UN Reform Initiatives
reform initiatives221

UN Reform Initiatives

The UN Reform became a key issue after Boutros Ghali assumed office as the 6th UN Secretary General, 1992-96.  In 1992, Boutros Ghali restructured the UN  Secretariat, consolidated many programs into the Department for Economic and Social Development and issued a major reform plan for Peace and Security; Agenda for Peace.

In 1992-1996, a series of landmark international conferences took place under th auspices of the UN that set new policy standards, including:

  1. The Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, 1992. View Link…
  2. The World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna, 1993. View Link…
  3. The International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, 1994. View Link…
  4. The World Summit for Social Development in Denmark, March 1995. View Link…
  5. The Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, September 1995. View Link…

In 1994, major reform decisions and initiatives took place, including:

  1. The UN General Assembly created the post of High Commissioner for Human Rights. View Link…
  2. The UN General Assembly established the Office of Internal Oversight Services. View Link…
  3. The UN established its website and began its development process. View Link…
  4. Boutros Ghali issued a major reform document titled Agenda for Development.

In 1995, the UN set up an Efficiency Board, with leading outside experts to advise on the steps towards more UN Secretariat efficiency. In the period, 1992-1995, the UN was more effective and more connected to ordinary people than ever before. However, the US government increasingly opposed the UN Secretary General.

In 1996, the United States unpaid dues to the UN caused the UN a serious financial crisis. Therefore the UN advocated global taxes to address the funding crisis. Then the US Congress issued a law to the effect that the US will not pay its dues if global taxes are discussed in the UN. Senator Jesse Helms, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee stated that the United Nations is "power hungry and dysfunctional" he advocated that the US should withdraw as a member of the UN.

Boutros Ghali is the only UN Secretary General in the history of the organization that did not serve a second term in office. View Link… He was ousted because he pioneered and endeavored to genuinely reform the United Nations, he was a strong voice for international fairness and justice, he supported and initiated more participation by NGOs in the UN. Finally, he was vetoed out by the Clinton Administration because he tried to preserve the integrity and impartiality of the United Nations against the dominance of the Clinton Administration.

Richard Clarke, US counter-terrorism czar, wrote "Albright and I and a handful of others (Michael Sheehan, Jamie Rubin) had entered into a pact together in 1996 to oust Boutros-Ghali as Secretary General of the United Nations, a secret plan we had called Operation Orient Express, reflecting our hope that many nations would join us in doing in the UN head. In the end, the US had to do it alone (with its UN veto)". View Link…

In 1997, Kofi Annan  became the 7th UN Secretary General, he announced a reform package and appointed Maurice Strong as Under Secretary General for Reform. Kofi Annan merged several units into a new Department for Economic and Social Affairs. The UN General Assembly created the post of Deputy Secretary General to improve the UN management.

In 1998, the UN accepted a ten-year gift program totaling $1 billion from Ted Turner, CNN founder, setting the controversial precedent of seeking funding from the private sector.

In 2000, Kofi Annan initiated the Global Compact a rights-based initiative addressed to the private sector, businesses and corporations. The UN and its agencies began policy "partnerships" with the private sector. However, the international civil society and many NGOs disagreed with this initiative and considered it as an intrusion of the private sector into the UN. Many NGOs  described the Global Compact  as providing questionable private sector companies with an international platform for public relations and publicity.

In 2000 also, the World leaders participated in the Millennium Summit and issued a statement of approval of the UN policies, including support for the new Millennium Development Goals. View Link… In 2001, the UN  introduced the Integrated Management and Information System. The same year, Lakhdar Brahimi prepared  a landmark report for reforming the UN Peacekeeping.

In 2002, Kofi Annan began his second term as Secretary General. Also, in 2002, the International Criminal Court  View Link… began work at the Hague. For the first time, a permanent international court can prosecute individuals responsible for violations of human rights and international law. The irony is that while the UN was setting up this international body, there was and still is ,NO similar internal mechanism to hold top UN officials accountable.

