On 24 October every year the world observes United Nations Day. This week, then, offers us an opportunity reflect on the important work of this body—and the Holy See’s involvement in it. CNEWA, as an agency of the Holy See, has significant interest in what the United Nations does — and it often impacts our work.
The United Nations or the UN was formed in 1945 immediately after World War II. The planet had experienced two major wars within a 30-year period. It has been estimated that up to 80 million people died in both wars; cities were leveled, populations were displaced and there was unimaginable suffering. Although the horror of those wars ominously seems to have faded for many people, the UN was founded precisely to prevent war, which was then rightly seen as the worst of all possibilities for humanity.
The UN consists of three different groupings: the Member States, which includes the General Assembly and the Security Council; UN Agencies such as UNESCO, UNICEF, etc.; and civil societies which consists of Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) who engage in advocacy for causes such as peace, disarmament, human rights, etc.
There are 193 sovereign member states at the UN. Each of these countries maintains a Permanent Mission to the UN in New York and often in Geneva. The head of the mission is the Permanent Representative, who holds the rank of ambassador and is often referred as such and such a country’s “ambassador to the UN.” All of these countries form the UN General Assembly (GA), which meets in plenary session every year in September but can meet at any other time. The GA works on issues that are before it on any number of issues, many of which result in conventions by which member states bind themselves by treaty to follow, maintain and enforce certain issues.
The UN Security Council (SC) consists of five permanent members (the P5): China, France, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States, each of whom enjoys absolute veto power over measures brought to the Council. Ten member states are elected by the General Assembly to serve on the Council for two-year terms.
In addition to the 193 sovereign member states, the UN recognizes two Permanent Observer Missions: the Holy See and Palestine. The Holy See, which has diplomatic relations with 180 states, was admitted to Permanent Observer status in 1964 and to full Observer Status in 2004. With full Observer Status, the Holy See has all the rights of a member state in the General Assembly except the right to vote.
The Holy See has a Permanent Observer Mission and a Permanent Observer Representative at the UN. The Permanent Representative of the Holy See to the UN is an archbishop with the rank of Nuncio. The Holy See is an active and effective member of the UN community as it advocates for, among other things, peace, disarmament, ecological responsibility, quality of life issues and very many others. One recent example: just last month, on 25 September 2018 Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, the Holy See’s Secretary for Relations with States, addressed the UN General Assembly advocating for the abolition of the death penalty. Although the Holy See is not a full member of the General Assembly, it plays a visible and important role in promoting peace and justice issues, serving in some ways as the conscience of the body.
The present and sixth Permanent Observer Representative is Archbishop Bernadito Auza, who was appointed on 1 July 2014. Archbishop Auza has shown himself to be an expert in increasing the visibility and, hence, effectiveness of the Holy See at the UN, especially through timely, strategic and informative conferences and side events. Through his work, the Holy See is an active participant in the issues affecting the contemporary world.
CNEWA has been accredited as an NGO at the UN for three decades, and I have been working at the UN for over 12 years, seven of which have been for CNEWA. It has been a fruitful and fascinating partnership, as CNEWA works with other NGOs to promote peace and justice in the Middle East — working with topics such as children’s rights, refugees and freedom of religion.
As we mark United Nations Day this week, it is good to recall the vital work the UN undertakes on behalf of the global community — and remember, as well, how all of us in the Christian community are called to work for unity and peace.