displayed, read and expounded principally in schools and other educational institutions, without distinction based on the political status of countries or territories.”

The connection between human rights and the other pillars is clearly visible throughout the UDHR. First, it acknowledges, in the Preamble, that the recognition of the inalienable rights of all individuals is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world. Second, it elaborates the UN Charter’s declared purpose of promoting development by giving economic, social and cultural rights the same degree of protection that one finds for civil and political rights.

The central importance of human rights to the work of the UN can be seen in the extent to which human rights work at the country level has grown over the last decade. In 1996, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) was present in 14 countries. Today, OHCHR-supported human rights personnel are deployed in over 40 countries. When people’s human rights are violated, peace and security is threatened until these rights are restored and protected.

 

3. Rule of Law

The United Nations was established in the aftermath of a terrible war to ensure that relations among nations would be grounded in international law. “Rule of law” is one of the core concepts at the heart of the Organization’s work and mission.

South Sudanese police officers celebrate after receiving their certificates for completing a training course run by the UN Police. The course will help the young police officers navigate the many challenges ahead as the region of southern Sudan becomes an independent nation in July 2011 based on a referendum supported by the UN Mission in Sudan.

South Sudanese police officers celebrate after receiving their certificates for completing a training course run by UN Police. 

As stated in the UN Charter, the UN aims “to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained.” In order to develop and prosper, human beings must be able to look to the State for security and protection and be able to exercise their individual rights. This cannot happen without the rule of law. The rule of law refers to a principle of governance in which all persons, public and private institutions, including the State itself, are accountable to laws that are consistent with international human rights norms and standards.

Justice is a vital component of the rule of law. At the international level, the most striking development over the past decade has occurred in the area of international criminal justice. The International Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda established by the Security Council in 1993 and 1994 respectively marked the first generation of tribunals since the International Military Tribunal established in Nuremberg. They demonstrated the collective will not to allow grave violations of international law to go unpunished.

Many of the poorest countries need investments to train and employ qualified personnel to manage democratic institutions that are vital to upholding the rule of law. In addition, good governance requires public participation in the political process. This helps guarantee that governments will be held accountable for their actions.

The last decade has witnessed substantial progress for democratic governance. Today more Governments have been chosen by competitive elections than at any time in history. In addition, in 2005 alone, over 50 million registered voters had the chance to participate in elections and referendums overseen by United Nations peacekeeping missions. This symbolizes important gains in human rights, freedom and choice. Competitive multi-party elections are essential for empowering the poor and for building lasting peace settlements.

 

4. Development

The fourth declared aim of the United Nations is “to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom.” The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) is the organ most associated with achieving this goal. It is responsible for coordinating the development mandates of 14 UN specialized agencies and five regional commissions. In addition, ECOSOC consults with academics, business representatives and more than 2,100 registered non-governmental organizations.

Most people don’t realize that roughly 70% of the UN system focuses its work on promoting social progress and improving the well-being of people around the world.  The main components of development are:

  • Living a long and healthy life
  • Being educated
  • Having a decent standard of living
  • Having the freedom to participate in the life of one’s community

All development is ultimately about expanding human potential and human freedoms. It is more than just raising one’s income. Lack of freedom to buy enough food, have enough medicine, opportunity to go to school, also can be not to have freedom.

Richness of human life—well-being: what people often fail to realize is that development is about having the opportunity and freedom to develop our abilities to their fullest extent. Development cannot occur without the freedom from misery, hunger, illiteracy and disease. People who live in extreme poverty lack choices. Having a decent standard of living gives us the means to pursue our desires and dreams. Human rights come into play when we acknowledge that everyone should have the same opportunities to develop their abilities to the fullest extent.

Development ceases to move forward when violent conflict erupts, human rights are violated, or the rule of law is disregarded. Just as development can be negatively impacted by conflict, the lack of development can also lead to war.

The strong link between human rights and development has figured prominently in United Nations deliberations for more than half a century. In 1986, the right to development was made explicit in the Declaration on the Right to Development. The Declaration on the Right to Development states that “the right to development is an inalienable human right by virtue of which every human person and all peoples are entitled to participate in, contribute to, and enjoy economic, social, cultural and political development, in which all human rights and fundamental freedoms can be fully realized.”

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spoke at a roundtable event on the anti-poverty Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the post-2015 development agenda, held in Maputo, Mozambique.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spoke at a roundtable event on the anti-poverty Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the post-2015 development agenda, held in Maputo, Mozambique.

The importance of focusing on development is most visible today in efforts to eradicate extreme poverty as outlined in the Millennium Development Goals.  Over one billion people today live on less than $1 a day and 2.6 billion are estimated to live on less than $2 a day. In 2000 the largest gathering of world leaders came to the UN to pledge their support to significantly reduce extreme poverty by 2015. Spectacular advances in human development have been made as a result of the Millennium Development Goals. Both the number of people living on less than $1.25 a day and child mortality rates have fallen. At the same time, life expectancy has increased and the number of children completing primary school has increased. Nonetheless, many challenges remain. There are still 850 million people living in hunger in the world, 61 million children are not enrolled in school of which more than half  live in sub-Saharan Africa, and two-thirds of the illiterate population in the world are women.

 

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