In 2003,  in defiance of the Security Council and with the false pretext of eliminating weapons of mass destruction,  the US and the UK attacked Iraq, this attack showed the UN deficiency and inability to prevent war.

In 2004, The UN organized its first international conference of world business leaders under the umbrella of the Global Compact. Also, the Inter-Parliamentary Union organized a series of annual conferences at UN headquarters for parliamentarians of all countries.

In 2005, Kofi Annan issued his report In Larger Freedom at the same time Brazil, Germany, India and Japan sought permanent seats in the UN Security Council, while Nigeria, Egypt and South Africa also sought permanent status. These efforts failed when the US and China expressed opposition and the majority of the General Assembly members opposed the idea.

In 2006, the General Assembly established a new Human Rights Council replacing the Human Rights Commission of the ECOSOC. The same year, Kofi Annan, established a high-level panel to consider consolidating the UN's agencies, funds and programs. It should be mentioned that the  period 1997-2006 witnessed increased influences of the superpowers into the United Nations, hence the inability of the UN to be impartial.

The above are highlights of the reform actions under Boutros Ghali and Kofi Annan. Unfortunately, since 2007, no real progress or tangible actions to reform the UN can be cited. The UN is still consumed by costly and often aimless relocation and reorganization plans, with no evidence of any change in the internal culture of the UN, some of the most outrageous corrupt management practices and internal  dictatorships still continue today, the UN continues of be totally detached from the real people, especially in the many unprivileged parts of our world. The UN is still focused mainly on superficial ceremonial events void of real impact on improving the lives of people especially in people in poverty and in substandard living conditions around the world.

While, heads of some UN Organizations are crowned dictators with absolute powers and abusive authorities over the fate of their staff, at the same time these corrupt officials enjoy the complete protection of their bosses in the UN Secretariat in addition to their diplomatic immunity.

The UN still exhibits high overhead costs, low effectiveness, low efficiency, duplications, redundancy, unnecessary activities, severely lacking of coordination, many overlapping mandates among many of  the UN agencies, resulting in subtle yet fierce turf wars between these organizations vying to protect what they consider to be their mandates. Also chronic in the UN is and the lack of accountability at top management in some UN organizations, negative internal culture, top management dictatorships, while top officials get away with abuses hiding behind their diplomatic immunity.

The purpose of the UN Reform is to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of the UN in delivering its programs, services, commodities, expertise and information quickly where and when they are needed. That is yet to be seen. The main areas in need of urgent reform in the UN include:

  • The composition of the UN Security Council and the current Veto powers. Participation in the Security Council must be widened and the current Veto powers must be scraped as a tool belonging to the last century.
  • The process of selecting the UN Secretary General. That process must be made fully transparent. It is unworthy of the world body to have such a secretive process laden with mysterious negotiations and secret deal to select the head of the UN.
  • The internal systems of management, recruitment, evaluation, promotions, and compensations. The current internal system is totally dictatorial and must be scraped. The national staff of the UN are the real assets of the organizations current discrepancies between the compensation systems for the International Hires and the Local Hires must be replaced by an equitable system. In the same vein, the current UN Internal Justice System belongs to the dark ages, it is totally void of any sense of justice or fairness and it creates a poisoned institutional culture and a degrading work environment
  • The focus of the UN Secretariat and the headquarters of the UN Organizations (programs and funds) in New York and Geneva from must be shifted the current focus on serving and protecting the UN big bosses to a focus on delivering actual services at the country level to real people especially in poverty and in need of humanitarian relief.
  • Public participation by the Civil Society, NGOs and real ordinary people.

Following are some practical issues to consider in line with the UN reform initiatives:

I. Real cooperation and coordination between the UN organizations is vital if the UN is to be of any relevance in the years to come. The current duplications and redundancy are wasteful and unacceptable.

