GUEST BLOG: Towards a Revised UN Architecture for Peace

A Guest Blog as part of GVI’s 2018 Focus: Innovations in Peace

by Tim Murithi, Head of Programme at the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation

From 12 to 13 November 2018, President Emmanuel Macron of France convened the inaugural Paris Peace Forum which coincided with the centenary of the end of the First World War. The global gathering brought together more than 2,500 governments, intergovernmental organisations, think tanks, civil society and academia, to discuss challenges relating to peace, security, environmental protection and development. In a key speech to the Forum, President Macron appealed for a revitalisation of multilateralism, as an antidote to the regressive trend in a number of countries to authoritarianism, chauvinistic ethnic nationalism and xenophobia which harks back to a by-gone era of early twentieth-century facist regimes which fuelled war and untold human suffering.

At the heart of the debates at the Forum were questions relating to how to transform the United Nations (UN) system in a manner that will make it more democratic and inclusive in its decision-making. This can be achieved through a long-overdue conference to review the Charter of the United Nations. There were no sacred cows in the discussions, and they also touched upon the opportunities for remaking world institutions through the creation of a new system that will include the aspirations of all global citizens as equal actors on the world stage

The global liberal order and the UN

The international liberal order is currently in free-fall and its unravelling has begun. Citizens of other parts of the world, predominantly in western Europe, who benefitted from this global liberal order will be entering a prolonged phase of self-introspection and confusion. To be clear, the principles upon which the international liberal order were founded were noble, the promotion of human freedom, democratic governance and the rule of law.

The UN system which was created to sustain peace and security and improve the well-being of humanity, has become dysfunctional to the point that maintaining it in its present form is a clear and present danger to the future of human survival. This is evident its failure to prevent extremely violent conflicts from spilling over in the Middle East, Africa, and South East Asia, notably in Syria, Yemen, Burma, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic. Today, the world is faced with the largest refugee flow since the Second World War, estimated at an amount of 68 million people, which raises the question as to what exactly the UN’s purpose is, if not to prevent the psychologically stressful displacement of people from their homes and livelihoods. Interviews conducted with people in war-affected parts of Africa have protested that the extensive and protracted UN peacekeeping operations are not achieving the basic objective of creating the foundations for peace in the eastern DRC, Central African Republic (CAR) and Darfur, for example. To make matters worse some UN peacekeepers have been exposed as being involved in gender-based violence, which stigmatizes the organisation in the eyes of the victims and survivors that it is supposed to assist. If there is any need for a clear metaphor that the UN has seriously lost its moral compass, it is its failure to directly address such issues.

Logically, it does not make sense for a combined total of more than five billion people not to have a “permanent” representation on the UN Security Council, particularly when more than 80% of the Council’s work relates to crisis situations in Africa, the Middle East and South East Asia. This is clearly a case of an international system of governance that has no legitimacy from a global south perspective. This argument can be made more forcefully by India, which has over a billion people, and Brazil, which is also one of the most populated countries in the world.

Building a coalition

The question for the more than five billion people who are excluded from the decision-making processes that count within the UN system, is whether they should in fact continue to support such an illegitimate system of global governance. The challenge is therefore how to build a coalition of the marginalised and dispossessed, in order to  actively lead the campaign to transform the ageing and anachronistic UN system, particularly the Security Council, and replace it with new institutions that seek to deepen global democracy, based on a renewal of principles of human freedom, solidarity, justice and reconciliation, which we can draw historical struggles from around the world.

Concretely, it is time for a two-thirds majority of the countries within the UN General Assembly to build a coalition of the willing and to trigger Article 109, calling for a review of the UN Charter. Article 109 of the UN Charter cannot be vetoed by the permanent members of the UN Security Council, who are the main beneficiaries of the global status quo and prime instigators of some of the chaos in parts of the world. President Macron’s initiative to revive multilateralism would require him to make a bold commitment to support the will of a two-thirds majority of the members of the General Assembly, rather than play a divisive and nefarious role behind the scenes which has been the common practice of the P5 for the 73-year history of the UN.

The activation of Article 109, is several decades long over-due because the UN Charter calls for the periodic review of its continuing relevance and effectiveness. In fact, the members of the General Assembly are in “legal” breach of the stipulations of the UN Charter, which specifically and explicitly calls for a Charter Review Conference ten years after the establishment of the UN, which was launched in 1945. In 1955, there were efforts to launch a Review Conference of the UN Charter, however, this process became stalled. In 2018, there is a strong case to re-launch the campaign to convene a UN Charter Review Conference by 2020.

Drawing upon the principles of human freedom, solidarity, justice and reconciliation which many people and communities around the world have fought, and continue to fight, for, a new global system can be designed around the creation of a UN Parliamentary Assembly with legislative powers and portfolio committees on peace, security, gender equality, environment, refugees and so on. A UN Parliamentary Assembly could be constituted by three representatives from all, 193 member states of the UN, and could also invite other countries and territories that are not members of the UN to join, irrespective of religious or ideological orientation, would create a global legislative chamber of around 600 people, which is manageable. In addition, the operations of such a new global system would be financed by the taxation of global financial flows, which has already been proposed to address the transnational challenges which are beyond the ability of any single country.


It is absurd that the geo-political evolution of our institutions of global governance has not kept up with the pace of globalization and the demands of the fourth industrial age.

As some countries chose the path of retreating into their cocoon of partisan nationalism, the era of globalisation is here to stay, and the challenge is to create institutions to be able to respond to international issues before they threaten the survival of humanity. The UN has not completed a Charter Review conference in its 73-year existence, which is staggering given the pace at which technology has evolved. It is absurd that the geo-political evolution of our institutions of global governance has not kept up with the pace of globalization and the demands of the fourth industrial age. Consequently, think tanks, civil society and academic actors need to actively identify, lobby and mobilize the support of “champion” member states within the General Assembly, who can build a coalition of countries which will take the leadership in charting a new course for humanity in convening a Review Conference of the UN Charter in 2020, and contribute towards transforming the global system in a way that asserts and affirms human equality.


Professor Tim Murithi is Member of the Advisory Board of Global Vision Institute. He is Head of Programme at the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, based in Cape Town, and Extraordinary Professor of African Studies, Centre for African Studies, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa. He is the editor of the Routledge Handbook of Africa’s International Relations @tmurithi12


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