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UN Agreement Reflects Challenge of Reform

The curtain fell on the 2005 World Summit commemorating the 60th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations on Friday.

Leaders from more than 170 countries endorsed a final document on reforming the world body at the three-day gathering in New York.

A product of extensive deliberations, the approval of the document represents a key step in the long process of rebuilding the reputation of the United Nations.

To make the organization more representative and better able to meet the challenges of the 21st century, the document denounced terrorism in all forms, promoted development, called for the establishment of a peace-building commission and a more effective human rights council.

The onus is now on the UN's 191 member states to go beyond warm words and turn decisions into action.

Admittedly no one expected the summit to amount to a sweeping new century mandate for the United Nations as sharp differences of opinion remain over the most contentious matters - development, peace and security and the protection of human rights.

Falling short of robust calls for increased efforts to combat terrorism and poverty, the agreed plan was, to a certain extent, a diluted version of Secretary-General Kofi Annan's ambitious proposals for an overhaul set out earlier this year.

With little more than a heavily spun repetition of its most lofty aims, the text of the summit mission statement was vague on many key points.

It failed to establish an agreed definition of terrorism and left out altogether a section on disarmament.

Little progress was made in striving to achieve the millennium development goals that aim to reduce poverty and improve education in poorer countries by 2015.

Unanswered questions leave the United Nations struggling to set itself a unified path.

Widespread bickering had the potential to derail the push for reform. Competing national agendas, such as a desire for a seat on the Security Council, could distract the United Nations from addressing more urgent challenges - poverty alleviation and achieving greater development.

The UN's latest human development report revealed that in crucial ways the world's poorest people are getting poorer while the political will to take action is generally lacking.

Making poverty history is complex and immensely problematic, but this mission must nevertheless be at the heart of any UN reform agenda.

Only when common prosperity is achieved can peace and stability be lasting.

President Hu Jintao's pledge of a five-component package to aid less-developed nations outlined at the summit testifies to China's commitment to the struggle.

For the sake of its legitimacy and effectiveness, the United Nations must be reshaped on the basis of wide endorsement.

Given the huge divisions that have come to define the Herculean task of revamping the United Nations, broad consensus will not be reached overnight.

Coercive deadlines for reforms must not be set. Still, the closing of the world body's greatest gathering in history should not necessarily mean an end to striving for a successful reform plan.

(China Daily September 19, 2005)


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