II. Consolidation and relocation of UN units from New York to countries in crises can provide:

  1. an opportunity for effectiveness in program design and delivery and an opportunity for efficiency in program implementation, monitoring, and evaluation
  2. an opportunity for accountability especially when the current diplomatic immunity system is abolished, on the condition of streamlining the working modalities between the UN headquarters and the country offices
  3. an opportunity for the UN to be able to respond quickly, correctly and pro-actively in cases of strife, crises and instant need for humanitarian relief

III. Immediately shifting the programming focus and resources of the UN from NY to the country operations in order to:

  1. provide necessary funding and expertise on the ground while providing technical support and building national capacity
  2. support the national networks of institutions and experts to provide technical support at the country level
  3. support the country offices in monitoring and responding to emerging issues in their countries and regions
  4. ensure agility, adaptiveness, closeness and increased responsiveness to the needs of the country programs for support, the response to country crises must be in "Real Time" not hours delayed due to time-zones or days delayed due to the UN current bureaucracy
  5. create and maintain a new internal culture and enabling working environment in the UN country offices and with government counterparts based on trust, confidence and transparency
  6. facilitate south-south cooperation between countries while advancing inter-country joint programs between the different UN agencies
  7. transform the UN country offices to be centers of excellence for technical support to UN counterparts; while supporting the country offices and staff in their cultural transition to act as advocates and activists for the new and hopefully reformed UN
  8. support the UN country offices with new programs focusing on Youth and vulnerable groups with special emphasis on inter-country programs
  9. provide more support to UN country offices in the Least Developed Countries by appointing, training, promoting and adequately compensating national staff
  10. provide more funding and direct support to the UN country office in situations of emergencies, strife, war and humanitarian crises.

In order to reform the UN, many issues and modalities need review and revamping including the overall culture, vision, focus, and strategy; in addition to creating a new motivating, and inspiring work environment based on respecting the rights of the UN staff and totally geared towards providing real services to real ordinary people in need worldwide.

Finally, in fairness to Boutros Ghali, it should be mentioned that under his leadership, real and tangible progress to reform the UN was started while he endeavored to maintain the integrity and impartiality of the United Nations.

Now, your comments:

  • Can the UN be reformed? How?

M. Alaadin A. Morsy

The UN Postunpost.net • Copyright © 2009 • All Rights Reserved

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John Smith

Keep up the good work editor and the UNPost. Maybe you could actually start citing real examples, names and situations of abuse in hiring, firing, bad management, inteference by member States. Will it make a difference? You won't know until you start trying but for an organization that still holds the promise of a better decent life for the millions, you cannot stand by and watch this ridiculous politics being played out in the name of a Better UN, or UN Reform, or what have you ….


Congratulations on your comprehensive yet concise report on the reform process. As someone worked in NYHQ during Boutros Boutros Ghali's time,  I must say he was a good, effective and  very knowledgeable SG. The poor guy lacked charisma and maybe because of that, he was not liked by Washington and so, the Europeans too acted like spineless self-seekers.

As I see things then and now, the fundamental problem is the basic sense of inequity among the comity of nations: if we can make the power of "Veto" (the useless legacy of WW II) disappear from the SC and with a wider representation of the present day world in the Security Council with all members being equal in their status, then other reforms will happen without much problem.
Next, make the socio-economic agencies move out of the political gambit of the East River in NY to the developing countries – you will see a sudden change of culture with enhanced respect for human values.  In this age of technology and border-less world, there is no justification to occupy the pricey properties in the Manhattan Island NY and trying to oversee and mess up projects in the far off places.

For example, if you can operate your www.unpost.net sitting far away from NY and efficiently too, why not the agencies do the same?

Stephen S.

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Sujal Saigal

Dear UN Post Editor,
Many thanks for your contribution. Me and my colleagues also found that UN Reform means How to make politics. How to win. They always think how to give the chance for good position and good place for their political members. UN's recruitment system is so beurocratic and very slow.
How to improve this system??? This is not a reform this is very painfull for the people who do not have network.
Qualified people will not get the job in WHO, DPKO, WFP, UNICEF, UNESCO, FAO, IFAD, IAEA etc…


You know so many interesting infomation. You might be very wise. I like such people. Don't stop writing.


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